In the Matter of Uber as a Racist Plot, Maybe We Need a Bit of Context

Eric tells us this morning we have two southern Dallas clergymen, Stephen C. Nash, pastor of Mount Tabor Baptist Church, and Jerry C. Christian of Kirkwood CME Church, stepping from the pulpit to the street to denounce as racist plotters the company called Uber, which provides an app-based car-ride service for smartphone users.

Eric has already explained: The accusation is that Uber won't send a car to pick you up unless you have Internet access and a credit card, and they won't take cash. That screws poor people. A lot of poor people are black. That screws black people.

I'm not here to jack with any of that. But I do think the accusers and other players need to be viewed in the context of their personal political histories.

The most aggrieved and threatened party with the deepest pockets in the Uber fight here is Yellow Cab of Dallas. Over decades, Yellow Cab has used political clout at City Hall to build a dominant position approaching virtual local monopoly in the cab business, especially for airport rides.

Yellow is still very active at City Hall, but the greatest standing landmark in the company's local political history remains the federal conviction 13 years ago on multiple bribery counts, later overturned, of the late Albert Lipscomb, then a member of the City Council and a civil rights icon in southern Dallas. Most of the counts against Lipscomb involved money he took from Yellow Cab while voting for and championing ordinances that helped drive many small independent cab companies out of business. Faced with the handwriting on the wall, the management of Yellow cooperated with the FBI and helped get Lipscomb convicted for taking relatively chintzy amounts of cash from them before key votes.

John Manning, an African-American independent cab operator, explained the roles of Lipscomb and Yellow to me at the time: "I think Al Lipscomb sold the cab drivers out for a fee of about 50 cents a month each," Manning told me. "I'm sorry to say this, because I like Al, but he sold us cheap to a plantation owner, because now all of the cab companies in Dallas are operating like a plantation."

Also in the historical context department: Jerry Christian, one of the pair of preachers mentioned in Eric's piece this morning, may come to mind if you remember the colorful pronouncement, "I ain't no [expletive] sixty-five-hundred-dollar Negro," by Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway two years ago. It's what he said when questioned about the whereabouts of some fifty grand he got paid by liquor store owners to intervene on their behalf in a booze election, especially $6,500 in cash paid to unnamed "campaign workers."

And please, I'm very embarrassed about the "[expletive]" thing in there instead of the real word, but my only source is The Dallas Morning News, and you know how they are. Knowing Councilman Caraway as I do and for as long as I have, I am going to bet the expression was not gol-dang.

Caraway took the position that asking him what he did with the gol-dang $6,500 from the liquor store owners was racist and an attempt to make black elected leaders look like they might fiddle accounts in an election. He described his campaign effort as a cash anti-poverty program (said he didn't have time to buy a checkbook) to provide employment to the hardcore unemployed.

Of the missing $6,500 in anti-poverty campaign cash from Caraway's crusade on behalf of liquor store owners, a thousand dollars went to Christian, according to a story by Steve Thompson in the News. When Thompson buttonholed Christian at a meeting to ask him what he did with the thousand, Christian said, "The campaign is over. I don't need to talk to you about what I did in the campaign."

More context: You may not remember the other clergyman in play here, Stephen Nash, but I do clearly because of the important role he played in one of the more heartbreaking scenes I have witnessed over the years at a Dallas City Council meeting. It had to do with something called "flow control," a City Hall initiative two years ago to send more trash to the city-owned landfill in southern Dallas.

Students at Paul Quinn College, a black school near the McCommas Bluff landfill, mounted a heartfelt and stirring grassroots campaign in the neighborhood near the college, against the city's efforts to force all commercial trash haulers to take waste to McCommas Bluff instead of to competing privately owned landfills outside the city. Eventually the students were vindicated when a federal district struck down the Dallas trash law saying it was premised on a pack of lies and public deceptions.

But that was after Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings had already persuaded the City Council to vote for it. At that meeting when the Paul Quinn students rose from the audience and came down to the public microphone to speak persuasively against the new trash monopoly law, Rawlings had an ace in the hole -- one Reverend Stephen Nash of Mount Tabor Baptist.

Nash rose from the audience and made a mumbled sheepish defense of the law. His church is near the dump. He said he and his parishioners welcomed more trash in the neighborhood. It was just the amount of political cover council members needed in order to vote for the law and against the Paul Quinn students, which they did.

Um, wait. The church welcomes more trash to its neighborhood? And Nash feels compelled to come down to a City Council meeting and say that? It just feels kind of anomalous, doesn't it? So what was that really all about? Christians for trash?

Oh, maybe it had a little something to do with another initiative Rawlings announced proudly at the same meeting -- a million-dollar special targeted economic development fund tied to the city's enhanced trash-dumping revenues, prime beneficiary of which was to be Mount Tabor Baptist Church. I can't even describe to you the looks on the faces of those students as they sat there and watched all of this play out, finally realizing at the end of a long day what had been done to them by a clergyman from their own neighborhood.

So now we see these same two clergymen volunteering to take on roles in a fight between a new-tech startup and a massively entrenched local taxicab company, mainly over airport rides. Southern Dallas clergy feel compelled to jump into an airport ride dispute? And they see it as a civil rights issue? Does it feel anomalous to you? All I offer here is history and context. History and context.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze