Basil A. Paterson, who died at 87 on Wednesday, belonged to a generation of clubhouse Harlem politicos who rose to prominence a half-century ago and now recedes from the stage.
Long after he’d been a state senator, lieutenant governor candidate, labor attorney, New York City deputy mayor, and the first African-American appointed as New York’s secretary of state, happenstance would make him the father of a New York governor.
In 1985, a journalist dubbed the elder Paterson — together with Rep. Charles Rangel, pol-turned-businessman Percy Sutton and future Mayor David Dinkins — the “Harlem Gang of Four” as they coalesced behind a close colleague, Assemb. Herman “Denny” Farrell Jr., for mayor.
The name stuck.
Dinkins, a friend and one-time law partner of the elder Paterson, said somberly Thursday that he got word of the death late Wednesday. “Basil’s family knows that Charlie Rangel and I and [former NAACP leader] Hazel Dukes are sort of like family and stand ready to be helpful,” Dinkins explained.
Farrell told Newsday: “There are many people who would like to get things done but don’t. He got things done. And another good thing about him was that he didn’t suffer fools well. He’d let you know in a nice way, not a sharp way, ‘This is stupid, it’s not gonna work.’ “
If anyone had reason to know politics can be quirky, it was Basil Paterson.
When gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer was picking a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006, the whole Gang of Four gave full-throated support to Leecia Eve of Buffalo for the post.
To their apparent surprise, Spitzer chose Basil’s son David Paterson, then a state senator, who ascended to the top job when the scandal-vexed Spitzer quit in 2008.
During Paterson’s tenure, William Cunningham III, a colleague of Basil Paterson, was dispatched from the firm Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, to help out as a top aide to the governor.
The firm, based in Garden City, served as the elder Paterson’s base for many years. Until his death, he co-chaired its labor and government-relations practice and represented big unions, including 1199/SEIU and the United Federation of Teachers.
“What was different about Basil was he took each person on his or her own merits. He probably had enemies, but I can’t tell you one and I’d been around Basil since 1970,” said the firm’s chairman, Harold Ickes.
Likewise, ex-Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger recalled Paterson’s “unbelievable ability to mediate between people with different points of view.”
Before his death, Paterson’s roles and recollections were making their way into historical books.
He’s quoted in a new book “Shirley Chisholm, Catalyst for Change” by Barbara Winslow, about the late congresswoman who came up in Brooklyn politics in the 1950s and later worked alongside Paterson in the State Legislature.
“If you think being a woman is bad now . . . [it was] horrible then. Women were not included in meetings,” Paterson is recorded there as saying. “Shirley proved . . . you could get out there and run for higher office. And you could be your own person.”
In his 2007 autobiography, Rangel — now in a hard primary scrap for a 23rd term in Congress — credited Paterson for encouraging him to join the New Era Democratic Club, which helped launch his career.
Original posting can be found on the Newsday website.
The Shirley Chisholm Project of Brooklyn Women’s Activism celebrates the life and mourns the passing of Basil Paterson; leading figure in New York State Politics, close friend, colleague and political collaborator. At the dedication of the Shirley Chisholm State Building in downtown Brooklyn, Paterson’s son and former New York State governor, David recalled how Chisholm was often at the family’s dinner table. The young David sat next to Chisholm, with whom he spoke about the importance of education and politics. He supported her 1972 presidential run.
Paterson was born in Harlem on April 27, 1926 to Leonard James and Evangeline Alicia (Rondon) Paterson. His life intertwined with Chisholm on many levels. His parents were also Caribbean immigrants; with his father born on the island of Carriacou in the Grenadines and arriving to the United States by way of New York City aboard the S.S. Vestris in 1917, and his mother born in Kingston, Jamaica and arriving in the States by way of Philadelphia aboard the S.S. Vestnorge in 1919 with a final destination of New York City. The former Ms. Rondon once served as secretary for Marcus Garvey.
Paterson became involved in Democratic politics in Harlem in the 1950s and 1960s. A member of the Gang of Four—with former New York Mayor David Dinkins, the late former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton, and Congressman Charles Rangel—Paterson has been a leader of the Harlem Clubhouse which has dominated Harlem politics since the 1960s. In 1965, along with Chisholm, Sutton, Rangel and Dinkins, Paterson founded the New York State Democratic Party’s Black and Latino Caucus, which is still active.
In 1965, Paterson was elected to the New York State Senate representing the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Harlem, where he worked with Chisholm on a series of important legislative projects, including the passage of the SEEK (Seek Employment, Empowerment and Knowledge) Program. He gave up his Senate seat in 1970 to run for Lieutenant Governor of New York, the running mate of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. Chisholm decisively campaigned for Paterson to be on the ticket. The Goldberg/Paterson ticket lost to the Republic ticket of incumbent Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Lt. Gov. Malcolm Wilson. Later, Democrats had to grudgingly admit that Chisholm had been right in demanding Paterson be on the ticket.
In 1978, Paterson was appointed as Deputy Mayor of New York City by then Mayor Ed Koch. He stepped down as deputy mayor in 1979 to become Secretary of State of New York—the first black person in the post—and served until the end of the Hugh Carey administration in 1982.
Paterson is a member of the law firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, P.C., where he co-chaired the firm’s labor law practice.
Paterson is the father of former New York Governor, David Paterson, who was elected Lieutenant Governor in 2006 on a ticket with Gov. Eliot Spitzer. David Paterson succeeded to the governor’s office upon Spitzer’s resignation on March 17. David survives him, as does his wife Portia Hairston, their other son Daniel and five grandchildren.
The honorable Basil Paterson was interviewed in 2012 for the Shirley Chisholm Project.
Beverly Guy-Sheftell is a Black feminist scholar, Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Spelman College
Beverly Guy-Sheftell is a Black feminist scholar, Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Spelman College
Standing By Her Story: Anita Hill is Celebrated in the Documentary ‘Anita’
WALTHAM, Mass. — On the day in 1991 that the Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, Anita Hill — the little-known law professor who riveted the nation by accusing him of sexual harassment — faced news cameras outside her simple brick home in Norman, Okla., with her mother by her side, and politely declined to comment on the vote.
In the nearly 23 years since, Ms. Hill, now a professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University here, has worked hard, she likes to say, to help women “find their voices.” She has also found hers — and she is not afraid to use it.
“I believe in my heart that he shouldn’t have been confirmed,” she said in a recent interview, acknowledging that it irritates her to see Justice Thomas on the court. “I believe that the information I provided was clear, it was verifiable, it was confirmed by contemporaneous witnesses that I had talked with. And I think what people don’t understand is that it does go to his ability to be a fair and impartial judge.”
It was a surprisingly candid comment from a deeply private woman who has long been careful in the spotlight. But the quiet life Ms. Hill has carved out for herself is about to be upended — by her own choice — with the release of a documentary, “Anita,” opening on March 21 in theaters in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
For those too young to remember, Ms. Hill was the reluctant witness in the explosive Thomas hearings, the young African-American lawyer in the aqua suit, grilled in excruciatingly graphic detail by an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearings transformed the country, sparking a searing conversation about sexual harassment, as well as Ms. Hill, who was vilified as a liar by conservatives but ultimately embraced, as the film shows, by a new generation of young women.
Directed by the Academy Award winner Freida Mock, the documentary — which does not reveal Ms. Hill’s current views on Justice Thomas — chronicles her plunge, and the nation’s, into a volatile stew of sex, race and politics. For the professor, the film is a chance to show the public (and on a deeply personal level, her large extended family) that she has survived, thrived and, as she says, “moved on.”
Yet like Anita the person, “Anita” the movie is bound to unleash raw feelings in Washington. Some conservative Republicans still revile Ms. Hill. Some Democrats — including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who “did a terrible job” running the hearings, in Ms. Hill’s view — would probably like to forget her.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Biden said the vice president “continues to wish nothing but the best for Anita Hill.” Justice Thomas, who supervised Ms. Hill at two federal agencies and has categorically denied her accusations, declined to comment. (In his 2007 autobiography, he referred to Ms. Hill as “my most traitorous adversary.”) But his backers, who include some devoted female former clerks, are not shy about speaking out.
“I honestly think she’s just making it up,” said Carrie Severino, a former Thomas clerk and chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, an advocacy group. “I think she’s built her career on that story. She is using that and using him as a way of boosting her own career, and that’s really shameful.”
One subject Ms. Hill will not address is Justice Thomas’s voting record. If a backlash is coming, she said, she is ready. During an hourlong conversation in an airy gallery in Brandeis’s Rose Art Museum, she listened to Ms. Severino’s critique, thought for a moment, then smiled wryly.
“I’ve heard worse,” she finally said.
At 57, Ms. Hill, the youngest of 13 children from a rural Oklahoma farm family, is in many ways the same poised, dignified woman America met 23 years ago. She has the same lyrical voice, the same way of answering questions with perfect precision and gentle pushback. (Asked if she voted for Vice President Biden, whom she faults for failing to call other women and harassment experts as witnesses, she laughed and said, “I voted for President Obama.”)
Yet she is also profoundly changed.
“I think this event changed the course of her life and gave her a public mission that she took on,” said Fred Lawrence, the Brandeis president and a Yale Law School classmate of Ms. Hill’s. “It’s not a duty that she volunteered for, but I think she understood that the circumstances had put her in a unique role, and gave her a voice.”
The hearings were a surreal spectacle, as senators prodded an obviously uncomfortable Ms. Hill through awkward testimony about penis size, pubic hair and a pornographic film star known as Long Dong Silver — shocking public discourse at the time. When the hearings ended, Ms. Hill returned to teaching commercial law at the University of Oklahoma, trying, as she says in the film, to find “a new normal.” It proved difficult.
There were thousands of letters of support, but also death threats, threats to her job. Conservative state lawmakers wanted her fired; fortunately, she had tenure. Even years later, she felt “a discomfort,” she said. One dean confided that he had tired of hearing colleagues at other schools remark, “Isn’t that where Anita Hill is?”
In Washington, her testimony reverberated. Sexual harassment claims shot up. “Our phones were ringing off the hook with people willing to come forward who had been suffering in silence,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, where Ms. Hill serves on its board.
Congress passed a law allowing victims of sex discrimination to sue for damages, just as victims of racial discrimination could. Waves of women began seeking public office. In 1991, there were two female senators. Today there are 20.
But if Washington moved on, Ms. Hill could not. Once, in an Oklahoma airport, she bumped into Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania senator who had accused her of perjury and who died in 2012. He said maybe they could work together on some things, that she should call him. Ms. Hill was astonished; she never did. Just one senator, Paul Simon of Illinois, made amends; before he died, he sent Ms. Hill his autobiography with a nice inscription.
“For them, it’s all about politics,” she said. “For me, it was about my life.”
She published a memoir in 1997; the following year, she joined Brandeis, teaching courses and pursuing research on gender and racial inequality. Years passed; her notoriety receded. Today, many of her students have no idea who Anita Hill is.
Ms. Hill wants young people to know. She had previously resisted entreaties from filmmakers, she said. But in 2010, with the 20th anniversary of the hearings approaching, she decided it was time “to revisit this, and for people to understand who I am.”
A friend introduced her to Ms. Mock, whose 1994 film about the architect Maya Lin won an Oscar for best feature documentary. With Ms. Hill, the director said, she wanted to tell “the story of an ordinary person who does an extraordinary act.”
The movie, which premiered at Sundance last year to good reviews, opens with the voice of Justice Thomas’s wife, Ginni, in a 2010 message on Ms. Hill’s office answering machine, asking her to “consider an apology and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.” (Ms. Hill initially thought it was a prank.) It intersperses old footage of the hearings with interviews with Ms. Hill; her lawyer, the Harvard law professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr.; some supporters and two journalists, Jill Abramson, now executive editor of The New York Times, and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, co-authors of a 1994 book, “Strange Justice,” that raised questions about Justice Thomas’s candor.
The film follows Ms. Hill through a 20th-anniversary commemoration, where awe-struck young women, some in tears, thank her and praise her courage. Emily May, a co-founder of Hollaback!, a nonprofit group that fights street harassment, was among them.
“We all felt like we were seeing this legend,” Ms. May said.
The movie also offers a glimpse, albeit a thin one, into Ms. Hill’s private life. Viewers learn that she has kept the aqua linen suit (the Smithsonian has asked for it, but she is “still very protective,” she said); watch her attend a joyful family wedding; and discover that she has a longtime companion, the businessman Chuck Malone, about whom she will say little.
She wears a diamond band, a gift from him, on her left ring finger. “I know,” she said, laughing. “Everybody sees this ring. I guess I’m not such a traditionalist as to think that I need to, at this moment, marry.”
Today, Ms. Hill is working mostly on a strategic plan for Brandeis; she plans to use a sabbatical next year to organize her letters. If she has a legacy, experts say, it is in creating a vocabulary for Americans to talk about sexual harassment, where none existed before. In 1991, after a confidential memo containing Ms. Hill’s accusations leaked out, seven female Democratic House members marched over to the Senate to demand that she be called as a witness.
“I can’t even imagine a hearing today where a woman would come forth with an accusation of sexual harassment, and it would be ignored,” said Representative Nita Lowey, the New York Democrat who was among them. “Today, we probably would have thousands of women from all over the country march to the Capitol.”
As women in the military and on college campuses grapple with sexual assault, Ms. Lowey said there was still more work to be done. Ms. Hill agrees.
But she wants America to know that “I have a good life,” a life of meaning and purpose, that “something positive” has come out of those dark 1991 days. Looking back, she said, she sometimes marvels at how hard her critics worked to destroy her.
“And yet,” she said, sounding satisfied, “here I am.”
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg
As published on the New York Times website.
A major women’s group in Brooklyn will on Saturday, March 15 hold its Third Annual Shirley Chisholm Women’s Empowerment Conference, saluting the legacy of New York City’s first black Congresswoman, Yvette D. Clarke.
The Black Women for Fairness, Equity & Justice-organized event, under the leadership of former New York City Councilwoman Una Clarke, takes place at the Crown Heights, Brooklyn campus of Medgar Evers College, 1637 Bedford Ave.
Under the theme, “A Legacy Reborn,” the day-long gathering of elected officials, community activists, business leaders and educators is held in collaboration with the Caribbean Research Center at Medgar Evers College.
Beginning with a “Women in Leadership” power breakfast, focusing on electoral empowerment and key legislative issues, the conference will address concerns of women’s health, education and financial disparities, according to Congresswoman Clarke’s mother, Una Clarke, the first Caribbean-born woman to hold elective office in New York.
“We are encouraging women to come out not only because we have distinguished panel members and keynote speakers but so they can better understand civil engagement,” Clarke told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview.
“Each of us has value to the community, and we want everybody to understand their value to the community,” she added.
The Jamaican-born Clarke said the conference emerged from the last redistricting in 2010, when the Caribbean American community, in particular, did not respond well to the Census.
As a result, she said there was a “great undercount of the community, and we had to go to Albany to make a case in order to make it a ‘community of interest.’”
“We have convened this conference in order to educate our black women, who are head of households, to remain engaged, so we can continue to educate the community on issues that are important to the growth, development and expansion of the black community,” Clarke said.
She said the conference will also include panels on professional and spiritual development and workshops on small business creation and resume writing.
Scheduled panelists include: Educators Dr. Carole M. Berotte Joseph, president, Bronx Community College and Dr. Evelyn Castro, associate dean, Medgar Evers College, CUNY; immigration specialist Dr. Claire Nelson, Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS); and health care professionals, Dr. Miriam Vincent, director of Family Medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Norma Amsterdam, registered nurse, executive vice president, Union 1199.
Others are: Social service experts Bishop Sylveta Hamilton-Gonzales, Black Women for Fairness Equity & Justice, and Kimberly Hardy, New York City Deputy Commissioner for Housing Community Partnership.
Among the women leaders addressing the conference are: New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray; U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; Congresswoman Clarke; State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery; New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna; and New York City Council Member Laurie Cumbo.
The program closes with a VIP reception, honoring black women in judiciary.
Chisholm (Nov. 30, 1924 – Jan. 1, 2005) was an educator, author and politician. First elected in 1968 as the first African-American woman elected to Congress, she represented the 12th Congressional District for seven terms until 1983.
On Jan. 25, 1972, Chisholm became the first major party black candidate for president of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Rooted in the late congresswoman’s commitment to social and economic empowerment, the elder Clarke said she aims to use the conference as a policy think tank and platform to highlight the status and aspirations of women of African descent in Brooklyn.
By By Nelson A. King
As posted in Caribbean Life News
In Professor Barbara Winslow´s biography: Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change, Westview Press, she explores the life of a trailblazing feminist who was the first African American woman elected to Congress, and the first African American and the first woman to run for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency. In an article reviewing the book in the Brooklyn Paper, Winslow states “this is the first really scholarly biography of Chisholm, it’s a historic look at her life and accomplishments and relies on materials that have not been used before.”
These include campaign materials and interviews with people who knew Chisholm, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem, and even her hairdresser.Chisholm, widely unknown despite her being one of the most famous political figures in history, paved the way for Barack Obama, and who knows, maybe in 2016 for Hillary Clinton. For further descriptions of this great read, check out Sam Robert´s review of Winslow´s book in the New York Times here. Not-to-be-missed!
Check out the original article here. We are just as proud of our Barbara Winslow as her alma mater.
Joshua Guild is an Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies in Princeton University
Joshua Guild is an Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies in Princeton University
Champion of African American History: The Honorable Shirley Chisholm of New York
“I don’t measure America by its achievement but by its potential.” – Shirley Chisholm, in her book, Unbought and Unbossed
With her slight build, distinctly precise diction, and relentless energy, Representative Shirley Chisholm of New York will be forever remembered for the ground she broke in Congress, and the ground she laid for millions of women, girls, and African Americans in this country.
In honor of her contributions as the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, and a tireless advocate for women, African Americans, and folks who are all too often overlooked or underserved, the U.S. Postal Service has recognized Ms. Chisholm with the issuance of their limited-edition 37th Black Heritage Forever Stamp.
Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Shirley Chisholm’s childhood was split between New York and Barbados, where she lived with her grandmother. Upon graduating from Brooklyn College in 1946, she pursued a career in teaching, eventually earning a master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia University. She later served as a childcare center director, and an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare.
Shirley Chisholm was elected in 1968 as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York as the first African American Congresswoman in that history. She spent seven terms in Congress fighting for social justice and access to quality education for all, while championing the rights and empowerment of women, African Americans, the poor.
In addition to serving on the Education and Labor Committee, and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Chisholm was also one of the founding members of both the Congressional Black Caucus, and the National Organization of Women, while playing a key role the passage of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) legislation.
“Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.” — Shirley Chisholm
In 1972, Chisholm became widely known across the country when she became the first African American to seek a major party’s nomination for president of the United States. In doing so, she challenged countless norms and shattered innumerable barriers which had stood since the dawn of our republic. And it was far from easy. She had to sue her way into televised debates, and survived multiple assassination attempts along the way. Ms. Chisholm did not earn the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1972, but she did earn a place in history, along with the boundless respect of millions of Americans for her fundamental refusal to live life within the confines of society’s expectations. Through her example, future generations gain a better appreciation for what it means to control one’s own destiny.
When she left Congress in 1983, Chisholm returned to teaching, accepting a post at Mount Holyoke College. She died on January 1, 2005 in Ormond Beach, Fla., at the age of 80.
According to the U.S. Postal Service, the stamp was designed using a painting of Chisholm by artist Robert Shetterly. The portrait is taken from a series of paintings titled “Americans Who Tell the Truth.”
This article was published on February 28, 2014 in the Black Voices Blog of the Huffington Post by Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. You can check out the original post here.