The attachment handed out at a Friday press conference at Cane Creek Baptist Church had this header: "Direct Quotes of Mr. Andrew Clarksenior Appearance on WHBQ.TV Tuesday night 5/13/14."
The press conference featured representatives of Rainbow PUSH, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Action Network and "concerned ministers." It was a forum to issue a twin call for balance and fairness. One target was the awarding of contracts in Shelby County.
The other target was the media, particularly the handling of the story involving Commissioner Henri Brooks, who some want to resign in the wake of remarks she made at the Shelby County Election Commission on Monday. Brooks challenged the award of a roofing contract to a firm that employs 25 roofers who are Hispanic and no African Americans. Her manner of doing so is now a matter of ongoing controversy.
The affiliates who called the press conference pointed to an inequity, saying Brooks was being taken to task in media reports while Clarksenior was getting a pass on remarks that were more egregious.
Clarksenior, who was positioned at the back of the room, had the three-page release in his hand when he rose in an attempt to respond to the stated and written call for his dismissal from the radio airways and for an apology. Read by the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba Gray, Rainbow PUSH Memphis head, the statement asserted that Clarksenior referred to African Americans as animals during a discussion about economic blight on WHBQ's 10 o'clock newscast.
As the conference played out, it was clear that the emphasis was being put on the need for equity in the awarding of county contracts. However, when a later reference was made to Clarksenior and the imbalance of coverage, he rose seeking to respond.
"Gentleman, can I respond?"
"No sir," was the quick retort from Gray, supported by a chorus of similar sentiment.
"I cannot ask a question? You have slandered me, but you don't want me to respond?"
"I quoted you," said Gray, turning to the attachment page with the quote.
"Let me tell you why you don't want a response," said Clarksenior. "I at no time in shape, fashion or form ...read your own statement sir. This statement is correct. I at no time ever said that black people are animals."
"You did say it," Gray shot back.
"No sir, I did not," said Clarksenior. "Read your statement!"
The statement Clarksenior referred to followed an account of the question that preceded it. The question solicited his answer to who was responsible for the conditions of blight in Memphis. According to the account, he was asked, "Are blacks responsible?"
Then came Clarksenior's quoted response:
"The people responsible are the bums who live there. They act like animals. Do I take pride in saying this? Heck no, but they are animals."
Vying for the floor at the press conference, Clarksenior said, "What I was referring to pastor, in all due respect, is that in our community with economic blight there are some of us who don't live well. There are some of us who do not have respect for themselves. There are some of us who act this way.
"I did not relate in any shape, fashion or form this to African Americans and for you to say that, I am truly hurt because you are supposed to be a man of God," said Clarksenior, his remarks directed toward Gray.
"You are supposed to project the truth and you did not do that. And you said I said things about African Americans that I did not say. So I refute you publicly. I am ashamed of you. ..."
Gray had made his way from behind the podium to near where Clarksenior stood. He had a copy of the statement and the page quoting Clarksenior. "You don't have to be ashamed of me," he said at the height of the exchange.
Pastor Montgomery stepped in to return the conference to its intended course. And Clarksenior exited soon thereafter.
TSD Publisher and President Bernal E. Smith II appeared with Clarksenior on the Fox 13 "Insiders" news segment. "Andrew you can't just refer to people as animals," Smith is quoted as saying in the press statement read and referred to at the news conference.
After hearing of the news conference and the exchange, Smith said his counterpart on the "Insiders" has established a reputation for skating the line of inappropriate and controversial references when it comes to discussing people in general and some African Americans specifically.
"I have always challenged him on those thoughts, opinions and references as I did that night, calling him out on air immediately following his statement," said Smith. "Particularly in a public forum, it is never appropriate to disrespect the President of the United States as he has on many occasions and it is never appropriate to refer to any group of people as 'animals' no matter your opinion of their actions.
"I don't pretend to know his intent, but I do know what was said and it was simply wrong. I do believe as a community and a nation we have to come to grips with a history of derogatory language that has been and is currently used to denigrate, oppress and marginalize groups of people."
Conversely, said Smith, "We also cannot become so sensitive and reactionary that we begin censuring and restricting people from voicing their honest thoughts and opinions as that is where real dialogue and progress on the issues begin and end."
The objective, he said, must be to "strike a delicate balance that maintains respect and dignity for all people while challenging ignorant, backwards and oppressive thinking. Real progress can only be made through having the hard discussions and remaining open and honest about our world view, thoughts and ideas and how we put those in to action."