The leaders of the nation’s leading civil rights and racial justice organizations today issued a statement calling on the members of the U.S. Senate to condemn Sen. Tom Cotton’s remarks on slavery and issue a formal censure. These leaders and their organizations are:

• Melanie L. Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

• Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law

• Vanita Gupta, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

• Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

• Derrick Johnson, President and CEO, NAACP

• Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League

• Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President, National Action Network.

Their statement is below:

In defending his proposal to suppress the 1619 Project, a New York Times Magazine project that re-examines the legacy of slavery in the United States, Sen. Cotton made the following statement:

“We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country,” he told the Arkansas Democratic-Gazette. “As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”

It is inexcusable for a member of the United States Senate to use the word “necessary” when referring to any aspect of the indefensible institution of slavery.

The Senate must formally censure Sen. Cotton on the basis that his words are “reprehensible” and are contrary to “acceptable norms of ethical conduct in the Senate.” Further, they are words that bring the modern Senate into “dishonor and disrepute.”  

Sen. Cotton’s words are even more reprehensible because they were uttered during a period of national grief following the passing of Congressman John Lewis.  Congressman Lewis dedicated his life to the civil and non-violent pursuit of civil rights of all people. Sen. Cotton’s words can only be viewed as diminution of the Senate’s efforts to honor Congressman Lewis’ life’s work in the Civil Rights Movement and in the United States Congress.

Every member of the Senate must forcefully condemn Sen. Cotton’s appalling words and make it clear that minimizing the horror and immorality of slavery in any way is unacceptable.


Lon Walls (The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation)
301-996-1669 |

Don Owens (Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law)
202-934-1880 |

Shin Inouye (The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights)
202-869-0398 |

Juan Martinez (NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund)
212-965-2235 |

Marc Banks (NAACP)
443-608-4073 |

Teresa Candori (National Urban League)
212-558-5362 |

Rachel Noerdlinger (National Action Network)
212-681-1380 |