C. DeLores Tucker Biography
Faith Formed Values, Started Fervent Political Activism, Attacked Gangsta Rap, Communicated Positive Vision for Music
C. DeLores Tucker never shied away from sensitive political issues. A longtime civil rights activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and raised funds for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Tucker spent her life guided by her deep convictions. Her strong will and organizing skills brought her to the attention of those in power. In 1971 she became the highest-ranking African-American government employee in Pennsylvania when she accepted the governor's appointment as the secretary of state. In the 1980s she co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women, a group that she led from 1992 until her death and which continues to push for women's rights. In the 1990s, Tucker led a crusade to alter the violent, anti-female message in gangsta rap, a message she saw as undermining and even contributing to the early deaths of American youth—especially black youth. Tucker used her considerable skills as a political figure and public speaker to denounce gangsta rap and to persuade the major entertainment conglomerates not to sell it. He husband, William Tucker, once told remarked that she was "one of the most fearless individuals I have ever known. She will take on anyone, anything, if that is what she thinks is right …," according to the Washington Post.
Faith Formed Values
Cynthia DeLores Nottage was born on October 4, 1927, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was the tenth of 11 children in her family. Her Bahamian-born father and her hard-working mother approached life from a Christian perspective and encouraged their children to do so as well. Sundays found the close-knit family together in church, where young DeLores directed the choir and played the saxophone. "My mother and father gave us wonderful values," Tucker explained in Good Housekeeping. "They taught us to be good and loving, and to use our lives to help others."
The notion that she was a "child of the king" helped Tucker to deal with racial slights when she was young. She originally intended to become a doctor, but after an illness that kept her out of college for a year, she changed her course. In 1951 she married William Tucker, a construction company owner who soon built a fortune in Philadelphia real estate. Although the couple never had children of their own, they helped to raise nieces and nephews, and they built a mutually respectful relationship that endured until her passing.
As the civil rights movement gained momentum in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Tucker found the perfect channel for her activism. She joined the NAACP and helped to raise funds for the organization, a task that she still conducts as a member of its board of trustees. She also participated in marches and demonstrations all around the country, joining the Reverend and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr. in their call for freedom and equality. Tucker recalled those days in the Washington Post: "I realized we always started at the church and marched to the political kingdom, whether local or state or national. And I realized that's where we needed to go to make a difference. That's where the decisions were being made that affected our lives, but we weren't in those seats."
Started Fervent Political Activism
As the 1960s progressed, Tucker campaigned for black candidates and served on the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee. She also became the first-ever black member of the Philadelphia Zoning Board. Her ties to the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania served her well when, in January of 1971, she was named Secretary of the Commonwealth by then-governor Milton Shapp. The appointment made Tucker the highest-ranking black woman in state government, an honor not lost in Ebony magazine, which listed her as among the "100 most influential" African Americans every year during her tenure. She lost the position in 1977, "after charges that she used state workers and resources to produce speeches for which she received $65,000 in 28 months," as stated in a Washington Post report.
After leaving state government, Tucker worked in real estate, sold insurance, and even held a position with the Philadelphia Tribune, but she never lost her commitment to political activism. Starting in 1984, she served as chairman of the Black Caucus of the Democratic National Committee for 11 years, and spoke at the Democratic National Convention five times.
But Tucker's greatest legacy is the new organization she co-founded in 1984: The National Political Congress of Black Women (NPCBW). The NPCBW (now known as the National Congress of Black Women) was formed to advance the interests of the black community, especially its women. The group devised a 10-point covenant plan to reclaim and improve the African American community—focusing on voter registration, education quality and equity, welfare reform that will not victimize poor people, and fair and adequate legal services for everyone. The NPCBW involved itself with broad national issues as well as small local ones—throwing its clout behind beleaguered Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia J. McKinney and other black congresswomen, as well as honoring civil rights pioneers such as Myrlie Evers-Williams, Dr. Betty Shabazz, and Coretta Scott King. Tucker became the national chair of NPCBW in 1992, and served until her death in 2005.
Attacked Gangsta Rap
Under Tucker's direction the NPCBW also included the reform of the music industry in the group's agenda. Tucker herself became enraged by gangsta rap after she saw the effect it had on some of her young nieces and nephews. In Good Housekeeping, Tucker described the plight on one niece who had parroted the bad language she heard in the songs to the point that she had become "at eighteen … a social leper." When she turned her attention to the lyrics of rap songs-especially those of Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur-Tucker was infuriated. Beginning in 1993 with local demonstrations in front of record shops, she began to fight back.
With her sharp command of rhetoric and her elegant, turban-clad appearance, Tucker quickly became recognized for her campaign against gangsta rap. Calling the music "sleazy, pornographic smut," she waged war by passing out leaflets containing the lyrics from some gangsta albums and exhorting people to read them out loud. One person who took the challenge was political leader Julian Bond, who, in a column for the Columbus Times, expressed agreement with Tucker's stance. "C. DeLores Tucker is convinced that this music and the talent that creates it can be a force for good, and that positive images can be sold to young Americans just as easily as the stereotypical visions of sex-crazed young black women and thuggish young black men some of this music promotes," Bond wrote. "If you agree, maybe you'll pay a little more attention to what goes into your youngster's head…. Maybe you might start by letting him know that if he can't recite it at the breakfast table, he can't import it into his mind or your house any other way."
Just as she had in the civil rights days, Tucker decided to take her fight right into the corporate boardrooms of businesses profiting from gangsta rap. The first and most visible target she chose was Time Warner, Inc., a massive entertainment conglomerate that owns records, magazines, movies, television stations, and other forms of entertainment. In 1995 Tucker bought stock in Time Warner, enabling her to gain entrance to the company's annual shareholders' meeting. There she took the microphone and challenged the executives to read aloud the lyrics from albums sold by Interscope Records, a distributor owned in part by Time Warner.
By that time, Tucker had been joined by William Bennett, a conservative author best known for serving as Ronald Reagan's "drug czar." Tucker explained in the Los Angeles Times that, while she disagreed with Bennett's political views, she was completely in accord with him on the issue of promoting better values among youth. "This [issue] transcends politics," she concluded. "This is a human issue. This deals with the most sacred gift God has given the world, and that's the child. We have a responsibility to preserve, protect, and make sure that the child is nurtured with the most positive of virtues and values. Let's make virtues and values something that is a proud badge for everyone to wear."
When Bennett and Tucker took their crusade to television in a commercial condemning Time Warner and other purveyors of gangsta rap, the company executives arranged for a series of private meetings. The media reports that these meetings grew heated when the executives defended the sale of gangsta rap because suppressing it would be censorship and a violation of the artists' rights under the First Amendment. In return, Tucker blistered them for "putting profit before principle." She added in People, "You can't listen to all that language and filth without it affecting you."
Communicated Positive Vision for Music
Tucker found widespread support for her crusade among African Americans, including such notable entertainers as Dionne Warwick, Melba Moore, and activist Dick Gregory. Her support was far from unanimous, however. Supporters of gangsta rap as art accused her of being narrow-minded and of seeing the music as the root of the problem, not as a symptom of widespread anger brought on by deplorable social conditions. As Kevin Alexander Gray noted in Emerge, "When Tucker attacks rappers for racial and sexual violence and the denigration of women, she misses the point and the opportunity to do something about that violence. But rather than listen to the conditions described in gangsta rap and work to change them, Tucker is attacking the expression of those feelings." An alternative view was offered by Bakari Kitwana in the Source: "Although Tucker often goes overboard with at times blanket and inaccurate ranting and raving, the essence of her beef is reflective of a growing segment in the Black community who are against Black people participating in advancing stereotypical and demeaning portrayals of ourselves … If the hip-hop culture is to develop beyond its 'mainstream age,' the hip-hop community cannot be afraid of such criticism."
Tucker also wanted to see progress in hip-hop music. She wanted the artists to convey positive images, and hope, to listeners. She saw violent and misogynistic rap lyrics as a significant contribution to black-on-black violence and single-parent families, the first step, she claimed, toward racial genocide. "If corporate responsibility dictates that we protect the whales, protect the rivers and protect the environment, then the most important of all Earth's resources should be protected," she asserted in the Los Angeles Times. At a time when most women had retired to a leisurely life, Tucker remained hard at work at a task she felt was God-given. "We have to try to save these children," she concluded in People. "They don't have daddies in the home, they don't have jobs, they don't have a support system. They only have us."
In September 2000, Tucker appeared on CNN's Crossfires Chat. In response to a question from an audience member about hip-hop music and artistic freedom, Tucker was careful to acknowledge that while artists do have a right to create works of art, "they don't have a right to stereotypically record music or do anything objectionable to any group." She went on to say, "This music has been proven injurious by psychiatric studies, so there's nothing that can be done but ask the industry to regulate itself. If not, like with cigarettes, we'll have to have government regulation. American people say they feel they're fighting the culture to save their children."
Never Lost Convictions
Tucker's tireless campaigning led her to criticize American television. In 2001, speaking for the Parents Television Council, Tucker publicly deplored the "levels to which the entertainment industry has gone to market its adult-oriented material to children and teenagers," and urged TV sponsors to fund instead family oriented programming. "Just as violent and vulgar programming-the kind that pollutes young minds and encourages them to engage in dangerous and risky behavior-is funded by advertising dollars, so too is wholesome, uplifting, family-oriented programming," she noted.
When Tucker died in Suburban Woods Health and Rehabilitation Center in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on October 12, 2005, America lost a great woman. Her tenacious hold on her convictions will long be admired and the efforts of her activism will long be felt.
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