Stopping Pharaoh: The Moral Urgency of Opposing the Separation of Immigrant Children from Their Parents

Human right and civil rights organizations, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, and corporations must unite to end the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant children from parents who arrive at the border of the United States without proper documentation for admission. There is a moral urgency to act now to dismantle it. This zero tolerance policy denies basic human rights to immigrants and is immoral.

WWJD or “what would Jesus do?” has appeared in articles arguing that the Trump Administration’s policy to separate immigrant children from their parents is contrary to the very scripture quoted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The bible teaches us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  If we are true to this biblical edict, our nation could not torment immigrant children and their parents by separating them.

The Bible, however, also gives us Pharaoh and Moses. We could learn from them too.  The Old Testament, or watching Charlton Heston play Moses in the Paramount Classic, The Ten Commandants, shows that Pharaoh lacked a moral compass which fed his ambition, ego, and prejudices against the Hebrews. Fortified by godly intervention, Moses persuaded Pharaoh to let his people go. Perhaps this story is more fitting for this crisis.   Whether one’s grounding is in moral and ethical teachings or religion, we must urgently work to end the “zero tolerance” of separating immigrant children from their parents.

Forcibly removing children from their parents has never boded well for any society.  Slavery owners did not recognize the rights of African American parents to raise their children and sold the children of slaves off as easily as one would sell a loaf of bread. A well-documented practice of the Nazis was to separate children from parents upon arrival at German concentration camps. For decades starting in the late 19th century, Native American children were forcibly removed from their parents and shipped off to boarding schools where they were intentionally stripped of their culture.  All of these examples show depraved indifference to others humanity because of their race, ethnicity, or differences. This conduct frays the fabric of society and comes with negative consequences, both those who were discriminated and the society itself, for decades and centuries to come.

With respect to the “zero tolerance” policy, there will be no happy ending unless the citizens of this nation put an end to it. Civil rights organizations must oppose this policy.  Medical and other professionals must speak out.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has already taken the position that separation of immigrant children from their parents will cause the children irreparable harm. Some conservatives have opposed this policy.  Public figures are speaking out against this policy, including former First Lady Laura Bush.  American corporations also need to take a stand. Corporate speech is well funded, powerful, and shapes legislative and policy outcomes.  Here, corporations can act for the better good by opposing this policy.

Moses ended Pharaoh’s cruel practices against the Hebrews. “Our neighbors,” here immigrant children and their parents need our help in ending the “zero tolerance” policy of that separates immigrant children from their parents.  The moral authority of our nation hangs in the balance.

By Daphene R. McFerren, Executive Director, The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute

Memphis and the Movement

By Aram Goudsouzian, Ph.D.

The 1968 Sanitation Strike and assassination of Martin Luther King are defining events in the history of Memphis. Across the city, we are grappling with how to tell the story of those events, and how to understand their connections to our present circumstances. This fall I joined two professors from the Department of Journalism on one of those efforts, a project called Once More at the River: From MLK to BLM.

Sanitation Workers Strike. 1968. C/o Preservation and Special Collections Department, University Libraries, the University of Memphis.

Roxane Coche is the driving force behind it. She conceived of the idea, recruiting me to teach a Fall 2017 course on the history of the civil rights movement in Memphis. In the spring of 2018, Joe Hayden will teach a course in which those same students interview activists in Memphis. Finally, Roxane and Joe will enlist student help and co-produce a documentary film that explores social justice movements in Memphis.

Roxane spearheaded our successful application for a Discovery and Development Grant from the University of Memphis and reached out to the National Civil Rights Museum, which offered to make contacts and house the video archive of interviews. We have since attracted more funding for the documentary project, including from the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change.

This fall, I taught “Memphis and the Movement.” In my thirteen years at the University of Memphis, this was one of my most rewarding experiences. We were a mixed bunch: History majors and Journalism majors, undergraduates and MA candidates, men and women, young and old, black and white. We had four senior auditors and another senior citizen enrolled; they shared firsthand experiences in Memphis that stretched back to the 1960s. “Dr. Joe” was a frequent visitor in the back corner chair, while “Dr. C” hustled over whenever possible.

The students were ALL IN. They dove into the assigned readings, asked questions, drifted off on tangents, and argued with me and each other. Sometimes the material was raw, as we read about instances of grotesque violence or racist maneuvers. And because it was local, it was personal – we were talking about our city, our neighbors, our lives. At times, some students got angry, and others got uncomfortable. But those emotions were necessary and important.

The course was divided into three units. We started in the nineteenth century, as cotton and slavery transformed Memphis, and discussed the repression of African Americans during Reconstruction and Jim Crow. We then explored the city’s unique political landscape during the long reign of E.H. “Boss” Crump. Among our readings were excerpts from Stephen Ash’s A Massacre in Memphis, Elizabeth Gritter’s River of Hope, and Laurie Green’s Battling the Plantation Mentality.

The second unit centered around the civil rights era in Memphis, especially the sanitation strike. We read Michael Honey’s masterwork Going Down Jericho Road, giving the class an intimate, detailed, and comprehensive look at this watershed moment, which illustrated the promise of a movement that fused racial and economic justice, as well as the tragedy of failed city institutions, resulting in the circumstances that led to Martin Luther King’s assassination.

The final unit took us from 1968 to the present. We read historians, journalists, political scientists, and sociologists as we explored the ways that African Americans in Memphis staked claims to political power and cultural space, yet suffered from enduring, racialized issues of prejudice and poverty.

We took a class visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, where we got a first-class tour from Ryan Jones, and we visited Special Collections at McWherter Library, where Gerald Chaudron familiarized us with the Memphis Search for Meaning Committee records, an incredible archive on the sanitation strike. For their final project, the students selected and analyzed oral histories from this collection.

The best parts, we all agreed, were our special guests. I exploited as much local expertise as I could! My colleague in History, Beverly Bond, talked about black women in slavery and freedom. Daniel Kiel came over from the Law School and screened his film The Memphis 13, about the first graders who integrated Memphis City Schools. Before leaving for his new job at Colorado College, Anthony Siracusa taught us about nonviolent direct action and Rev. James Lawson. Journalist Emily Yellin presented her ongoing project of interviewing sanitation workers and their families. Steve Ross visited from Communication to show his film about the strike, At the River I Stand. Rhodes College professor Charles Hughes discussed Memphis music and his great book Country Soul, while Otis Sanford, the Hardin Chair of Journalism, recalled the election of Willie Herenton, as told in his new book From Boss Crump to King Willie. Finally, the crusading Wendi Thomas showcased her important project, “MLK50: Justice through Journalism.”

Wendi’s visit was the perfect transition to Joe’s spring course, Reporting Social Justice. Hopefully, we provided the students with the historical background and critical approach to enrich their interviews and articles. Look for Joe’s post on the Hooks blog later this spring!


Dr. Aram Goudzousian

Aram Goudsouzian is the Chair of the Department of History at the University of Memphis. He is the author of Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear and the co-editor, with Charles McKinney, of An Unseen Light: Black Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee.

Tennesseans Seek Justice, Reconciliation Through Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative

By Jasmine P. Stansberry

Oct. 24, 2017

Flag, announcing lynching, flown from the window of the NAACP headquarters on 69 Fifth Ave., New York City. 1936

Cordie Cheek, Albert Gooden, Jesse Lee Bond and Elbert Williams are the names of four African American men who were found dead by Tennessee authorities.

Yet, they are only four of countless men, women and children who were murdered on Tennessee soil in the past 150 years because of their race. Many of their murders remain unsolved.

Now, steps are being taken by the Tennessee Historical Justice Coalition to research the events surrounding the deaths of African Americans since the Civil War.

“The fact that it hasn’t been done demonstrates that there is a need,” said attorney Alex Little, a member of the coalition.

In 2016, Congress reauthorized the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007, which allows the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations to investigate and prosecute criminal civil rights violations that led to death and occurred before 1980.

This June, Tennessee lawmakers passed HB1306, a new bill that allowed for the implementation of a Special Joint Legislative Committee, which will investigate civil rights crimes and cold cases that took place in the state.

On Sept. 14, the coalition met at Bone McAllester Norton PLLC, a law firm in downtown Nashville, to discuss the approach that the group will take, as they proceed to bring testimonies from a few of the cold cases before the Special Joint Commission of the Tennessee Legislature.

The Tennessee Historical Justice Coalition is comprised of citizens across the state whose aim is to enlighten the public about injustices that have been buried in the annals of Tennessee’s past. These cases include arson and murder.

Countless victims, such as the four men, met an undeserving, injudicious fate of brutal death and while their cases went cold over the past few decades, their memories have yet to decompose.

Cordie Cheek, 17, was accused of raping a young, white girl in 1935. Cheek, who was indicted and released for a lack of evidence, was kidnapped from his uncle’s home, a few streets from Fisk University in Nashville. His body was found in Maury County, riddled with bullets.

Albert Gooden, 35, was lynched in Tipton County in 1937. He was accused of shooting and killing a white deputy.  While being held in custody, six unidentified men kidnapped Gooden, hung him from a bridge and riddled his body with bullets.

Jesse Lee Bond, 21, was castrated and dragged by a car in 1939. The incident, which occurred in Shelby County, is believed to have been the result of an argument between Bond and a local store owner.

Elbert Williams, a founder and secretary for the Haywood County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was found dead in the Hatchie River in 1940. His wife viewed his body once it was pulled from the river.

“And when she looked at him she identified, yes, that’s him and she identified what appeared to be two bullet holes in his chest,” said coalition member John Ashworth.

Williams was last seen alive in police custody. Ashworth believes that Williams was the first martyr of the NAACP, preceding Florida organizer Harry T. Moore in 1951.

Politicians, attorneys and academics attended the meeting on Thursday, September 14.

The coalition will survey the state for information about cold cases that occurred between 1862 and 2017. The New Data committee, a subgroup that conducts research, reported that there are 392 cases that will be examined. Information regarding cases that identify living perpetrators will be reviewed by former prosecutors and law enforcement officers to determine the possibility of criminal prosecution.

“Hopefully, the General Assembly will be able to take in the scope of what has happened and help us come up with creative ideas to address it,” Little said.

The coalition also seeks to survey cold cases where religious places of worship, such as churches, synagogues and mosques were targeted for arson or vandalism.

The Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative also includes cases involving institutions, such as the Hattie Cotton Elementary school in Nashville, which was bombed in 1957 after there was a mandate to integrate the student population.

One issue of concern at the meeting was safety. One person said that some of the cases being researched might invite an unfriendly response from descendants of the alleged perpetrators, and possibly from people in communities where the crimes occurred.

This new initiative to reconcile the past will also require the involvement of current state officials.

“You had a period of decades of injustices being allowed to occur with complete impunity,” Little said. “There are people today who not only lived through Jim Crow but through murders that were happening with state sanction.”

Representatives from the coalition said that its objective is to survey civil rights cold cases, prosecute those that are viable, and encourage community reconciliation by bringing awareness to the public.


Jasmine Stansberry is a graduate assistant at the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, currently pursuing a Masters in History at the UofM. Her interests are Twentieth-century African-American history, with an emphasis on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.