Beyond the Rhetoric
By Harry C. Alford
Let me make an exception to the closing of my last article which was Part 1. I stated that “We have no time to fight.” Well, sometimes you must stop and fight the “Bastards.” We reached that conclusion back in 1996. At the encouragement of our Denver, Colorado chapter, we chose Denver as the venue for our next convention. Herman Malone, president of that chapter, sold us on the endeavor. It seemed to be a good fit. We were honoring Dr. Arthur A. Fletcher, an NBCC board member, who spent a good portion of his adult life in Denver. His reputation was “God like.”
Thus, the National Black Chamber of Commerce was coming to Denver to honor the “Godfather of Affirmative Action – Dr. Arthur A. Fletcher” and to detail his lifetime achievements. The PR started ramping up. There was just one thing Herman failed to mention during his campaign for the venue. US West, the local telecom giant, was having a deplorable record of accomplishment in minority business participation. In fact, there appeared to be numerous violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Almost from the beginning Herman wanted us to file a discriminatory lawsuit on his behalf. I told Herman that just didn’t make sense. We would need other participants who claimed to be discriminated against by US West – a class action.
The word went out on what we were attempting to do. One by one companies doing business in the US West footprint started contacting us. We accumulated six trucking companies that had been abruptly fired by US West. Now get this. They were all doing business satisfactorily but were fired – all on the same day within a two – hour period. This stunk, be damned! We got motivated.
For this case, I chose to engage Eric Vickers. Eric was known for the swagger of a “Johnny Cochran” with the venomous articulation of a “Minister Louis Farrakhan.” His nickname was “Rambo.” We went to Denver to introduce Eric to our local chapter and laid out our strategy. To our shock and dismay, the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce started to instantly turn “chicken” despite the fact that some of our plaintiffs were dues paying members of theirs. I remember one of their officers saying, “We aren’t going to fight US West. We have to live with them and they control this city.” Eric responded in his patented fashion, “We have come to this city to put our ‘foot’ up US West’s butt. f any of you want to get in our way, then we will put our foot up your butt also.”
So, on it went. We were a few weeks into the judicial process when I received a strange phone call from a legal staffer of US West. He informed me that Eric Vickers was screwing up and we were going to get the case thrown out if he didn’t deliver certain documents quickly. I asked him why he was being so nice to warn me. He said they wanted to settle the case. “Let’s reach settlement and not have to start over.” Thus, I went into crisis mode and contacted my good friend and stellar attorney Robert Webster (now deceased). Bob was Harvard trained, a great litigator and a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement (marched with Rev. King). He was white but pure at heart when it came to racial matters.
We reassembled the team all the while we were promoting our upcoming convention headed by the “Lifetime Achievement of Dr. Arthur Fletcher.” US West began to go into “opposition research” on little old me. They hired a Black executive who was the husband of one of my wife’s college friends. He became instantly famous and a millionaire. In the end, they bought a mansion in Silicon Valley. That did US West no good.
Then they really got sneaky. They hired my first cousin who grew up with me from the “cradle.” They pumped him for information. I called him and asked how he could do this. He replied the money and title were good. I told them they couldn’t break you so there was no harm. No harm? I spoke in San Francisco at the annual luncheon of our affiliate there. While walking back to my hotel I noticed an attractive lady walking at a fast pace behind me. I soon recognized her. It was Charlene my old flame. She smiled and tried to work her famous “mojo.” I casually said, “good afternoon” and walked on by (as Isaac Hayes would say). She was noticeably upset. The nerve! They were trying to set me up in an extra-marital.
As they say, “God does not like ugly.” On my next trip to Denver, I was contacted by a Denver businessman. He stated, “This is true so help me God. The CEO of US West is having an extra-marital affair with one of his subordinates.” I replied, “So.” He retorted, “She is Hispanic and is head of their Minority Business Department. Her husband is an US West employee also. She is the one who fired your plaintiffs!”
Wow, I said to Bob that we must get them to depose me and we can lead them into that trap. We weren’t 20 minutes into the deposition when I “spilled the beans.” The US West team asked for a recess. They came back 30 minutes later stating that they would settle the matter. We settled, and all our plaintiffs received handsome payments. The NBCC received $1,000 memberships from each of our plaintiffs. Neither I nor the NBCC received anything else. The victory was sweet enough!
From that point on, the NBCC became known as a “Giant Killer.” Herman Malone and the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce? We kicked them out. Art Fletcher became our new Chairman. Nearly 1,000 participants attended our convention. A total success!
Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: [email protected].