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Gwen Ifill.

The community Trump has shocked and frightened found comfort and hope in the life and legacy of journalist Gwen Ifill. The rest of the country should, too.

The Ifill family’s journey from Barbados to the pinnacle of American society was an arduous and inspirational one.

It was not the kind of story you heard from the campaign of Donald Trump, because it is one that undercuts and invalidates the worst aspects of the message of fear of “others” that Trump peddled.

The Ifills left three generations ago, with an education in faith and a faith in education, but no money or prospects. They made their way to jobs in the U.S. Canal Zone in Panama, though because of their race and status they had to live outside the zone in Panama proper.  

“It was like the old segregated South,” Sherrilyn Ifill, one of the descendants of those pioneers, told me Saturday. “It may as well have been Alabama.”

With the men working on the canal and the women working as domestics, they made the money and got the papers to come to America.

Two young brothers of those founders became ministers in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, traveling from post to post in New York and elsewhere in their new country.

One of the brother’s daughters, Sherrilyn, attended Vassar College and NYU Law School and is now the president of the prestigious NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund ― the organization Thurgood Marshall ran when he won the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit.

One of the other brother’s daughters was Gwen Ifill, the trailblazing and widely respected print and television journalist who died last Monday of endometrial cancer at the age of 61 in Washington.


Attendees arrive at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church for the memorial service for journalist Gwen Ifill in Washington on Saturday.

A celebration of her life at the historic Metropolitan AME Church in downtown Washington on Saturday was a moving personal and religious ceremony, full of lilting gospel music, strong preaching and a stately rendition of Ifill’s favorite, the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Tears flowed, shouts rang out, and family and friends embraced as if their lives depended on it. It was an intensely personal three hours for the thousand or so of all hues and heritages gathered in a church famous for past congregants such as Frederick Douglass and beloved for its good works. 

But intentionally or not, the event was something more: It was a revival meeting for America, a celebration of that which is so positive, so nourishing and so indispensable about the country’s growing diversity that it renews our faith in our common destiny.

Speaking from the pulpit about her family and her cousin, Sherrilyn explained her family’s patriotic faith ― that, “with all its flaws, they believe in America,” including the opportunities for education it provided. Neither they nor Gwen, in her long career at great newspapers and TV networks, ever “gave up on the project of America.”

She was the most American of success stories.Sherrilyn Ifill, Gwen Ifill’s cousin

The fathers and mothers taught the children to always respect the opinions of others, and to realize that “there is no weakness in listening.”

Gwen Ifill was an excellent interviewer because she was an even better listener. She mentored dozens of other black and female journalists, and anyone else who came to her for help. Her incandescent smile and calm, equable demeanor hid a fierce impatience with superficiality, cant and people too cunning by half.

Her family’s peripatetic lives, moving from place to place for her father’s ministry in small towns in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, gave her a ground-level feel for the country and its glorious, maddening variety.

“She was the most American of success stories,” said Sherrilyn. “Her life and work made all of our lives better.”

The crowd and the messages read out loud were a testament to her reach and her grace: first lady Michelle Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder were in the pews; House Speaker Paul Ryan sent condolences; Holder read a letter from President Barack Obama.


Eric Holder speaks at Gwen Ifill’s funeral service in Washington on Saturday.

Holder recalled that Ifill ― though a friend and fellow descendant of Barbadian immigrants whom he called “cuz” ― hit him with tough questions in interviews. He challenged the many journalists in attendance to follow her example in the years to come.

“Will you cower?” he asked, beseeching the reporters not to sacrifice the search for the truth to the false god of “access maintenance.” That brought knowing applause from the savvy D.C. crowd and sheepish nods from the famous reporters in the church.

The undergirding ― and uplifting ― message to the crowd was one of unity: brought together by one woman, but unified in a faith that, as former President Bill Clinton said, there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.

Ifill’s life and work is a testament to that faith, and after hearing about both, the congregation rose as one as AME Bishop William P. Deveaux Sr. led them in the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Everyone sang loudly and with a feeling of hope ― for Gwen, for each other, and for America.




Jeff Sessions Was Deemed Too Racist To Be A Federal Judge. He’ll Now Be Trump’s Attorney General.

The man who President-elect Donald Trump will nominate as the 84th attorney general of the United States was once rejected as a federal judge over allegations he called a black attorney “boy,” suggested a white lawyer working for black clients was a race traitor, joked that the only issue he had with the Ku Klux Klan was their drug use, and referred to civil rights groups as “un-American” organizations trying to “force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), an early Trump supporter who has been playing a major role on the Trump transition team, met with the president-elect in New York on Thursday. In a statement, the Trump team said the president-elect was “unbelievably impressed” with Sessions.

On Friday morning, Trump and Sessions confirmed that Sessions had been offered the attorney general position.

J. Gerald Hebert remembers Sessions’ time as the top federal prosecutor in Mobile, Alabama, well. Speaking to The Huffington Post earlier this month, Hebert said he was stunned that an Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a possibility.

More than three decades ago, Hebert was in his 30s and working on voting rights cases for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. He was based in D.C. but spent time in Alabama working with Sessions, who was a U.S. attorney in Ronald Reagan’s administration.

“He was very affable, always wanting to have a conversation, a cup of coffee,” Hebert said. “Over the course of those months, I had a number of conversations with him, and in a number of those conversations he made remarks that were deeply concerning.”

After Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge in 1986, Hebert appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about these remarks. It was unusual for a career DOJ lawyer to testify about a judicial nominee’s character, and Hebert said at the time that he did so with “very mixed feelings,” telling senators he considered Sessions “a friend.” Hebert told them Sessions had “a tendency to pop off” and that he was “not a very sensitive person when it comes to race relations.”

HuffPost reviewed a transcript of the Sessions’ 1986 confirmation hearings. In this selection, Hebert testified that he had once relayed comments about a white lawyer being described as a race traitor, and that Sessions had responded by saying “he probably is”: 


Sessions testified that he did not believe he had made such a remark, but his views changed as he reflected.

“The best I could recall was that I said, well, he is not that popular around town; I have heard him referred to as a disgrace to his race,” Sessions said. He said he did not personally believe that the white civil rights attorney was a race traitor, and that he had respect for him.

Sessions testified that he enjoyed the “free flow of ideas” and liked to stir it up with Hebert when he was in town. “I like to discuss things. I am open: I like to discuss with liberals better than I do with conservatives,” Sessions said.

In describing one conversation with Hebert on civil rights, Sessions articulated his view that things were pretty great for minorities in the 1980s and that civil rights organizations were asking for too much.

“I made the comment that the fundamental legal barriers to minorities had been knocked down, and that in many areas blacks dominate the political area, and that when the civil rights organizations or the ACLU participate in asking for things beyond what they are justified in asking, they do more harm than good,” Sessions testified.

That’s not exactly how Hebert recalled it:


Sessions also called the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP “communist-inspired,” Hebert testified.

Thomas Figures, a former assistant U.S. attorney, backed up Hebert’s testimony about Sessions’ views. He told Congress that Sessions said the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Operation Push and the National Council of Churches “were all un-American organizations teaching anti-American values.”

“I recall saying that civil rights organizations, when they demand more than is legitimate, it hurts their position,” Sessions testified. 

Figures, who died last year, also said that Sessions once warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks” after Figures told a white secretary that he found a comment she made offensive. Figures was the only black assistant U.S. attorney in the office.

“Had Mr. Sessions merely urged me to be careful what I say to ‘folks,’ that admonition would have been quite reasonable,” Figures said. “But that was not the language that he used. I realize, on the other hand, that Mr. Sessions’ remark may not have been premeditated. There was a period in our own lifetimes when blacks where regularly admonished to be particularly polite or deferential, and a remark of that sort may have just slipped out inadvertently.”

Figures also testified that Sessions and two others in the office referred to him as “boy.” Figures said he couldn’t say anything about it to Sessions because his position with him was “tentative.”

“I felt that if I had said anything or reacted in a manner in which thought appropriate, I thought I would be fired,” Figures said. “I had to guard my reaction to things, Senator, because I needed a job at the time... So I took a lot of things; I just kept it inside.”

Sessions “categorically” denied using the term “boy” to refer to Figures. “I have never used the word ‘boy’ to describe a black, nor would I tolerate it in my office,” Sessions testified.

Hebert said Figures’ testimony would be consistent with the views he believes Sessions holds.

“He demonstrated gross insensitivity to black people. So Tom Figures reporting that he had been called ‘boy’ by Jeff Sessions, that wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Hebert told HuffPost.

Figures also said that Sessions, during a “very spirited discussion” about one civil rights case, threw a file on the table and said, “I wish I could decline all of them.” Figures said it was clear the remark was made in anger, and noted that Sessions didn’t make him toss out all of the civil rights cases, even though he apparently wished that they’d disappear.

“Mr. Sessions did not make such a remark to me on any other occasion, and he did not direct me then, or at any other time, to in fact systematically decline all civil rights cases,” Figures testified.

Figures also said that Sessions would overrule him solely in criminal civil rights cases.

“In all fairness to Mr. Sessions, however, I should make clear that the problems which existed in the area of civil rights were not present in other aspects of my case assignments,” he said. “Except in criminal civil rights cases, Mr. Sessions deferred to my recommendations regarding whether to pursue cases, and never withdrew a case assignment because he disagreed with my recommendations.”

Sessions also remarked that he thought the KKK was OK until he found out they smoked marijuana, according to Figures. The statement was made in connection with the prosecution of a Klan member who had hanged a black man. From Figures’ testimony:


Questioned at the time by now-Vice President Joe Biden, Sessions admitted to the comments and said they were intended humorously.



Biden also asked Sessions about the allegation that he had used a racial slur after a court hearing when he was in private practice. (The term appears uncensored in the transcript below. The U.S. Senate didn’t approve C-SPAN cameras until later that year.)


Sessions’ nomination was ultimately defeated in June 1986, making him the first Reagan nominee the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected.

Before his rejection, Sessions told senators he denied many of the claims made against him and that he felt he had been “caricatured.” 

“All of us know that when the confidence of a private conversation is breached by a party with ulterior motives or one who simply misunderstands what the speaker says or means, he speaker can always be embarrassed,” Sessions said. “I enjoy repartee and frequently engage in devil’s advocacy. In short, when I talk to friends, I do not guard every word that I say because I think that I know they know that my commitment to equality and justice is real, and they would not twist my words or misinterpret what I am saying to them.”

“I deny as strongly as I can express it that I am insensitive to the concerns of blacks,” Sessions said.

Hebert, like many civil rights advocates, is deeply concerned about the future of the Civil Rights Division in a Trump administration. He referenced the politicization of the Civil Rights Division under former President George W. Bush, when political officials abandoned much of the division’s work.

“I fear we’ll see a repeat of that, or perhaps worse,” Hebert said. “I worry about those who are in the Civil Rights Division now, and what it will do to their careers. But more importantly, what it’s going to do to minority voters, minority citizens, across the country who need their basic fundamental human rights protected.”

“Just the thought of him overseeing the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is frightening,” Hebert said. “He’s a mean-spirited individual.”

Hebert said his friends in Alabama were disappointed that Sessions didn’t become a federal judge because it would have prevented him from acceding to his current position.

“He would have quietly disappeared into the history books instead of being a U.S. senator and being on the Judiciary Committee,” Hebert said. “They tongue-in-cheek say to me, ‘Thanks a lot, Gerry.’”




Here's what Barack Obama told his daughters the morning Trump won the election

Like millions of Americans, Barack Obama was struggling to explain the results of last week's election, a New Yorker profile on the president revealed.

Obama campaigned furiously for Hillary Clinton throughout the presidential campaign, and repeatedly painted Republican Donald Trump as bigoted and xenophobic. Much of his legacy depended on a Clinton victory.

But when Trump won the election in a shocking upset, Obama still had some comforting words to say to his daughters.

"What I say to them is that people are complicated," Obama told The New Yorker's David Remnick:

"Societies and cultures are really complicated. ... This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it's messy. And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding.

"And you should anticipate that at any given moment there's going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn't stop. ... You don't get into a fetal position about it. You don't start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward."

Trump and Obama seem to have struck a conciliatory tone since Trump's election, at least publicly. The two met privately last week, and Obama said he will continue to counsel Trump throughout the transition of power.




Chili’s Apologizes For Taking Meal From Black Veteran On Veterans Day

U.S. Army veteran Ernest Walker started recording video when a manager at a Chili’s restaurant in Cedar Hill, Texas, questioned his military service and took away his food. Like some other establishments around the country, Chili’s offered free meals to veterans and active military service members on Veterans Day. Walker wrote on his Facebook page that he was eating at Chili’s with his service dog, Barack, when an elderly customer wearing a Trump shirt came up to him. “He said he was in Germany, and that they did not let Blacks serve over there,” Walker wrote. 

Soon after, Walker said the restaurant’s manager approached him and said that a fellow customer said Walker was “not a real soldier because [he] had [his] hat on indoors.” He asked to see identification, and continued to question Walker. Eventually, he took his food away, even though Walker showed him his military ID and discharge paperwork.

Walker posted the video, which has been viewed more than 350,000 times, to Facebook. He wrote that the incident made him feel “grossly offended, embarrassed, dehumanized.” On Friday, protesters organized outside the Chili’s restaurant to support Walker.

Chili’s responded to critics calling for the manager to be fired on Facebook. The restaurant chain said it elevated the situation to the highest levels of the company, and “fell short” on its “goal to make every guest feel special.” The company also apologized in a prepared statement and said it was reaching out to Walker.

Walker told the Dallas Morning News that he felt the election had “changed the hearts” of people.

“I do believe that the election has changed the hearts and changed the motives of people so much so that he believed in his heart and mind after talking to the Trump supporter that I was stealing food,” Walker said.

Late Monday, Chili’s president Kelli Valade released a statement saying that the company had removed, though not fired, the manager who took away Walker’s food. The statement also said the restaurant chain had personally apologized to Walker.

UPDATE from @Chilis regarding veteran Ernest Walker. They say they immediately removed the manager seen taking food from Walker on video

Since Walker’s story made headlines, supporters created a GoFundMe page to buy dinner for the veteran. At the time of this writing, the page had surpassed its $100 goal and earned $350. Walker wrote on Facebook that he was honored someone would create a page for him, but wanted to raise money on behalf of his fellow service members.

“There are thousands of hungry Veterans that are Forgotten and Homeless,” he wrote. “So I challenge America to raise enough money to Feed A Million Soldiers.”


This story has been updated with new information about Chili’s apology to Walker and the removal of the manager who took away the veteran’s meal. The Huffington Post has also reached out to Walker for additional comment and will update this post accordingly.




Veteran newscaster Gwen Ifill dies at 61

“Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change.” Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” and co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” has died, Politico and The Daily Beast reported Monday.

She was 61 years old. 

WETA President and CEO Sharon Percy Rockefeller confirmed the news to staff in a Monday email, saying the journalist died of cancer.

“I am very sad to tell you that our dear friend and beloved colleague Gwen Ifill passed away today in hospice care in Washington,” she wrote. “I spent an hour with her this morning and she was resting comfortably, surrounded by loving family and friends.”

A veteran journalist, Ifill moderated the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates. She was set to receive the 2016 John Chancellor Award from Columbia University for “her unflinching pursuit of the truth, healthy skepticism of those in power and her commitment to fairness.” The award ceremony, scheduled for Nov. 16, was recently postponed.

Prior to her career at PBS, Ifill worked at The Washington Post, The New York Times and NBC News. She joined PBS in 1999, and in 2013, Ifill and her “PBS NewsHour” co-host Judy Woodruff became the first women to co-host a nightly news program.

“Gwen was one of America’s leading lights in journalism and a fundamental reason public media is considered a trusted window on the world by audiences across the nation,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said in a statement.

Sara Just, “PBS NewsHour” executive producer, praised Ifill as a “journalist’s journalist.”

“Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change. She was a mentor to so many across the industry and her professionalism was respected across the political spectrum,” Just said in a statement.

Politicians, journalists and celebrities paid tribute to Ifill on Twitter following the news of her death.

Saddened by the passing of Gwen Ifill – a true trailblazer in her field and a role model for young women journalists across the nation.


I am saddened to learn about the passing of Gwen Ifill—an incredibly talented and respected journalist.


Heartbroken to learn Gwen Ifill has passed away. She was my hero, a woman who deserved all the praise she received. Honest and true


.@gwenifill I'm heartbroken and not ready for the past tense with you. Sending all the love in the world to your family and loved ones.




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