Concerns raised that ‘dark money’ behind trying to get Justice Brett Kavanaugh to change his vote in case Milligan plaintiffs ask SCOTUS to deny Alabama’s appeal for a stay in redistricting case

 Alabama Redistricting map, which creates two possible Black voting age majority districts

From reports by Patrick Darrington and Bill Britt, Alabama Political Reporters

On Tuesday, attorneys representing the Milligan plaintiffs in the Allen v. Milligan suit filed a response to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the court to deny Allen’s emergency request for a stay that was filed last week with the high court.
Two weeks ago, a federal district court ruled that Alabama’s 2023 congressional map passed by the legislature in July failed to create a “remedy” to the previous map’s dilution of Black voting power. Secretary of State Wes Allen on behalf of the state filed an appeal to stay that decision but the district court refused the stay prompting Allen to make an emergency request to the Supreme Court to freeze the decision.
In June of 2023, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision , with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh voting with the three liberal judges: Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, that Alabama had violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by not redistricting to allow Black voters a chance to select two of the seven Alabama Congresspersons, when Black people were 27% of the Black voting age population in the state.
The Alabama State Legislature in August 2023 held a Special Session on redistricting and produced a Congressional Redistricting Map which did not create two districts that could elect a Black candidate, in defiance of the Supreme Court and a special three judge appellate court in Alabama. In part, the Alabama Legislature was hoping for a rehearing of their case by the Supreme Court, with the possibility of flipping the vote of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and declaring Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act unenforceable.
Bill Britt of Alabama Political Reporters has found a connection between Leonard Leo, Director of the Federalist Society and other groups, dark money supporters of a conservative agenda on the Supreme Court, personal vacation trips and other benefits offered to Justices Thomas, Alito, and others by billionaires with business interests before the courts, the Republican leaders of the Alabama Legislature, Alabama District Attorney Steve Marshall, and others. This group is pushing to get the Alabama redistricting case back before the U. S. Supreme Court, so they can influence Justice Brett Kavanaugh to change his vote and kill the Alabama two district redistricting plan.
The Alabama redistricting case has national implications for the future composition and control of the U. S. House of Representatives, since there are similar redistricting cases in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, North Carolina, and other states to create opportunities for the election of Black candidates, who are likely to be Democrats replacing incumbent Republican Congresspersons. The Republicans currently control the House of Representatives by a five-seat majority which could evaporate if redistricting is done in these southern states.
U. S. Supreme Court considering the State of Alabama’s emergency appeal
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who handles cases from Alabama, gave the Allen vs Milligan plaintiffs in the litigation until Sept.19 to issue their response to the stay. The counsel for the plaintiffs did so and in their filing stressed that Alabama defied both the district court and Supreme Court’s previous rulings.  Much of the response argues the map put forth by the state plainly fails to remedy issues with the prior map by not implementing two majority Black districts as was ordered.
“The Secretary of State (Wes Allen), and legislative defendants, are free to make whatever arguments they wish to the Special Master about their preferred redistricting criteria for formulating the remedial map,” the filing stated. “What the Secretary cannot do is pretend this motion is something other than what it is: a request to defy this court’s decision by implementing a “remedy” that cures nothing and prevents Black voters from having an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in a second congressional district. The Court should deny Alabama’s application for stay pending appeal and summarily affirm the district court’s decision below.”
In June, the Supreme Court sided with the district court and ruled in Allen v. Milligan that Alabama’s 2021 congressional map likely violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and diluted Black voting power. The district court ordered Alabama to create a second majority, Black district or “something close to it.” Yet, Alabama defied this order backed by the Supreme Court and kept only one majority Black district. 
The state has attempted to argue they were trying to keep intact “communities of interest.” The Milligan counsel attacked this argument in the filing stating the legislature changed the criteria and factors involved with determining “communities of interest” and that those communities are not a “trump card” to ignore Section 2 or the creation of a second majority Black district.
“More fundamentally, nothing in the law justifies treating state-selected communities of interest as a “trump card” that overrides compliance with [Section 2] or nullifies Plaintiffs’ showing that Black Alabamians are geographically compact enough to comprise a reasonably configured second opportunity district,” the counsel wrote. “To the contrary, a rule that made certain retrofitted, attorney-identified communities of interest or map-drawing requirements inviolable would radically rewrite the [Section 2] inquiry, which “for more than forty years … has expressly provided that a violation is established based on the ‘totality of circumstances.’”

The response also mentioned the peculiar nature of how Alabama passed the Senate version of the congressional map and the state’s confidence in getting the case heard “anew” by the Supreme Court. APR originally reported in July this was due to high ranking ALGOP members including Attorney General Steve Marshall acquiring “intelligence” Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh could potentially flip his vote to overturn Section 2 of the VRA. 

However, new reporting from APR has discovered the dark money connections supporting this disobedience. in D.C. supporting the ALGOP’s deliberate disobedience of Supreme Court orders and attempts to overturn Section 2 of the VRA. 
The report details connections between far-right figure Leonard Leo labeled the “hidden architect of the Supreme Court”, Marshall, Solicitor General Edmund LaCour and a D.C. law firm called Consovoy McCarthy. Leo is infamous for supporting high stakes political challenges to attempt to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Roe and it appears he is now attempting to support an upheaval of voting rights law.
“These previously unreported connections between Alabama officials who led the state’s 2023 redistricting process and various players seeking to reshape America may be the reason Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature gambled on a rehearing before the U.S. Supreme Court,” Bill Britt wrote, “in hopes their inside intelligence was right in believing Kavanaugh would change his previous vote in Allen v. Milligan.”
In Allen’s stay request he asked the Supreme Court to decide by at least Oct. 4 in hopes the current map will be used in the upcoming election cycle. The Milligan attorney closed their brief by stating Alabama’s actions would harm substantial portion of the public.
“Alabama’s flagrant disregard of court orders and significant lack of responsiveness” to a sizeable portion of the electorate harms the strong public interest in protecting the right to vote and the rule of law.”


Newswire Decaying dams blamed for ‘worst disaster’ in Libyan history

Flood damage in Libyan city of Derna

Sep. 18, 2023 (GIN) – As stricken Libyans searched for signs of life amid the wreckage left by two enormous dams that burst in a hurricane-strength storm, anger was growing over warnings that were ignored but could have possibly prevented the worst disaster in the country’s modern history.
“A lot of people are responsible for this. The dam wasn’t fixed, so now it’s a disaster,” said Alwad Alshawly, an English teacher who had spent three days burying bodies as a rescue volunteer, according to Reuters.
Searchers digging through mud and hollowed-out buildings say 10,000 people are missing and feared dead in flooding that has already taken the lives of over 11,000 men, women and children. The dams collapsed in exceptionally heavy rains from Mediterranean storm Daniel, sending a wall of water several feet high, gushing down a valley that cuts through the city of Derna.
The unusual flooding and Libya’s political chaos contributed to the enormous toll. The oil-rich state has been split since 2014 between rival governments in the east and west backed by various militia forces and international patrons.
When hydrologist Abdul Wanis Ashour began researching the system of dams protecting the eastern Libya port town of Derna, the peril facing residents was already no secret, he said. Ashour warned that if the dams were not urgently maintained, the city faced a potential catastrophe.
“There were warnings before that,” he said. “The Libyan government knew what was going on in the Derna River Valley. The two dams were built around half a century ago and the danger of the situation was known for a very long time.”
Derna is prone to flooding, and its dam reservoirs have caused at least five deadly floods since 1942, the latest of which was in 2011, according to a research paper published by Libya’s Sebha University last year.
All dams are potentially dangerous, according to the U.S. Association of State Dam Safety Officials –  if they are old and have not been properly maintained or have fallen into disrepair.
At last count, according to a report by the Associated Press, there are 91,757 dams in the U.S. and more than 2,200 are in poor condition, likely endangering lives if they were to fail. Climate change has subjected some dams to greater strain from intense rainstorms. Homes, businesses and highways have cropped up below dams that were originally built in remote locations.
“All of the sudden, you’ve got older dams with a lower design criteria that now can potentially cause loss of life if they fail,” said Del Shannon, an engineer who is president of the U.S. Society on Dams. “The number of deficient, high-hazard dams is increasing,” he said, adding that without investment in upgrades that number will continue to rise.
The actual number of high-hazard dams is likely even higher than the AP’s tally, because some states don’t track such data and many federal agencies refuse to release that information. The $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed last year by President Joe Biden will pump about $3 billion into dam-related projects, including hundreds of millions for state dam safety programs and repairs.
Yet it’s still just a fraction of the nearly $76 billion needed to fix the tens of thousands of dams owned by individuals, companies, community associations, state and local governments, and other entities besides the federal government, according to a report by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
New York has about twice the number of high-hazard dams as it did in 2018, when the AP previously collected data for analysis. 
Meanwhile, prosecutor general Al-Seddik Al-Sour has announced an investigation into the circumstances leading to the flash flood that swept through the city last Sunday. Like much of Libya’s crumbling infrastructure, the two dams that had been built to hold back water from Derna fell into disrepair over years of neglect, conflict and division.
An Italian engineering firm hired to assess the damage confirmed finding cracks and recommended the construction of a third dam to protect the city, said Al-Sour.
In 2007, Gaddafi’s government entrusted repair work to a Turkish company. But because of payment issues, the company did not begin the work until October 2010, and halted less than five months later after the revolution that led to Gaddafi’s downfall began.
None of the successive governments since 2011 has undertaken the work, according to a a 2021 report which blamed “procrastination” for the failure to resume repairs on the two dams.
World Meteorological Organization chief Petteri Taalas said many deaths could have been avoided if early warning and emergency management systems had functioned properly in the war-scarred country.
Along with Libyans, dozens of Sudanese migrants died in the disaster. The country has become a major transit point for Middle Eastern and African migrants fleeing conflict and poverty to seek a better life in Europe.

Newswire: Black Texas student given additional suspension for loc hairstyle

Daryl George, 17, student at Texas high school suspended for hairstyle

By Chandelis Duster, CNN

CNN — A Black Texas high school student who was suspended because his loc hairstyle violated the district’s dress code was suspended again upon his return to school Monday, an attorney for the family told CNN.

Darryl George has been suspended for more than two weeks because his loc hairstyle violates the Barbers Hill Independent School District dress and grooming code, according to his family.  The code states that “male students’ hair will not extend, at any time, below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes,” CNN previously reported.
Allie Booker, an attorney representing the family, told CNN Tuesday that school officials have asked George and his mother to meet to discuss the continued disciplinary action over his hairstyle violations.
The family has been given a Wednesday deadline to meet with school officials, the lawyer said.  “What I expect for them to try to do is to put him out of school,” Booker told CNN. “But they won’t do it with our consent.”
The family was previously told the teen would be placed in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, also known as alternative school, if he didn’t cut his hair, Booker said. 
In a statement shared with CNN, David Bloom, director of communications for the Barbers Hill Independent School District, said the district is “unable to provide any comment with respect to disciplinary matters involving a student.”
George, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, received multiple disciplinary action notes and was placed on in-school suspension for wearing his locs hairstyle in a ponytail, his mother, Darresha George, previously told CNN. 
She said Darryl was suspended the same week the state’s CROWN Act, a law prohibiting discrimination based on one’s hair texture or protective hairstyle such as locs and braids, went into effect. His mother told CNN the family is considering legal action.
She also said school officials told George his loc hairstyle violated the district dress code which also states, “Male students’ hair must not extend below the top of a t-shirt collar or be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a t-shirt collar, below the eyebrows, or below the ear lobes when let down.”
George was initially reprimanded by a school official for his locs and for wearing frayed jeans, which are also prohibited.
His mother previously told CNN the school said the 17-year-old he could change his clothes but he would also have to cut his hair.  When the teen did not cut his hair, he was put on in-school suspension.

Newswire: Historically Black Land-Grant (1890) Universities deprived of $12.6 Billion in funding over three decades, Biden Administration reveals

 Statue of Booker T. Washington on campus of Tuskegee University, an 1890 Historically Black Land Grant 

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

Historically Black land-grant universities across 16 states have been denied a staggering $12.6 billion in funding over the past 30 years, according to the Biden administration. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack announced that they have contacted governors in each affected state, urging them to rectify the funding gap, which has had its most significant impact in Tennessee, according to a news release. Tennessee State University has suffered an underfunding deficit of $2.1 billion.

“Unacceptable funding inequities have forced many of our nation’s distinguished historically Black colleges and universities to operate with inadequate resources and delay critical investments in everything from campus infrastructure to research and development to student support services,” Cardona emphasized.

Similar letters were dispatched to governors in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The nation’s land-grant universities, established in the 19th century, were designed to advance agricultural education and research. While federal law mandates equitable distribution of state funding for all land-grant universities, this has not been realized for many historically Black institutions, as revealed in a comprehensive analysis.

Utilizing data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal agencies uncovered funding disparities in 16 out of 18 states hosting Black land grants. Only Delaware and Ohio provided equitable funding.

Cardona spoke fervently about the accomplishments of HBCUs and their impact on various professions. “The Biden-Harris Administration is proud to have made record investments in our HBCUs, but to compete in the 21st century, we need state leaders to step up and live up to their legally required obligations to our historically Black land-grant institutions,” Cardona demanded.

Vilsack echoed Cardona’s sentiments, recognizing these institutions’ pivotal role in agricultural advancements. He emphasized the need for governors to invest in HBCUs at levels commensurate with their contributions to society and the economy.

In a news release, administration officials noted that the Second Morrill Act of 1890 mandated that states establishing a second land-grant university for Black students ensure equitable distribution of state funds between their 1862 and 1890 land-grant institutions. The 1862 land-grant universities were established through the First Morrill Act of 1862, which provided states with federal land to support the colleges.

Drawing on data from the National Center for Education Statistics from 1987 to 2020, the departments calculated the amount these institutions would have received if their state funding per student equaled that of 1862 institutions. Officials said the discrepancies in appropriated funding ranged from $172 million to $2.1 billion, creating significant financial disparities. Over the past three decades, these funds could have been channeled towards crucial infrastructure and student services, enhancing the universities’ capacity to pursue grants and expand educational opportunities.

The Departments of Education and Agriculture said they have extended their offer to collaborate with each state’s budget office to analyze the funding data and redress the disparities in investments for 1890 HBCUs that have faced chronic underfunding.

Each letter outlined the specific underfunding per student for each state’s 1890 HBCUs between 1987 and 2020 and suggested remedies for the situation. “We want to make abundantly clear that it is not necessary to reduce funding to other institutions, nor make a reduction in general fund allocations to (HBCUs) in addressing these disparities,” the secretaries wrote. “We are at an inflection point that will determine our place in the world as leaders. We need to solidify our country as the top producer of talent and innovation – demonstrating to the global community that nothing can beat American ingenuity.”

They continued: “The state that serves as our nation’s economic engine for the next generation is sure to be one that fully realizes all its assets and is committed to ensuring that opportunity is equally distributed. Given the career opportunities that will be available due to recent bipartisan federal investments for key industries, strengthening these universities to provide tomorrow’s workforce will enhance your state’s economic viability.”

Newswire: Tommy Tuberville pledged to ‘donate every dime’ to veterans. He hasn’t.

Analysis by Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker 
The Washington Post
I stand with our veterans and I’m going to donate every dime I make when I’m in Washington, D.C., to the veterans of the state of Alabama. Folks, they deserve it. They deserve it a lot more than most of us.”

— Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), in a Facebook campaign video, March 9, 2020

As senator, Tuberville has made veterans one of his key issues. The former football coach serves on both the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Armed Services Committee. He is now in a high-profile battle with the Biden administration over abortion policy affecting veterans. He has stalled the confirmation of more than 250 senior military officers over his objection to a Defense Department policy allowing military personnel and their families to recoup travel expenses incurred while seeking an abortion if they are stationed in a state that bans or restricts the procedure.

Yet there is no evidence that Tuberville has kept a key pledge he made when he ran for Senate three years ago — that he would “donate every dime” he made in Washington to Alabama veterans.

The Facts

A U.S. senator earns $174,000 a year. We’re assuming that Tuberville was proposing to donate only his salary, not the substantial earnings he makes from his investments. (He has an estimated net worth of $20 million.) With Tuberville now having served 2½ years as senator, that would amount to a total of $437,000 in potential donations.

In the past decade, Tuberville has made contributions to veterans via a charitable organization, the Tommy Tuberville Foundation, that he established in 2014 after he was hired as football coach at the University of Cincinnati. His employment contract, which paid him a minimum of $1.6 million a year, stipulated that he donate at least $5,000 a month as a gift to the athletics department. For instance, in 2016 he paid for 150 season tickets for veterans in a section of the stadium dubbed Tubby’s Troops. The transaction was billed to the Tommy Tuberville Foundation, whose primary mission is “assisting our military and veterans.”
The Internal Revenue Service certified the Tommy Tuberville Foundation as a public charity in 2015, making donations to the organization tax-deductible. But a review of IRS filings made by the foundation show that very little has been spent on charitable causes — especially since he became a senator. Tuberville moved the charity to Alabama in 2018 after he left the coaching position in Cincinnati in 2016.

In 2021, the foundation reported it had $74,101 in revenue and spent just 12 percent of that, or $9,000, while $32,000 went to administrative costs (including nearly $12,400 to pay off a truck the charity purchased in 2018 for $27,369). In 2022, the foundation apparently had gross receipts of less than $50,000 and was required to file only a 990-N, known as a postcard, providing even less detail. (The test for filing a postcard considers the average of the past three years.)

The charity also filed a postcard in 2020, and in its 2021 filing it suggested it received no money at all in 2020. The charity generally provides little detail on how money is raised, but its 2018 filing cited fundraising through a golf tournament and speaking engagements. Most of the donations it reported were relatively small — $8,763 in 2015 and $13,245 in 2016 for “veterans home renovations” and $4,536 in 2018 for Flags for Vets. (The foundation filed the wrong form in 2017, so few details are provided, while 2019 and 2020 were also postcard filings.)

Laurie Styron, executive director of Charity Watch, an American Institute of Philanthropy charity watchdog, reviewed the Tommy Tuberville Foundation filings for The Fact Checker. She said that because of the postcard filings there was an “accountability black hole” about the charity that made it difficult “to understand if promises were fulfilled, or monitor a charity’s grants relative to its overhead spending.” The main reason the IRS permits small charities to file such limited data is so they can report they are still operating, she said.

“With respect to the $174k per year specifically, the 2021 990 Schedule A reflects that the charity didn’t report receiving contributions even close to this amount in any of the past 5 years,” Styron said in an email. “In fact, the charity reports receiving only $218k in contributions for the past 5 years combined. If he promised to donate his salary to vets, he certainly isn’t fulfilling this promise by donating to this particular charity.”

The 2021 filing lists Rodney Williams as the foundation chairman. Williams is an Alabama pharmacist who contributed to Tuberville’s campaign. He did not respond to a request for comment. Anna Harris, listed as the registered agent in the charity’s filing with the Alabama secretary of state’s office, said she had not worked for the charity for “a couple of years” and could not answer any questions.

The foundation’s Facebook page features articles on some veterans’ initiatives sponsored by the senator since he took office but does not feature any fundraising activity since a 2019 golf tournament.

The Fact Checker contacted nine veterans’ organizations represented on the Alabama State Board of Veterans Affairs. Three state affiliates — Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars — responded and said they have received no donations from either Tuberville or the Tommy Tuberville Foundation.

We also contacted other veterans’ organizations that the Tommy Tuberville Foundation Facebook page has indicated it has supported in the past. For instance, Still Serving Veterans is a Huntsville charity that helps veterans transition to civilian employment. “Still Serving Veterans received a small donation from the Tommy Tuberville Foundation in 2019 as the nonprofit beneficiary of a golf tournament he hosted, but we have not received any contributions since then,” said Debbie Joyner, chief development officer of the organization. Jamie Popwell, president of Flags for Vets, said the organization has received $500 in 2018, $1,000 in 2019 and $2,500 in 2020, but has not received any donation since then.
Tuberville’s staff indicated that thus far the senator had not lived up to his pledge.
“You are correct that Coach uses the Foundation as the primary vehicle for donating to veterans’ organizations, but it is by no means the only one,” Tuberville communications director Steven Stafford said in an email. “You may have learned by now that there were serious problems with the Foundation for a number of years, and that the Foundation came under audit. My understanding is that during the audit, the Foundation paused most of its activities.”
Noting that he was not speaking for the foundation, Stafford added: “The audit was recently completed successfully, and the Foundation is resolving its longstanding problems, resuming its activities, and Coach is resuming his work with the Foundation to help veterans in need.”
Asked whether Tuberville has failed to donate more than $400,000 to veterans, as promised, and whether he is still committed to do so, Stafford responded: “Coach is in the process of reforming the Foundation. He has already completely replaced the Board of Directors; he is resuming activities with the Foundation, and he will keep his promise to the veterans of Alabama.”

Six years of a senatorial salary would mean Tuberville would be on the hook for more than $1 million in donations.

Newswire: Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks at 60th anniversary Birmingham bombing event

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson

By: Associated Press


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Standing at the pulpit of the Birmingham, Alabama, church where four little girls were killed by a Ku Klux Klan bomb in 1963, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said the nation must remember and own the uncomfortable moments of its past in order to move forward.

Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, spoke at the 60th anniversary of the Sept. 15, 1963 bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church.
“Today we remember the toll that was paid to secure the blessings of liberty for African Americans and we grieve those four children who were senselessly taken from this earth and their families robbed of their potential,” Jackson said.
She said the country should celebrate the great strides that have been made since 1963 but that there is still work to do. ”The work of our time is maintaining that hard-won freedom and to that we are going to need the truth, the whole truth about our past,” Jackson said.
Jackson said she knows that atrocities “like the one we are memorializing today are difficult to remember and relive” but said it is also “dangerous to forget them.”
“If we are going to continue to move forward as a nation, we cannot allow concerns about discomfort to displace knowledge, truth or history. It is certainly the case that parts of this country’s story can be hard to think about,” Jackson said.
Jackson did not mention any of the efforts in Republican-led states to place parameters on how race is discussed in classrooms. Instead, Jackson, who was born in 1970, gave the example of how her own parents made sure, even at a young age, that she learned about what happened in Birmingham, Selma and other battlegrounds of the Civil Rights Movement.
“Yes, our past is filled with too much violence, too much hatred, too much prejudice, but can we really say that we are not confronting those same evils now? We have to own even the darkest parts of our past, understand them and vow never to repeat them,” Jackson said.
Klansmen had placed a bundle of dynamite outside the church under a set of stairs on that day in 1963. The girls were gathered in a downstairs washroom before Sunday services when the blast exploded at 10:22 am. The explosion killed 11-year-old Denise McNair, and Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins, all 14. A fifth little girl, Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Mae, was in the room and was severely injured — losing an eye to the explosion— but survived.
The bombing came during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, eight months after then-Gov. George Wallace pledged, “segregation forever,” and two weeks after the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “ I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March for Jobs and Justice in Washington, D. C.

Hundreds of people, Black and white, filled the church Friday for the remembrance. The church bell tolled four times as the names of the girls were read. The crowd also stood to honor Rudolph, the “fifth little girl” in the room that day.
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell said they were standing on solemn ground where the senseless deaths “awakened a slumbering consciousness of America and galvanized the Civil Rights Movement.”
For many, Jackson’s presence at the church was a poignant moment. Sewell and other speakers on Friday said the lives of the four slain Black girls are in a way intertwined with Jackson’s. They said she is the embodiment of what civil rights foot soldiers in the 1960s dreamed would be possible, and the Voting Rights Act and other gains that followed paved the way for the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.
“It has been 60 years in the making. Dr. Martin Luther King said that these girls would not have died in vain and our speaker, Ketanji Brown Jackson, is the personification of that today. She is that hope,” former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said.

Newswire: Coco Gauff, 19, makes history: youngest U.S. Open Champion since Serena Williams in 1999

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire

Coco Gauff has etched her name in tennis history as she clinched the U.S. Open singles title, becoming the youngest player, at 19, since Serena Williams’ historic victory in 1999 when she was just 17 years old. Gauff’s remarkable triumph came after an intense three-set battle against Aryna Sabalenka, with a final score of 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Amidst the crowd’s roar and the flashbulbs of countless cameras, Gauff stood on the iconic Arthur Ashe Stadium, her trophy shining brightly, and her victory speech filled with a sense of readiness for the fame that will undoubtedly come her way. “I’m ready,” Gauff proclaimed, her youthful confidence evident. “I embrace it. I know how to keep my peace but also embrace all of this around me.”
As Gauff accepted her winner’s check of $3 million, she took a moment to graciously thank tennis legend Billie Jean King, who stood alongside her on the stage. King is a long time advocate for equal treatment and payment of female athletes in all sports. The gesture highlighted Gauff’s perspective, humor, and charm that has set the stage for American sports’ next global superstar.
“She is so humble,” said Pere Riba, Gauff’s coach, in the post-match interview. “Her work ethic is so strong, so professional, and she has very good manners. Put all of that together, and she will only get better. She can handle it all.”
Gauff has long been earmarked as one of tennis’ next superstars. Her maturity on and off the court, intelligence, and ability to articulate herself have endeared her to the American public and the global tennis community.
Even prominent figures in the political arena couldn’t contain their excitement. President Joe Biden took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to congratulate the young champion. “Congrats to U.S. Open Champion Coco Gauff,” he tweeted. “You electrified Arthur Ashe stadium and the entire nation – the first of more to come and proof that anything is possible if you never give up and always believe. You’ve made America so proud.”
Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, who cheered Gauff during her first-round match against Laura Siegmund, also extended congratulations. “We couldn’t be prouder of you on and off the court – and we know the best is yet to come,” Barack Obama wrote. The former First Lady paid tribute to Gauff’s “hard work and grit” and shared a cherished photo of their meeting after that memorable first-round match.

Former President Bill Clinton joined the chorus of praise, describing Gauff’s victory as “incredible” and expressing optimism for the future of American tennis. Serena Williams, whom Gauff credits for inspiring her dreams, shared her excitement on Instagram, writing, “Ahhhhh!!!! Amazing!!!!”
Gauff reflected proudly on her victory. “My dad took me to this tournament, sitting right there, watching Venus and Serena compete, so it’s really incredible to be here on this stage,” she stated.

Newswire: University of Alabama condemns fans’ use of racist, homophobic slurs in viral video from Texas game

By: Wilton Jackson, Sports Illustrated

Alabama fans were overheard shouting racist and homophobic slurs at three Texas players in a viral video filmed during the Crimson Tide’s 34-24 loss to the Longhorns on Saturday night.

Fans behind the Texas sideline at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., yelled homophobic and racist language at Longhorns defensive backs Jelani McDonald and X’Avion Brice as well as running back Quintrevion Wisner.
Among the slurs that can be heard on the video are Alabama fans calling the Texas players –“faggots” and advising them “to go back to the projects”.
In the wake of the video’s circulation on social media, Alabama released a statement to The Austin American-Statesman, saying the university does not condone the behavior and that such behavior “will not be tolerated” in its venues.
“We are disgusted by reports of vile language and inappropriate behavior Saturday night,” the statement read, per Danny Davis of The American-Statesman. “It’s not representative of UA and our values. We expect all attendees to act with class and respect towards others. Fans are strongly encouraged to report issues to our security resources on-site. Game day and delayed reports are appropriately addressed, and anyone found to be in violation of our rules and expectations will be promptly removed and may be banned from future events.

Newswire: FDA approves updated COVID-19 vaccines amid rising cases and hospitalizations

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved updated COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech in response to the surge in cases and hospitalizations. Both manufacturers have reported that their vaccines demonstrate effectiveness against the currently dominant EG.5 strain in the United States.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an independent expert group advising the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will now assess the safety and efficacy of these updated vaccines and provide recommendations for their deployment. Following approval by the CDC director, the vaccines will be available for administration. The advisory group plans to convene immediately, suggesting that the vaccines may soon be accessible at select pharmacies and healthcare facilities.
Health authorities have emphasized the urgency of vaccination once the shots become available. The new release coincides with a late summer surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and growing concerns over the potential impact of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus, in the upcoming fall and winter seasons.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, underlined the importance of vaccination in protecting against severe COVID-19 consequences.
“The public can be assured that these updated vaccines have met the agency’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality. We very much encourage those who are eligible to consider getting vaccinated,” Marks stated in a news release.
Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, noted that despite an increase in infection rates and hospitalizations, the rates of severe disease, hospitalizations, and death are still significantly lower than in previous years.
Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, highlighted the significance of this decision, especially with COVID-19 cases on the rise again. He said that nearly all individuals aged six months or older in the U.S. are eligible for this season’s COVID-19 vaccine, even if they have not been previously vaccinated.
The updated vaccines are approved for individuals 12 and older, with emergency use authorization for those aged six months to 11 years. The bivalent Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines are no longer authorized for use in the United States.
According to the FDA, babies and young children from six months to four years who have not been vaccinated can receive three doses of the updated Pfizer/BioNTech shot or two doses of the updated Moderna booster. Those who have been previously vaccinated will follow specific dosage guidelines. For those five and older, a single dose of the updated vaccines is recommended at least two months after their last COVID-19 shot, irrespective of previous vaccination.
Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, emphasized the critical role of updated vaccines in protecting the population during the peak respiratory virus season. “COVID-19 remains a leading cause of death in the U.S. and poses a significant threat to vulnerable populations, particularly as we enter peak respiratory virus season,” Bancel stated.
The mRNA vaccines have been adjusted to combat the XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant of the coronavirus and related strains. The FDA anticipates that COVID-19 vaccine compositions may need annual updates, similar to seasonal influenza vaccines.

Dr. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, stated, “Our goal is to provide people worldwide with COVID-19 vaccines that are adapted to circulating virus variants or sub-lineages.”

The updated vaccines, administered in a single dose, are expected to be available at no cost to those in need.
Novavax’s updated COVID-19 vaccine has not yet received FDA authorization but is currently under review for individuals aged 12 and older.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans cover the total cost of vaccines, eliminating co-pays for insured individuals. The uninsured or underinsured can access the vaccine at no cost through the CDC’s Bridge Access Program, a temporary initiative set to conclude by December 2024.
Officials noted that this is the first instance of vaccines being provided through the commercial market. According to CNN, during a Pfizer investor call in October, officials estimated a potential list price of $110 to $130 per single dose for adults.

Newswire: Victims of deadly building fire in Johannesburg, S. A., died behind locked gates

South African search for family members after fire

Sept. 4, 2023 (GIN) – After one of the worst residential fires in South Africa’s history, little remains of the overcrowded building in Johannesburg that sheltered some 200 Africans. Some called it a death trap and a disaster waiting to happen.
The fire that began shortly after 1 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31, trapped residents in the darkness, unable to pry open the locked security gates on each floor. A sealed gate on the ground floor prevented at least some of the victims from escaping and there were no proper fire escapes.
While the city-owned building at 80 Albert St. housed some 200 families, there was no formal electric service. People relied on small fires for cooking, heat and light and sometimes on dangerous electrical hookups.
The building had effectively been abandoned by authorities, said media reports, and had become home to poor people desperately seeking some form of accommodation in the rundown Johannesburg central business district. Some 76 apartment dwellers died in the predawn blaze, including 12 children, authorities said.
Homeless South Africans, poor foreign migrants and others who found themselves marginalized in a city often referred to as Africa’s richest but with deep social problems, inhabited the downtown building.
Senior city officials conceded they had been aware of problems at the building since at least 2019.
“This has been a long time coming and it will keep happening until the city wakes up. It’s devastating,” said Angela Rivers, general manager of the Johannesburg Property Owners and Managers Association. Rivers said that numerous government departments were aware of the appalling conditions of “hijacked” (taken over) buildings across the city center, but “they don’t take it seriously.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visiting the scene of the fire, put himself among the poor of downtown Johannesburg, and tried to reassure them.
“We are a caring government,” he said. “It may fall short, but the determination to care for the people of South Africa is a priority.”
But some found the promises coming from the government of the ruling African National Congress party which led South Africa out of apartheid and has been in power since the first democratic elections in 1994, wearing thin.
Around 1.2 million people in the province don’t have housing, officials said, with much of the crisis playing out in Johannesburg.
A statement from the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that appeared in X/Twitter linked the fire to the “direct outcome of years of permitting dilapidated structures to exist within Johannesburg, devoid of adequate upkeep or any form of vigilant oversight.
“The problem of hijacked and dilapidated buildings requires the provision of temporary housing for residents in such structures, as government seeks to find and establish permanent low-cost housing alternatives.”
The police have opened a criminal case, although it was unclear who might face any charges over the deaths as no official authority ran the building. 
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa blamed the tragedy in part by “criminal elements” who had taken over the building and charged people to live there.
But the focus on the issue only after so many people were killed angered some in the city.
“We have seen the president calling this incident tragic,” said Herman Mashaba, a former mayor of Johannesburg and now the leader of an opposition political party. “What do you mean tragic? You’ve been aware of this. We have seen the decay of this city over 25 years. It’s not something that just happened overnight.”
The building was one of 57 hijacked buildings that the Johannesburg Property Owners and Managers Association had identified and repeatedly lobbied the City to act on.
City activist Maurice Smithers called the 5 story brick property on Albert Street an iconic building with history going back to the apartheid era.
“It was the Albert Street Pass Office which determined which black South Africans could live and work in Joburg. Its transformation from a place of oppression and despair to one of hope when it was turned into a women’s shelter and clinic was a significant symbolic moment.
“So, the failure by the City to maintain the building as a heritage site and to support the NGO which was there (Usindiso Ministries, which ran the shelter) is equal to its failure to ensure the building complied with all relevant laws and by-laws,” said Smithers. “[It has] instead effectively turned a blind eye to its hijacking and deterioration into a place of death.”
Urgent humanitarian aid is desperately needed. Organizations such as Gift of the Givers, the Salvation Army and the Hope SA Foundation are waiting for the go-ahead from the City of Johannesburg.