On Saturday, December 11, 2021, the South Carolina Democratic Party (SCDP) held a political lynching at the Laurie Center in Columbia. The victim was Ms. Mattie Thomas who is the duly elected Chair of the Florence County Democratic Party (FCDP).
Reverently known as Ms. Mattie, Chairwoman Thomas is a strong black woman cut from the same mold as Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. At 72 years young, Ms. Mattie is one of our Elder Stateswomen and is loved by her Florence County constituents. However, it is apparent that she is hated and feared by the SCDP. She is hated because she is a strong black woman who will not bow down. Like Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer she is “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and she is feared because, like Shirley Chisholm, she is “unbought and unbossed”. Chairwoman Thomas’ leadership could be seen as an inspiration to young people and the SCDP has made it clear that they view this as a threat.
Strong black women are a threat
History has already proven that SCDP will not long tolerate strong black women in leadership roles. They know that strong black women will not bend to their will, won’t be silenced, and cannot be pushed around. Strong black women are considered a threat. Chairwoman Thomas is a strong black woman who is outspoken, courageous, and dedicated to serving Florence County Democrats who have been marginalized and ignored by the party machine. So, she had to be “handled”.
Handling Strong Black Women
In the old days handling meant lynching. It involved a rope and a tree. Handling today means utilizing other means to put a person in his/her place in order to make them an example of what happens when someone chooses not to bow down. Either way, the objective is the same – to send the unmistakable message that those who would not go along to get along, whether black or white would be severely punished. The rope and tree are gone – intimidation, humiliation, and retaliation, are not. Uppity negroes and particularly black women must be handled.
The Lynching of Mattie Thomas Back to the future
I attended and recorded the aforementioned Executive Committee meeting of the South Carolina Democratic Party because I knew mischief was afoot. Never in my wildest dreams, however, did I expect that I would be entering a time warp that would seemingly take me back to the 1960’s.
When I entered the room I saw Ms. Mattie seated in the back of the room. I took a seat in an empty chair. Shortly thereafter I saw the Party Chair motion to a woman and whisper something and point to me. The woman came and abruptly asked me to move to the back of the room — a notion that was eerily reminiscent of the days when black folks were directed to the back of the bus and other designated Coloreds Only seating areas. I complied in order to avoid being a distraction. Then, from my seat in the back of the room, I watched in horror and disbelief as Chairwoman Thomas was subjected to the same treatment as Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer at the hands of the Democratic Party in 1964.
Chairwoman Thomas, elected by FCDP was required to sit quietly in the back of the room while others impugned her integrity and competence as if she were on trial in some 1960’s era racist kangaroo court. The well-known hostility between the SCDP Chair and Chairwoman Thomas should have required the Chair to recuse himself. Such was not the case. The SCDP Chair ruled Chairwoman Thomas out of order multiple times when she only sought to be heard. Several rulings by the Chair were flat-out wrong. No parliamentarian was in attendance.
… it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee . . . rather than hung from a tree.Associate Justice Clarence Thomas
I was livid and insulted. A woman who has become a pillar of strength in the community and an inspiration to a new generation of young people was being denigrated and disrespected in the presence of people who knew her, Members of the executive committee who could have and should have intervened on her behalf sat idly by and allowed this to happen. Chairwoman Thomas is one of our Elder Stateswomen and must be respected and protected. She may be seen as a threat by the Democratic Party but to us she is a champion of our cause and an inspiration for our people. She is a link to our past and a beacon of our future. To disrespect her, to insult her, to conspire against her is to disrespect, insult and conspire against all of us.
The Devil is in The Details; Insult to Injury
Chairwoman Thomas was initially appointed Chair by the FCDP Executive Committee on August 8, 2019 and re-elected three times thereafter. That is FOUR TIMES between August 8, 2019 and April 21, 2021 – four times in two years. Each time, the South Carolina Democratic Party has attempted to intervene, interfere or undermine the election or her chairmanship. Chairwoman Thomas will have to stand for election again in March of 2022. This is despite the fact that it is not an odd-numbered year as required by the rules. This blatantly racist usurpation of the authority of the duly elected chair of the Florence County Democratic Party must stop. To my knowledge, no other County Chair has been required to jump through so many election hoops to have her election finalized. No other county chair has been so hounded and interfered with. Such treatment of a duly elected county chair of the SCDP is unethical, immoral and racist to the core.
How it was Done: The Lynch Mattie Thomas Amendment
I begin by noting that the SCDP Executive Committee had no authority to take action against Chairwoman Thomas on December 11, 2021. Let me say it again – they had no authority to do what they did.
Here’s how it happened. The Chair of the SCDP notified Ms. Thomas on April 22, 2021, that he had received “… a letter with several objections contesting the results of the Florence County convention held on April 10, 2021. Specifically, that convention was held in violation of state law 7-9-70 and refusing to allow properly seated delegates the right to vote.” On the date of the alleged violation as well as the date of the letter the following rule of the SCDP as amended April 29, 2017, was in place and governing:
XII. PENALTIES FOR VIOLATING RULE Any officer or committee member at any level in the Party violating these rules shall be requested by the State Executive Committee to provide his/her reasons for such violation. The State Executive Committee, in Executive Session, shall determine if the individual is to be removed from her/his position.
The rule provides that it is the State Executive Committee that “shall” act by requesting of the officer his//her reasons for such violation. The State Executive Committee was notified of the alleged violation on April 22, 2021. No action was taken by the State Executive Committee. No other party was authorized to act. The failure of the State Executive Committee to take action can mean only one of two things. (1) the Committee concluded that no action was warranted; or (2) for whatever reason, it would act at some point in the future. In either case, the policy in place at the time would govern.
On May 22, 2021, the rule in place on April 10, 2021, was amended as follows:
XII. VIOLATION OF THESE RULES. If a group of Democrats believes that their county party, or an officer or committee member at any level, has taken an action in violation of these Rules or of SC election or ethics law, that action may be appealed to the State Executive Committee, provided that:
- All remedies that can be sought within the county must have been exhausted.
- Such appeal must be filed in writing, enumerating the reasons and evidence for the appeal.
A majority vote of the State Executive Committee is required to hear such an appeal. The State Executive Committee must establish its own procedure for handling appeals, which will become an appendix to these rules and may be amended by the committee only when no appeal is pending. If an appeal is heard, its disposition must be decided by majority vote of the members present.
Penalties, if imposed, are at the discretion of the State Committee and may include, but are not limited to, removal from office, referral back to the appropriate county party body, state party takeover of the county party, mandatory training for officers, etc. A county party or its officers failing to abide by the decision of the State Committee may be further sanctioned.
The first thing we note is the rule went from 55 words to 207 words. I guess treachery requires more verbiage.
- Where the previous rule required action to be initiated by the executive committee in executive session, that is closed session, it can now be initiated on the “belief” of “a group of Democrats”. After which the executive director who is a paid employee and not elected by the party reviews the claim to determine if it passes muster.
- Next, we notice there is no definition of “group”. So the obvious question is how many is a group? In this case, it must be two since only two people (Suzanne La Rochelle and Isaac Wilson) signed off on the so-called “appeal.”
- Next, if an appeal is heard its disposition is decided by a majority vote of the members present. This means that at an executive committee meeting a majority of a quorum can dispose of the appeal as long as a quorum is present.
- Next, the new rule provides that penalties may include “removal from office”. But Section X.2 provides that the removal of a county officer requires a petition of forty percent (40%) of the delegates to the most recent county convention which petition must be endorsed by 10 members of the County Executive Committee by which endorsement they certify that the signatures on the petition are those of the “duly elected and accredited delegates from the most recent county convention.” Again a petition of two people will not cut it.
Perhaps most important and telling is that the Co-chair of the 2021 Rules and Resolution Committee that approved the rule change was Carol Fowler. This is significant and noteworthy because Ms. Fowler, who has had the SCDP headquarters renamed after her is a stalwart of the SCDP and should have known that the rule was fraught with problems and was in conflict with SCDP and should not have been approved.
The longstanding policy of those who have stood in our way has been to change the rules every time real change is near. The South Carolina’s Democratic Party has been the master of political legerdemain for decades if not centuries. The racial demographics in South Carolina are changing. In the last presidential election, Florence County remained narrowly Republican, 50.6% to 48.3%. Florence County is now a so-called minority-majority county. The Democratic electorate of South Carolina is 68.7% African American.
What we have witnessed here is a throwback to the paternalism of Jim Crow. The Democratic Party has been a master of keeping black folk out of the party by first denying our right to participate and then maintaining control of the party by creating rules that enable it to keep control in a state where 67% of the Democratic electorate is black. This must stop!
I am asking all people in and out of the democratic party, young and old, black and white to stand up for an elder Sister who has always stood up for us. When you come after our elders you come after all of us. This must stop!