What if I told you that a conservative radio talk show host had said that private businessmen should be able to refuse to serve blacks, and that civil rights activists were wrong to protest against businessmen who engaged in such practices? You’d be wondering what station would be disreputable enough to air such a program. Well, prominent black conservative Jesse Lee Peterson said just that.
Peterson is an ordained minister who hosts a daily radio show that is syndicated nationally from the studios of KRLA in Los Angeles. Peterson is also a frequent contributor at WorldNetDaily, and on September 7 penned a column suggesting that Christian businessmen ought to tell their LGBT customers that any money spent at their business will go to a Christianist legal advocacy group to fight against same-sex marriage. On Friday, People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch noticed that while discussing that column on his September 22 radio show, the discussion turned to public accommodation laws, which require businesses to provide “equal and fair access” to their services to all people. These laws reinforce Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which broadly forbids “places of public accommodation” from discriminating against anyone on account of race, color, religion or national origin. While debating with caller Jeff Jenk, Peterson made an argument so breathtaking that it has to be reproduced in full to be believed.
“It was wrong during the so-called Civil Rights Movement, when they forced private white businesses like cafes and restaurants and things like that, when they allowed black people to do sit-ins on private white businesses, those folks who did not want black people in there. Those people had the right to that because they decided that they were going to get up, they were going to go out, and start a business. They were going to use their own money, their own time, their own hard labor, their work. And they decided, ‘I’m going to start a business, and I only want white people in there.’ They had a right to that, and it was wrong to let blacks do sit-ins on private businesses. I didn’t think that was the right thing, and I grew up in Alabama. I grew up under the Jim Crow laws. I still thought it was wrong. You can’t take away someone else’s freedom like that just to make someone else feel good.”
I had to listen to this several times because I found it hard to believe anyone could get away with spewing this kind of bilge on the air today. But there’s no denying it. Peterson is perfectly fine with businesses being able to deny service to anyone they wish. Moreover, as far as Peterson’s concerned, anyone who gets turned away as a result might as well sit down and shut up–after all, if you own a business, you can serve anyone you please and refuse to serve anyone you please. You can watch the whole interview here, though PFAW got a clip here.
So let’s see if I’ve got this right. Does this mean that when I’m driving home to Charlotte from a game in Chapel Hill, I have to risk letting my tank run empty because the only gas stations close by are whites-only? Or if I’m out on a date with my girlfriend, a restaurant can turn us away either because I’m black or we’re an interracial couple? Or a cashier can refuse to ring me up because her register is whites-only? Undoubtedly, you’re wondering, “In what world would either of these be acceptable?” Apparently in the kind of world Peterson wants. I also have to wonder–would Peterson be okay with a hospital refusing to treat a black patient because there weren’t any beds for blacks available–or worse, the hospital as whole was whites-only? Believe it or not, this was actually a very common practice in Southern hospitals well into the 1950s. It was so common, in fact, that for years it was believed that Charles Drew, the inventor of the blood bank, could have been saved after suffering gruesome injuries in a car accident back in 1950–but died because the white doctors refused to treat him. In truth, he died because his injuries were so severe that nothing could have been done to save him.
As outrageous as this is, this isn’t the most extremist and offensive thing Peterson has said. In 2008, he told Sean Hannity that he thanked God for slavery because “had the blacks not been over here we would have been stuck over in Africa.” He also suggested that a slave ship was little different from “a crowded airplane.”
Can you imagine the reaction if someone like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, or Mike Huckabee had suggested businesses ought to be able to discriminate? They’d probably have been canceled before the start of their next segment. Peterson should get the same treatment. Drop his flagship, KRLA, a line on their contact page. Let Peterson know what you think on Twitter as well. But please, be polite. After all, we have to show both KRLA and Peterson that we’re bigger than they are–no matter what kind of bilge they air.
Darrell Lucus, also known as Christian Dem in NC at Daily Kos, is a radical-lefty Jesus-lover who has been blogging for change for a decade. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook.