Learning About Race
Education is paramount to producing social change.
To that end, we offer these resources about the history and effects of racism. The list, which is by no means exhaustive, includes books, articles, podcasts, and other media.
Talking About Race
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture offers “Talking About Race,” a comprehensive, interactive site. The content is compiled for specific audiences, educators, parents or caregivers, and people committed to equity can find audience-specific content.
The purpose of this toolkit is to inspire and support dialogue about racism within the UHart campus community, and to engage the community in transformative actions that will advance racial justice. In addition to the resources below, we encourage you to explore UHart’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice (DEIJ) Glossary of Foundational Terms and Affirming Language, in the hopes that it will offer some common language for conversations surrounding the topic of antiracism. This is a living document that intends to serve as a launching point for more extensive study and antiracist action.
- 4 Steps That I and Other White People Can Take to Fight Racism - the author shares some of steps they have taken to educate themselves and fight racism, including understanding what white privilege really means, recognizing unconscious bias, learning about the history of systemic racism and its impact on society today, and becoming an ally.
- 3 Vital Steps for Uprooting Racism on University Campuses - the author explains 3 steps on how to get rid of racism on University Campuses by defining racism, defending against racism and developing accountability.
- The Anti-Racist Reading List - Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, shares recommendations of “38 books for those open to changing themselves, and their world.”
- Being Antiracist – the National Museum of African American History and Culture offers information about the forms racism can take and how those different forms of racism work often work in tandem to reinforce racist ideas, behavior, and policy.
- Universities Go Beyond DEI to Become Anti-racist Institutions- This article differentiates anti-racist statements/missions between actively participating in being an anti-racist. It also goes into detail about the initiatives of Tufts University and Southern Illinois University.
- How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. The author writes about how his concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America--but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.
- Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F. Saad. This book leads readers through a journey of understanding their white privilege and participation in white supremacy, so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on Black, Indigenous and People of Color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.
- So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. In “So You Want to Talk About Race”, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.
- We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom, by Bettina L. Love. The author writes this book to teach and motivate educators, parents, and community leaders about the importance of being determined to create a change within the Education System.
- This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell. She writes this in hopes of readers gaining a deeper understanding of their anti-racist self as they progress through 20 chapters that spark introspection, reveal the origins of racism that we are still experiencing, and give courage and power to undo it. Each lesson builds on the previous one as you learn more about yourself and racial oppression.
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? : And Other Conversations About Race. By Beverly Tatum. This book asks the following questions: Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see Black, White, and Latino youth clustered in their own groups. Is this self-segregation a problem to address or a coping strategy? How can we get past our reluctance to discuss racial issues? Then Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about communicating across racial and ethnic divides and pursuing antiracism.
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement.
- 1619 (New York Times) “1619” is a New York Times audio series, hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, that examines the long shadow of American slavery.
- About Race “About Race” is a series of podcasts, by Reni Eddo-Lodge, who further discusses the book “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”.
- Code Switch (NPR) “Code Switch” explores how race affects every part of society — from politics and pop culture to history, food and everything in between, and the series are hosted by journalists of color.
- Intersectionality Matters! hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw “Intersectionality Matters” is a podcast hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw which discusses Critical Race Theory and many other social justice topics.
- Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast “Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast” attributes movement voices, stories and strategies for racial justice.
- Pod For The Cause (from The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights) “Pod For the Cause” was created for people wanting to effect change, who understand the importance of restoring our democracy and want to engage in deep conversation around the issues.
- Pod Save the People (Crooked Media) On Pod Save the People, DeRay Mckesson explores news, culture, social justice, and politics with Kaya Henderson and De’Ara Balenger. They offer a unique take on the news, with a special focus on overlooked stories and topics that often impact people of color.
- Seeing White In the podcast “Seeing White”, Producer John Bielen, along with regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, further explores the topic of “Whiteness” in America.
- The difference between being "not racist" and antiracist – There is no such thing as being "not racist," says author and historian Ibram X. Kendi. In this vital conversation, he defines the transformative concept of antiracism to help us more clearly recognize, take responsibility for and reject prejudices in our public policies, workplaces and personal beliefs. Learn how you can actively use this awareness to uproot injustice and inequality in the world -- and replace it with love.
- How to be anti-racist: it’s more than books, quotes and Blackout Tuesday - This video explains how to be anti-racist. It gives multiple tools on how to deal with criticism, educate yourself and act accordingly.
- 10 Ways To Promote Anti-Racism In The Workplace | Forbes- This video discusses how George Floyd’s death has impacted people. Along with that it gives examples and advice on being anti-racist particularly in the workplace.
- 6 Ways to be an Antiracist Educator - This video consists of multiple Antiracist tools for Educators particularly to practice in the classroom.
- What is Anti-Racism?- This is a quick video describing anti racism and includes a few tools on how to be an antiracist.
- James Baldwin vs William F Buckley Debate - This video is the direct clip of the debate between James Baldwin and William F Buckley. The debates topic is about race in the 1960s. Watch this to decide if America has grown or has stayed stagnant when looking at the topic of race.
Black History Month Resources
In this video Stanford historian Clayborne Carson reflects on a career dedicated to studying and preserving the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Carson tells his story of growing up during the Civil Rights Movement and looking up to leaders like John Lewis and MLK. In 1985, Coretta Scott King selective Carson to publish the definitive, 14-volume edition of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., a comprehensive collection of King’s most significant correspondence, sermons, speeches, published writings and unpublished manuscripts. Today, Carson sees a renewed responsibility among the next generation of activists.
PBS Learning Collection – Civil Rights Then and Now
This collection of videos, documents, and primary sources lends context to the events and leaders that defined the Civil Rights Movement’s first three decades (1954-1985). These resources also capture the issues and activists involved in the struggle today—those making headlines, stirring debate, and trending on social media.
Organization: The Innocence Project
The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. Their mission is to “free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.” The Innocence Project operates on a national and local level.
Video: Black Lives Matter: Campaigning for Racial Justice (From the PBS Learning Collection)
This video is an excerpt from the PBS Learning Collection: Eyes on the Prize, Then and Now. It discusses the “origins, objectives, and makeup of Black Lives Matter, an activist black youth-led movement that campaigns against police brutality and other forms of racism.”
TED Talk: We Need to Talk About an Injustice
In an engaging and personal talk human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America's justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country's black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives.
Series Collection: “Celebrating Black Women and Girls: 50 Years of Black Women’s Studies” Curated by David Green
This article introduces a series curated by David Green, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the Sage Colleges. This essay series celebrates black women and girls and more specifically, black women studies. The series features a total of six essays with topics including black mothers, black identity, and more.
Podcasts: “20 Must Listen to Black Women Podcasts” by Gayneté Jones
This article lists 20 different podcasts that celebrate black women. The article explains that “there is anecdotal evidence that more black people–and black women in particular–are turning to podcasting as a way to amplify their voices. With that in mind, here is a round-up of 20 podcasts by black women that are sure to inspire, spark joy, and give you a few giggles.”
The following report conducted by The Century Foundation discusses the disproportionate impact on people of color and other marginalized groups in healthcare. This report “[examines] the state of health care coverage for African Americans and [sheds] a light on important social factors that uniquely impact their health outcomes.” The Century Foundation is a progressive think tank headquartered in New York City.
TEDx Talk: Allegories on Race and Racism
This TEDx Talk given by Dr. Camara Jones discusses four allegories on race and racism. Additionally, “Dr. Jones is a family physician and epidemiologist whose work focuses on the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of the nation. She seeks to broaden the national health debate to include not only universal access to high quality health care, but also attention to the social determinants of health (including poverty) and the social determinants of equity (including racism).”
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Dr. Brittney Cooper
Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji
How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
Raising Our Hands by Jenna Arnold
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
UGH!?! Not Another Diversity Book! by Justin LaKyle Brown
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, PhD
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
The following site includes a list of articles written by academics:
- The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Podcast Interview with Congressman Tony Coelho
The UHart Disabilities Network (an employee affinity network) in partnership with Executive Vice President Mark Boxer, Abe Hefter, and the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement, presents an interview with Congressman Tony Coelho.
In the interview, Congressman Coelho, the author and primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), talks about his life with a disability, the people who supported and motivated him through his journey, the ADA legislation, and where we go from here.
We invite the UHart community to listen to or read the transcript of the interview, and take information and inspiration from Congressman Coelho’s story.
Interviewee: Congressman Tony Coelho
Interviewer: Abe Hefter, University of Hartford
Interview date: October 26, 2021
Attendees: AH = Abe Hefter (interviewer), TC = Tony Coelho (interviewee)
AH: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, held each year to commemorate the many contributions of people with disabilities to America's workplaces and economy. The University of Hartford Disability Affinity Network sponsors a month-long campaign during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, focusing on weekly topics through strategic University daily email, UNotes, postings. The Affinity Network has drawn attention to acceptance and inclusion, Universal Design for Learning, employment-related resources, with one focus on the Americans with Disabilities Act or “ADA.”
Today I'm honored to talk with Tony Coelho, the primary author of the ADA legislation and a former congressman. Tony joins me today from California. Tony, it's great to talk to you.
TC: Thank you, Abe. It's good to be with you.
AH: Tony, let's start at the very beginning of your personal journey. I know you yourself struggled to deal with a disability: as a teenager you were diagnosed with epilepsy. How were you able to deal with this disability as a young man?
TC: Well, Abe, it started off with me having an accident on the dairy farm, and I didn't have a seizure until a year later and I had a grand mal seizure. My brother carried me in from the barn, where we were milking, into the house. The doctor came out, and the doctor told my parents that he thought it was a seizure, meaning that he felt it was probably epilepsy. My family rejected that because, being Portuguese and firm Catholics, they were taught that if you have epilepsy that you're possessed by the devil and that it was because of some major sin somebody in the family had committed and God was punishing the family through an individual. And so, they went to other doctors to make sure that it was something else, and we went to about three other doctors; all those doctors said, told them it was epilepsy, didn't tell me because in those days you didn't talk to the patient, you talked to the parents and so forth. And so, my parents said, “Well, it's a lack of calcium,” it's this or that, and I never knew the truth. Then we went to witch doctors. We went to three witch doctors who guaranteed that they'd get rid of evil spirits. After the third one, I said I wouldn't go anymore and that caused problems with my family. Then, I just continued having these, I called them “passing out spells,” not knowing what they were, but, you know, I would pass out and once I recovered I could go ahead, I was tired but I could go ahead, and work or do whatever had to be done. I then went to Loyola University in Los Angeles, being taught by the Jesuits, Catholic order of the Church, and I continued having my seizures. I was very impressed with these Jesuits; I went to a small public high school, and I was now exposed to a great deal of just information I never had before. I kept having my seizures and that wasn't a problem.
Kennedy gets assassinated in ’63. I decided as a result of that, that I'm not sure I really want to continue pursuing a legal career; I wanted to be a trial lawyer, impacted by To Kill a Mockingbird, to be honest. And but then after a lot of thought, I decided that I wanted to become a Catholic priest, become a Jesuit. And that was to the shock of my girlfriend [laughter] and my fraternity brothers, but that's what I wanted. And so, when I graduated from college, I was student body president, outstanding senior, and the Jesuits made a big issue of that I was joining the Jesuits. I went for my physical and the doctor said, after all kinds of tests, “Have you ever heard the word ‘epilepsy?’” I said, “No,” and he said, “Well, it’s what you have, and there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you’re 4F and you can’t serve in the military,” just because it was right in the middle of Vietnam (’64), and he said, “The bad news is that the Catholic Church, canon law, established in 400 A.D. said that if you have epilepsy you’re possessed by the devil, you can’t be a priest.” Well, I was, I walked out there happy because I knew what my problem was and he was gonna prescribe medication to help ease the severity of the seizure, no cure, but to ease the severity of it, and to me that was great. And I'd gotten a lot of job offers and so forth, so I called my parents to say how happy I was that I knew what it was. They said, “No son of ours has epilepsy,” and that sort of broke a relationship with my family.
I started going out for interviews for the jobs that people had presented to me, and I couldn't get an interview, because on every job application was the word “epilepsy” and of course I wasn’t gonna lie. I checked it, and I never even got an interview. So after a period of time, I knew that that’s what was causing me not to have these interviews. And so, I then started drinking a lot, and I was drunk by two or three o’clock in the afternoon on a hill, when you're drunk you think it's a mountain, but on a hill in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. And I became suicidal because everything I'd ever wanted to do or loved in my life turned against, meaning my church, God (in my view), my family, I couldn't get a job, and so forth, and so I became suicidal. The day I was going to do the dirty deed, a voice came over me and said, “You're going to be just like those little kids,” there was a merry-go-round at the bottom of the hill, “You’re going to be just like those little kids. You are never going to let anybody or anything stop you from doing what you want to do.” I don't know where that voice came from, but all of a sudden, I got my mojo back and I felt great and I stopped drinking.
And about a couple weeks later a Jesuit friend of mine said, “I have an opportunity for you” and I was all excited, and he said, “I'm friends with some people who know Bob Hope and family and you can end up living with him and so forth.” And I, of course, was excited about that, [laughter] because in 1964 Mr. Hope was a dominant figure in the entertainment world. So I ended up living with them and ate my meals with him at a room in the house with them, traveled with Mr. Hope at times, and so forth. One day he said to me, “Tony, your problem is that you think that you have a ministry and it only can be practiced in a church. Where you're mistaken, is that a true ministry is practiced in sports, in entertainment, business, government, but you belong in politics.” Now, nobody had ever told me that before. Now, I was student body president in high school and college and so forth, so I obviously loved politics, but I didn't think of partisan politics or anything like that. I started thinking about it, it was intriguing to me and so I wrote a letter to my congressman, who I didn't know, and I got a job and started working with him. And I worked with him for thirteen years. I got to know the government from that basis, and when he retired I decided to run in his place. So that's sort of my background and how I ended up in Congress.
AH: I have to ask you, Tony, you know, when I think of Bob Hope, I think of the entertainer and his many appearances hosting the Academy Awards, the Oscars. What was life like in the Bob Hope household?
TC: Oh, it was fun. [laughter] He had, of course, a great sense of humor, and it wasn't just on TV, it was in life. And so, one time we had a dinner and Martha Raye, who most people listening to this wouldn’t know who she was, but she was a very famous comedian at the time, had a TV show, and so forth and so on. And she'd been married five times, and she was over for dinner with her first husband. And so, it was Mr. and Mrs. Hope, her and her husband, and their youngest son, Kelly, and myself. And so, in the midst of the dinner, they started talking and they were making fun of a fellow comedian that was on the air, that was very much in love with his wife on the air, but in fact, in reality, was not. And they just got up from the table and started acting out the part of the lovey dovey stuff and saying “but” this and Mrs. Hope actually fell to the ground laughing so hard. I was laughing. And it was like that all the time. I mean, I can also remember that Lyndon Johnson was president and was concerned, you know, at that point where Mr. Hope was in regards to support and wanted to make sure, knowing that he was a solid Republican and probably a friend of Goldwater’s, he wanted to make sure he didn't endorse Goldwater. And so, Johnson would call and he'd say, “Oh my god, there he is again just trying to keep me away from going,” and you know we would laugh and so forth. And then he was very close to Goldwater, and he showed me a letter that Goldwater sent him. I never knew of any phone calls, but I'm sure there were, but a letter that was just spectacular, and, as a Democrat, I was very impressed with what Goldwater said. I ended up voting for Johnson because of my concern of a few issues, but it was that type of thing, you know, he one other time, I'll tell you quickly, that he played every weekend and he brought in a golf pro from somewhere in the country, ‘cause he had three holes in his backyard, and have a lesson from this golf pro. And after the lesson, Kelly and I would join he and the golf pro for brunch. And so, I got to meet all these guys, and one day Mr. Hope said, “Tony, have you ever played golf?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, I'm going to get you some clubs and let's go out and play.” I said, “Okay,” you know, why not? But not too far into that little session, he said “Uh, I think you ought to pass on this.” [laughter] So I never touched a golf club since that time. Anyhow, it was a ball. I’ll tell ya. And he became like a father to me. He was just wonderful and when I left he said, “I hope that you won't write anything about our experiences and your living here.” And I said, “Of course I won't,” and so I took it to the nth degree. And so, one day I'm in Modesto, my area, and there's a lot of Greeks in that area, and so they had an event and I decided to go as Congressman, decided to go because a Greek had run against me the first time, and I lost the Greek vote the first time and I decided well, I gotta court these people. So I go to this event and Bob Hope is the guest. And so, I'm sitting way in the back ‘cause I'm keeping my promise. I sit way in the back and all of a sudden I get a tap on my shoulder and this guy says, “Mr. Hope knows you're here and he wants to talk to you,” so I immediately get up and I go back to the green room and he's, I walk in, and he says, “What are you doing?” [laughter] and I say, “What do you mean?” He said, “We haven’t talked since x period of years.” And I said, “Mr. Hope, I promised you that I would never use our relationship in any way.” He said, “Don't you think you're carrying it too far?” And so, we took some pictures and then I saw him several times after that but just a wonderful, wonderful human being, and his wife was the same.
AH: Tony how exactly was it, and I guess when was it, that you entered politics?
TC: Well, after I wrote the letter to my congressman and I got the job, I loved it. I mean, I loved being a staffer and he was the type of guy that was very involved in a lot of different things. We come from an agriculture area, so obviously he was on the agriculture committee, and he wanted me to help him on agriculture issues because his staff, there was nobody on there that was from agriculture, and so he wanted me to help. So my job was to be the agriculture person for him and also the file clerk. I was making $6,000 a year as a starting job, but I loved it. I loved everything about it, and you know, the genes are there, I guess, and so as the more I worked with him and he exposed me to a lot of different things and so forth, one day, and he became like my father – he and his wife became father and mother to me and to my wife, and our kids called them “grandma and grandpa” and so forth; we went to every football game and baseball game with him and so forth – so one day when we’re talking, and we would spend the holidays with he and his wife, he said, “Look it, when I retire, I would like you to take my place.” Well you know, I was excited – “Yes!” Now it took him several years to decide to retire, but I was excited and that’s how I really got into the whole thing, realizing that this was a career opportunity all of a sudden. And, and so I worked with him and he called me, actually he had a family meeting, he had two daughters and so, I was out in California with him, and he called a dinner meeting of all of us. And the oldest daughter was very political, the youngest one wasn't so much, but the oldest was a reporter for the Fresno Bee, and she and I were very close. And so she says to me, “I think this is going to be his retirement announcement.” And I said, “I’ve not heard anything.” Now we were very, very close and I hadn’t heard a thing, so we were talking about it and so we go to their house for dinner. And so we have dinner, nothing’s said, nothing at all. We have dinner so forth, and we leave the table, and we go into the living room and he's in there and we're talking and Mrs. Sisk cleans up the table, I guess, and the daughters were helping and then she comes in and she sits beside him and he said, “Well, I wanted to call all of you together to tell you that Mom and I have decided that I will retire at the end of this term. And this is confidential, ‘cause I intend to announce it at the Kiwanis Club,” which he was a Kiwanian, “at the Kiwanis Club next week and I will announce it there, but if the word gets out, Tony and,” Bobby was his daughter, “Tony and Bobby.” She's a reporter, so she had a scoop, right?
TC: So he said, “If this gets out, Tony or Bobby, I can change my mind and I will.” So needless to say, we weren't about to say anything anyway, right? [laughter] So that's how I got into it – he openly supported me and I didn't have a problem getting elected the whole time I was in Congress.
AH: After being elected to congress, you made disability a priority.
AH: What is it about Tony Coelho, not necessarily the politician but the person, that enabled you to work with, work in a bipartisan fashion to help craft this piece of legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990?
TC: Well, I think, Abe, one of the things that's important, that a lot of people don't really know about me, but I'm very religious. And I have real strong religious values about what should and should not happen, and particularly the treatment of people less fortunate than me and so forth, and that’s people of color, sexual differences, disability, and so forth. And so, when I got elected, I was committed to these values and what I tried to do was offer amendments in regards to the whole disability area, because we weren’t covered. And so, I realized after offering these amendments that we didn't have our basic civil rights, so it didn't do any good to do what I was trying to get done. And so, I then started looking at so how do I get our basic civil rights and of course the Civil Rights Acts of ‘64 and ‘65 tell you a lot of what they went through and so I looked at that, talked to a lot of people, and realized the only thing to do was to do something in regards to civil rights for those of us with disabilities.
And Reagan was the president, and he had a team or a group that dealt with, it was the disability committee and it’s the President's Committee on Disability and so forth, and the chair of that was a woman from Connecticut, the vice chair was a woman from Nevada, no excuse me, was from Colorado, and both of them had children with a disability – neither one of them had a disability. And they were asking for something in the area of correcting civil rights and so I started talking to them. I didn't realize at the time there was a major grassroots effort, started out in California, of trying to get something done in this area. But I worked with the Reagan folks, and one of the things that I decided that I wanted to be bicameral, meaning House and Senate, and I wanted to be bipartisan, Republican and Democrat. And so, there was a senator from Connecticut, Lowell Weicker, that had a son with a disability, and they were very interested, Republican, they were very interested in having him lead the effort on the Senate side and I would put in the bill on the House side. And so, after working on this and we got it together, I then sent out a “dear colleague letter” to my colleagues saying I was putting in this legislation. You know what was surprising, Abe? Is that members, Democrats and Republicans, would come up to me and say, “Tony, I like what you're trying to do. I don't like the way my wife, my daughter, my son, my father, my mother, my next-door neighbor is treated because of their disability, and I want to help you.” Now none of them had really read my letter or whatever; they just didn't like the discrimination. And so I got something like 50 some co-sponsors, bipartisan, but it was towards the end of the session and consequently we had to come back the next year and start all over again.
And when we came back and I introduced it with another dear colleague, I got something like 150 co-sponsors. And so, then I left the Congress and I asked Steny Hoyer to lead the effort, I still would lead it from the outside and so forth. And the leadership was basically opposed because they felt it was too broad and that the public would end up being against it, and so they’d have to repeal it or whatever – we had just gone through that on another piece of legislation dealing with health care – and so the Speaker asked me to pull the bill and to come up with different parts, and I said, “No.” Now at that point, I was the Whip in the house, and so I felt I had authority, and I felt that we could get the votes to do it, so I said, “No.” And then what they did was they assigned it to I think five, six, seven committees and about twelve, fifteen subcommittees in order to slow it down and to stop it. But what we did, was strategize and got the most favorable subcommittee of the most favorable committee – it was a gentleman from New York and he was very supportive of what I was trying to do. And so, we had a hearing there, won it, and then the full committee supported it. Then we went to the next committee, did a subcommittee, the subcommittee approved it, and the thing was that relationships that I had developed really came into play. John Dingell was concerned about the scope of the bill, blah blah blah, but he and I were close friends, and so he said, “I’ll go along with it, even though I’m concerned.” And then Jack Brooks from Texas, who was chairman of Judiciary, John was chairman of Health and Services or whatever, I can’t remember the proper title, but it was one of the most powerful committees. And Jack Brooks was head of Judiciary, same issue, but I’ll go along with you. And then we got to Public Works, and Greyhound decided to really take it on and they organized the motorbus owners to take it on and I got the Chamber to be for it. But in the Public Works Committee, we won it on a vote of 21 to 20, and I could give you some of the stories about what happened with that, but it would take too long here. But that’s how we got it.
On the Senate side, it was fairly easy. Because you had Bob Dole, a person with a disability; you had Tom Harkin, brother with a disability; you had Ted Kennedy, with several family members, including his son, with a disability; and you had Orrin Hatch, who was Mormon, and the Mormons – according to Orrin –thought that if you had a disability, you were a child of God, and so he was very supportive when I testified on the Senate side, actually had tears based on my story and so forth. So, on the Senate side, we had two Democrats, two Republicans, and all of them with influential positions, so it got through the Senate fairly easy. The House side was the problem and then when we had to go to Papa Bush to sign it, and I’m talking about President Bush – I was very close to him, so I do call him “Papa Bush” all the time – but his chief of staff John Sununu was totally opposed because of the impact it would have on business and this was gonna be awful and so forth, and John personally told me, “I’m recommending to veto, and I know you’re gonna talk to the President and he might overrule it, but you just know that I’m pushing for a veto.” But I talked to the President and he said to me, “Look it, I am in support of what you’re trying to do. John has his right to have his view and he’ll present it to me and so forth, but I’m with you,” because what people don’t know is, or some do of course, but that he had a daughter who died of a disability at a very young age. And so he and his wife were committed to disability rights and so forth, so that was we got it through over John's objections and we got it in and it was a great day when he signed the legislation.
AH: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. As the primary author of this piece of legislation, Tony, how do you view the last 30 plus years, when it comes to the goals set out for the ADA and have they been met?
TC: Well, I would look at it, there was no data to support what I was trying to do; in other words what I'm saying: we didn't know how many people with disabilities there were in the United States, we had no idea where they were, and so forth. So a definition of “what is a disability” had to be defined by agencies of government, so there was a whole period of taking this piece of legislation and how do you implement it. And they really didn't at the end of the Papa Bush Administration and so it became an issue for Bill Clinton and he was very, very supportive as well and he had people in the Justice Department which this has went to, who were aggressively trying to help get it implemented and we made some progress in that period. But then it slowed down because there wasn't the priority. W. Bush, the son, as president, of course, had the sister who died and it was opposed strongly by Dick Cheney, the VP. But what we, what we did is that the Supreme Court ruled that ADA only covered physical disabilities, and that was, you know they were all older, different generations, and that's what they saw and but that's what they ruled. And I was irritated as heck because, you know, I helped draft the thing, and I talked openly about epilepsy and other disabilities and the record showed it but the Supreme Court ruled that those of us with these intellectual or other disabilities were not included. So we had to introduce legislation, and we called it Americans … ADA Amendments Act, and we introduced it, quickly went through the Congress, basically overruling the Supreme Court, which is not normally done. And then it was on W’s desk and Cheney basically was opposed. So I’d heard that, so I went down to Houston and met with Papa Bush. So I’m explaining what’s going on and he says, “Well, where is it locked up?” and I said, “Well…” and I started stuttering and he said, “No, tell me. Where is it locked up?” And I said, “Well, Mr. President, I only know what is being told to me. I don’t know for sure, but I’m told it’s in Cheney’s office and he's the one who's holding it up.” And he said some things, which I won't say on the air here. So he taps the phone and calls his assistant and says, “Get me the Chief of Staff,” meaning W’s Chief of Staff. So in a minute he comes on and he says, “Hey, you know that ADA Amendments Act? It’s there before the President. That's really important to me. It's the L word, and I really want him to go ahead and sign that.” So he hangs up and I'm sweating. I'm thinking, “The ‘L word.’ Please, please, please. This is the W and Cheney Administration. ‘L’ means ‘liberal,’ that's going to kill it.” And so I was careful, he was telling me about, you know, what was being told to him, and I swallowed a bit and said, “Mr. President, what’d you mean by ‘the L word?’” And he said, “Legacy. I hate that word. That's what everybody says, and so forth, and I don't want to say it because, ya know … but that's what I meant.” I went, “Whew!” And of course then it was signed by W. So we had Papa Bush sign the basic bill and W sign the Amendments Act, so both Bushes got involved. In that meantime, there was all kinds of attempts on our part to get it enforced, and that meant the Justice Department and so on. And so, it was Clinton we pushed. We didn't get much help in the W administration. Then we came on to Obama and they aggressively pushed it, got the data that we needed, and enforced it. Now, I always say to people, “Look it, all civil rights legislation is, is a piece of paper. There is nothing about it, except it's a piece of paper. It has to be enforced, and if you don't have an enforcement mechanism, you have nothing. So whoever's the President of the United States appoints the Attorney General. The Attorney General appoints the head of the Civil Rights Division – that's the key. If the head of the Civil Rights Division doesn't want to enforce the civil rights bills for people of color, gays, women, or disability, nothing happens. And so basically, the Obama Administration really enforced it, making states comply, making companies to comply, and then, of course, taking action for individuals, not specific but groups of individuals, that were discriminated against. So, we got really pushed and so forth. Now, I will tell you that during all this time, I have argued aggressively that I did not want the ADA opened up for amendments, ‘cause I've always felt that there would be a movement against the ADA and that we'd have trouble. Sure enough, when the Republicans gained control of the House, the time before this, and they passed legislation, by close margin – it was only a few votes – passed legislation to basically gut the ADA. So, my concern was verified then as result of that, but it was killed in the Senate. And so now the ADA is stronger and stronger, I don't see a way for them to amend it or try to gut it, but who knows. And so, has it been enforced to the extent that I'd like? No. Has it reached the accomplishments that I wanted? No. But I always tell those of us with a disability, “Listen, in ‘64 and ‘65 civil rights for people of color was established. Do you think it’s worked totally for them? That everything is great and so forth? In the Seventies, women got their basic rights, in effect civil rights, and basically, you know, women still have problems and so forth.” And I said, “So, it's a long process for us, as well as others. So we got to keep pushing [clap] and pushing [clap] and pushing [clap] and if we do, we’ll get there.”
AH: Tony, if we bring the conversation a little closer to home, so to speak, how can members of the University of Hartford family be better allies to people with disabilities, both on campus and in our local communities? And I guess more broadly, how can the average citizen affect change for people with disabilities?
TC: Well, I think the key thing is to understand that those of us with disabilities have abilities. I like to say all the time, because of my epilepsy I can't be a pilot on a plane, I can't drive an ambulance or a police car, I can't have a gun. You know what? I don’t have trouble with that. There are a lot of things I can do better than people who don't have a disability. And so it's making sure that you give people with disabilities an opportunity to fail. If you give us the opportunity to fail, then we can prove that we can succeed. But if we don't have that opportunity, we can't get anywhere. So, for companies, for individuals: give those of us with a disability an opportunity to fail. So, I'm not asking for anything or demanding that anything be done, other than just give us an opportunity, and what we have found is that a lot of businesses that have hired people with disability realize many things – that those of us with disabilities want a job, those of us with disabilities will be there on time because it is so critical to us. You know, if you don't have a job you basically can't rent or buy a home, you can't get a car, you can't take care of your family like others can do, so it's critical that we have a job, that we have income. I told basically five of the last six presidents that I don't know any group in society, other than those of us with disabilities, who want to pay taxes. And the reason we want to pay taxes is ‘cause that means we have a job. And so, everybody's fighting not to pay taxes – we’re the other way around. And so what can companies do? Hire us. What can individuals do? Promote us, help us. We don't want a handout. We don't want sympathy. What we want is opportunity. And if we can't do it, fire us; if we can't do it, say, “No,” but be open as individuals or companies or societies, churches, give us an opportunity to fail.
AH: Tony, on behalf of the University of Hartford and the Disability Affinity Network, I thank you so much for your time today.
TC: Thank you, Abe.
AH: This interview is sponsored by the University of Hartford Disability Affinity Network. The Network is open to allUniversity of Hartford employees and serves as a part of the University's strategic efforts to ensure an inclusive environment where employees experience a greater sense of belonging and engagement. If you are interested in learning more about the Disability Affinity Network or other UHart employee Affinity Networks, you can find more information on the University of Hartford’s Diversity and Inclusion main website. I’m Abe Hefter.
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Protecting the Right to Vote
On October 15, 2020, the University of Hartford’s Associate Professor of Political Science Bilal Sekou facilitated a panel of advocates and political leaders including democracy reform activist Karen Hobert Flynn, Senator Douglas McCrory, and Rock the Vote's Director of Digital Organizing Michelle Stockwell. They spoke on voting rights and the importance of protecting your right to vote. Read more about voting right on UNotes.
Get Out the Vote
Contact the Lecture Panel
Karen Hobert Flynn + Common Cause
Senator Doug McCrory
Michelle Stockwell + Rock the Vote’s Organizing Team