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U.S. Civil Rights Commission

By Rob Potter
LONG EDDY — March 21, 2000 -- Like many of Sullivan County’s part-time residents, Victoria A. Wilson lives and works in New York City but enjoys spending weekends and special occasions at her second home here in the country.
However, Wilson, who is Senior Editor, Vice-President and Associate Publisher at Alfred A. Knopf Publishers in Manhattan, is the only one among the group of the county’s second homeowners who has recently been the recipient of a presidential appointment.
Back on January 14, President Bill Clinton appointed Wilson to the prestigious United States Commission on Civil Rights. The commission investigates allegations relating to deprivations of rights because of color, race, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, and advocates equal protection under the laws of the United States Constitution.
The eight-member commission meets once a month in Washington, D.C. At those meetings, Wilson and her fellow commission members confer with a dedicated staff of lawyers and researchers to examine possible civil rights violations against individuals and groups of people anywhere in the nation.
From there, the commission then decides whether or not to go ahead and hold hearings, forums, briefings or panels regarding the issue. Recent topics that have come before the commission included the proposed zero tolerance policy for weapons or illegal drugs in public schools, and the New York Police Department and how well its officers deal with the public.
Once the commission completes its procedures, it makes a formal recommendation to the president and Congress for further action.
Although she was only appointed to the commission two months ago, Wilson, who has worked at Knopf since 1972, really enjoys being a member.
“It’s great! I love it,” she said. “I’m very excited about it. Being on the commission is a real way to give something back and to try to make a difference.”
Wilson, who served as an adjunct graduate professor in the writing program at Columbia University in 1992 and 1993 and currently serves as vice-president of the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, compares commission work to a theme depicted in great movies of the past.
“It’s like a Frank Capra movie where you’re fighting for the underdog,” she noted. “It’s like ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ – except in this case, it’s ‘Ms. Wilson goes to Washington’.”
When many people think about the commission, they may believe that it only helps certain groups of Americans. But that is not the case, Wilson is quick to explain.
“Yes, we work for minorities and people who are physically and mentally challenged,” she commented. “But we are also here for other groups as well. We’re here for everybody. The commission wants to assist anyone who feels they are not being treated equally according to the rights and privileges guaranteed to all people in the Constitution.”
Wilson’s path to her commission appointment began at Knopf, where a few months ago she was editing a book entitled The Pig Farmer’s Daughter, which details racism, classism and sexism in U.S. courts from 1860 to the present. The author of the book is Mary Frances Berry, who is the chairperson of the Commission on Civil Rights.
Berry and Wilson spoke about the commission, which needed a new person after one of the members passed away last year. Wilson was interested in filling the empty position and began the process to seek the appointment.
“The FBI investigated me, and the field agent was very nice,” she recalled. “They interviewed eight people who knew me. They then asked for a list of another 15 people who knew me so they could speak to them as well.”
Among the people the FBI contacted were some of Wilson’s friends she has made since moving into her second home 10 years ago. The list included county residents Paul Brustmann, Martha Kaplan, Mary Lewis and Nettie McBeath.
Following the FBI’s investigation, it was the Internal Revenue Service’s turn to look into Wilson’s past. After finding two relatively small unpaid bills from a few years ago, which Wilson subsequently paid, all that remained was Clinton’s formal appointment.
Wilson, who will serve on the commission for the next six years, receives some compensation for the job. But it is clear her passion to fight injustice and wrongdoing is the motivation behind her decision to accept the appointment, not any monetary gain.
Between her job at Knopf, working on the commission and writing a biography of legendary actress Barbara Stanwyck, Wilson’s schedule is quite full.
But spending quiet, relaxing time in Sullivan County is not something she will sacrifice.
“I first started coming up here on weekends 20 years ago,” she said. “And when I found this particular house 10 years ago, I fell in love with it.”

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