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Sons of Italy® Statement: Rev. Wright

Press Contact: Kylie Cafiero, (202) 547-2900 kcafiero@osia.org

Washington, D.C. - April 1, 2008 ­ We write on behalf of the 103 year old Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA) and our 550,000 family members throughout the nation, and our anti-defamation arm, the Commission for Social Justice® (CSJ), to strongly and unequivocally reject and condemn recently reported remarks made by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. According to MSNBC and other published and internet sources, Rev. Wright in 2007 stated: "[Jesus'] enemies had their opinion about Him.... The Italians for the most part looked down their garlic noses at the Galileans." He then called Jesus' crucifixion "a public lynching Italian style" executed in "Apartheid Rome".

OSIA and the CSJ have sterling records of championing social justice and fair treatment for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, and of combating, wherever and whenever necessary discrimination, defamation and stereotyping. We have worked closely, collaboratively and effectively for such causes with numerous and various social, religious and cultural groups throughout our long history. The civically responsible, philanthropic and patriotic works of the Sons of Italy® have been publicly attested to by every US president since Woodrow Wilson.

Indeed, it is this unchallenged record of advocacy of social justice for all people that has delayed our response to Rev. Wright's unfortunate remarks, as we seek to lend reason and clarity to a deeply troubling historical reality. Rev. Wright's remarks cannot merely be attributed to "anger", but must be viewed against the backdrop of many years of what historian Richard Gambino called a "monstrous tradition in America" and an "injustice which remains hidden" directed at Italians.

While America of the late 19th century witnessed widespread racist, ethnic and anti-Catholic hatred, few immigrant groups suffered more than Italians: in 1891, in New Orleans, ten Italian prisoners found not guilty by a jury were executed by a mob in the largest lynching in American history. That same year, several Italians were lynched in West Virginia. In March 1894, several hundred Italians were driven out of Altoona, Pennsylvania, by an armed mob. In 1895, six Italian labor organizers were lynched in Colorado, six more in Hahnville, Louisiana, as were five Italian shopkeepers four years later in Tallulah, La. Fatal mob attacks against Italians were recorded in 1901, in Mississippi, 1906 in West Virginia, and 1910 in Tampa, Fl. In addition to the highly prejudicial and legally tainted Sacco and Vanzetti case of the 1920s, historian John Higham wrote that "No pogrom has ever stained American soil, nor did any single anti-Jewish incident in the 1920's match the violence of the [vigilante mob-led] anti-Italian riot " in West Frankfort, Illinois.

Words are important and have meaning, clear and subliminal. Shock jock Don Imus, whose very staple and basis for earning many millions of dollars, is the use of provocative, abrasive, demeaning and edge language, was fired and universally excoriated for the use of three extremely offensive and inappropriate words. A skilled communicator, Rev. Wright's deliberate choice of words having explicitly 20th century meaning ("lynching Italian style", "Apartheid", even "Italians"; there were Romans at the time, Italy didn't exist) to describe first century AD events speak to an intention far beyond the expression of mere "anger", or the citing of putative historical truths. We decry those intentions and sentiments as, we are confident, do all decent and fair-minded individuals. Rev. Wright, while perhaps retired, nevertheless owes all Italian Americans a sincere apology. We live in a profoundly complex, multifaceted, diverse society, which defies simplistic questions, answers and reasons. We must transcend personal injustices and seek a deeper understanding and appreciation that each of us, separately and as a group, often are and feel offended. No one has a monopoly on being discriminated against, defamed or stereotyped.

OSIA's and the CSJ's purpose here is not political. We desire no involvement in the current presidential campaign, nor do we wish to become embroiled in a political maelstrom. Still, one of the three candidates will, in all probability, become the next leader of the free world and the next president, thus representing all of the US's 300 million-plus citizens, 26 million of whom are of Italian heritage. We believe that Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama must unequivocally condemn the words and sentiments voiced by Rev. Wright, and clearly disavow his actions.

Philip R. Piccigallo, Ph.D
National Executive Director
Order Sons of Italy in America®

The Supreme Council
Order Sons of Italy in America®

The Commission for Social Justice® Board of Directors

OSIA is the largest and oldest national organization in the United States for men and women of Italian descent in the United States. Established in 1905, OSIA has more than 600,000 members and supporters and a network of more than 745 chapters coast to coast.

OSIA works at the community, national and international levels to promote the heritage and culture of an estimated 16-26 million Italian Americans, the nation's fifth largest ethnic group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.