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Ed Sanders was both unique and ordinary. He became, in his own way, a hero just for doing his job.

When Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools integrated in North Carolina, if you can call it that, by allowing a handful of African American students to attend schools formerly reserved for whites only in September 1957, Sanders was principal of Central High. He had to smooth the way for Gus Roberts, its first black student, in a city still segregated in everything from housing to swimming pools to bathrooms.

As he told me when I interviewed him more than a decade ago, Sanders, a Simpsonville, South Carolina, native, had no particular desire to be a pioneer; all he knew was that he was principal. He prepared by enlisting the football team as protectors, using the threat of a canceled season as leverage and anointing a custodian as the young man’s unobtrusive guardian angel. When crowds gathered and one boy knocked the cap off the new kid’s head, Sanders threatened him and any other troublemaker with expulsion from his school and every other one in the city as he escorted Roberts through the front door.

It was a rocky time, especially hard on Roberts, who was not allowed to participate in clubs or social activities like the prom, and who endured a few physical attacks. “I don’t know if I would have had the strength he did,” Sanders said of the 16-year-old. But the school year ended without major incident.

The problem never was what vehicle Roberts rode in to get to Central.

In the words of those African Americans who viewed school desegregation through a realistic lens, the appropriate slogan was: “It’s not the bus, it’s us.”

That’s why the current dueling discussion of busing as a tool to integrate schools — highlighted in a debate exchange between Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — was misdirection at its finest.

It makes sense, of course. Who wants to admit that the issue of successfully integrating schools — because of the lack of political and personal will to make more than incremental progress — is an American dilemma that is as relevant as ever, rooted in attitudes that extend far beyond the classroom?

But to make an inanimate yellow vehicle the villain of the piece is to ignore the racism that made some school systems, such as the one in Prince Edward County in Virginia, shut down rather than integrate, as it poured tax credits into private academies for whites only, a model for other locations.

The hypocrisy of the revisionist history is embodied in the case of Linda Brown, the African American student from Kansas whose name graces the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, who only wanted to attend her neighborhood school — the one she could walk to — rather than travel to the all-black one.

It wasn’t about buses. When it comes to dismantling segregation — in schools, housing, and employment, or laws that governed who American citizens of different races could and could not marry — it has always been about the “us.”

What was and is called government overreach really meant the feds stepping in when cities and states dug in their heels to resist every effort to achieve a just society. The social engineering came not from the federal government but from the redlining, poll taxes, restrictions and separate and unequal rules that translated into some all-American, tax-paying citizens being denied.

Too many fought, often violently, against change instead of leaning into what was unfamiliar, like Sanders, who put his head down and did the work.

In contrast, leaders at Harding High in Charlotte in 1957 stood by as black student Dorothy Counts, dressed in the beautiful dress her grandmother had made for the first day of school, was met by jeering, abusive crowds of adults and teens, who spit on her and threatened her, in a startling image seen around the world.

Again, no bus in sight, and this time no protection from the school’s leaders. In fact, a brick that smashed the window of her brother’s car a few days later convinced her parents, for their daughter’s safety, to send her elsewhere.

It’s ironic that a few years later, in 1971, Charlotte’s court-ordered busing plan, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, was supported by white and black citizens and used as a contrast to the violent and racist response to school integration in Boston, the buses the stand-ins for the black children they carried.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s plan worked until 1999, when a judge who had opposed the original order ruled against using race in student assignment. Since then, schools have resegregated, a pattern repeated and reinforced across the country, reflecting neighborhoods that have also been slow to integrate.

Though studies have proven that diverse classrooms benefit all students, you would not know it from actions — not in 1957, but in 2019.

Schools with majority black and brown students are seen as “bad” by parents, studies show, even when their tests scores or facilities are superior to majority-white schools. Some majority-white communities have split from adjoining black-majority districts, taking students and resources with them. Just as white families didn’t have to move out of neighborhoods when black families moved in, “gentrifying” families who move into diverse areas — in a phenomenon seen in the North, South and all over — don’t have to opt out of sending their children to those neighborhood schools they could walk to.

In schools that are integrated, faculties often do not reflect the student body, suspensions are disproportionately doled out to black students for minor infractions their white classmates get a pass for, and it’s all too easy to spot who is and is not tagged for inclusion in gifted and talented programs.

As the Biden-Harris dustup revealed, there is little appetite for debating the value of an integrated and equitable education as the 2020 presidential race looms. Though few would take seriously the declaration of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that racism is in the past, proven by the election of the black president he opposed at every turn, it’s a comforting fairy tale for an America fatigued by the struggle, especially when it comes to your kid and your classroom.

But what is the cost, for the country and its children, of that benign neglect?

These days I think more and more of Ed Sanders, who went on to hire his next high school’s first black teacher in 1965. We stayed in touch until his death in 2010. The once reluctant leader told me integration was “the most sensible thing they ever did,” worth the hard work it takes to change behavior and attitudes.

But it’s much easier to blame a bus.


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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