Resist Friendly Sons’ Racism

Countless white women in Scranton, PA, long ago gave up fighting sexism or never cared enough to begin with.

One of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s largely unspoken questions in today’s battle for equal opportunity is whether Black women in President Joe Biden’s birthplace will take up the cause.

Will a Black woman be the first woman to attend the annual all-male dinner hosted by the Lackawanna County Friendly Sons of St. Patrick that Biden’s great-grandfather organized in 1906?  Will a Black woman publicly resist this segregated group’s white power where Biden has appeared three times as the featured dinner speaker?

Or will frequent dinner guests such as Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. and Rep. Matt Cartwright continue to support denying Black women a fair chance to succeed?

Staff for Biden, Casey and Cartwright refused to respond to my recent inquiries about the president’s, senator’s and congressman’s positions on Friendly Sons’ bigotry.

Banning women from a public gathering the way the Friendly Sons have banned women from their dinner from the beginning defines a blatant form of discrimination. Barring Black women from the traditional Irish-American event stacks an odious layer of racism on top of the Sons’ already cruel bigotry.

When Biden’s great-grandfather formed the Friendly Sons, a woman’s place was where men placed her. Without male supremacy at home and in the community, women might one day even want to vote. If given the chance, who knew what Black women might want?

If white men in Scranton kept their own families’ white women in line, they could easily prevent an independent Black woman from challenging established white power.

Slavery requires obedience.

White men’s long-term suppression of white women might even create a norm among their oppressed victims to willingly accept the gender stranglehold with arguments such as, “I don’t want to go to the men’s dinner, anyway.”

Scranton women eventually did establish their own St. Patrick’s Day dinner after more than a century of exclusion. Men can attend the Society of Irish Women affair but few do. Male political candidates often attend both galas to meet voters, raise campaign funds and do what politics requires of current and aspiring public servants.

Truly a confederacy of chauvinists, the Sons have gathered each year for 116 years for the event that currently draws about 1,500 political and business leaders, including tuxedo-clad federal, state and county judges, congressmen, state lawmakers and other high-powered public influencers.

They make myriad connections at the dinner that propel them, their sons and grandsons into a privileged existence. Generations of these men have used this gathering to solidify and enrich their lives and financial portfolios.

Described as “gentlemen” in Friendly Sons’ President W. David FitzPatrick M.D.’s Jan. 4 letter soliciting applications for membership, the group poses a serious threat to human development.

Banned from the dinner from the beginning, too many women have seemingly accepted their subordinate position and refused to push for inclusion. To the best of my knowledge, in the 25 years I’ve covered this issue no woman has seriously challenged the Sons’ prejudice. Years ago one well-respected female attorney considered trying to break the green glass ceiling but eventually succumbed to fear of retaliation.

No discrimination lawsuits have yet been filed.

Since the Sons’ membership roll is private, I have no idea how many, if any, Black men are dues-paying members or have attended the dinner. Likewise, I have no idea how many Black women attend the women’s dinner. One fact is certain, though: No Black woman has ever attended the Friendly Sons’ gathering.

To the best of my knowledge, no Black woman has ever held elected office in Scranton, either. Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti, the city’s first woman mayor, has made a point of opening public service to women of color. As hard as it is for a progressive white woman to get elected here, for a Black woman to succeed politically in Scranton she must at least have the basic access to power and money men enjoy.

The Friendly Sons stand in the way of such civil rights.

Perhaps that’s one sad reason why the most famous Black woman in Scranton history might be Brenda Williams, whom three white city police officers shot five times and killed in 2009 when they said the 52-year-old naked mentally ill Air Force veteran threatened their lives with a kitchen knife. State police and the district attorney cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.

Racism and sexism continue to govern this overwhelmingly white, tribal city of immigrants’ descendants from Ireland, Italy, Wales, Poland and elsewhere in Western Europe.

Still, Biden has created Scranton as the center of the political universe, citing values he learned “growing up” here for about the first decade of his life as honorable rules of behavior to guide American progress.

Sexism remains one of those stunning Scranton values.

Racism also thrives.

When it comes to fairness, no Black women need apply.