s whiteIn a perfect world, racial bias and discrimination against minorities would not exist. We would allprefer to live in a color-blind society, but that is simply not reality. The fact is that race hasalways mattered in the society we live. Up until the middle century, African-Americans werelocked out of the political process and rendered second-class citizens solely because of their skincolor.
Looking back at a critical time in US history, the end of the civil war, one can see thesteps that had to be taken in order to get where we are today. By reviewing and studying thepast, further steps can be taken in order to ensure mast mistakes will not be repeated.
As reconstruction drew to a close more than 100 years ago, the several hundred AfricanAmericans elected to serve in Southern State Legislatures and in congress had dwindled to ahandful. Although reversing this pattern of exclusion had taken much of the 21st century. Today,Congress has a critical mass of 40 black members who comprise the influential CongressionalBlack Caucus, and nearly 5, 000 African-Americans hold elective office across the south.
Most people believe this change is the direct result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,probably the most effective civil rights law ever enacted. The Act immediately outlawed theworst Jim Crow laws, such as literacy tests and other devices that kept African Americans out ofthe voting booth.
In the 19th century, during the early days of Reconstruction, Congress passed twoAmendments to the constitution; the fourteenth, which granted African-Americans equal rightsunder the law, and the fifteenth, granting black men the right to vote. During that era, 22African-Americans were elected to Congress. The Act that has made such a huge and progressivechange in our society is stated as follows:A nationwide provision that prohibits the use of voting laws, practices or procedures thatdiscriminate in either purpose or effect on the basis of race, color, or membership in a minoritylanguage group. All types of voting practices and procedures are covered by Section 2, includingthose relating to registration, voting, candidacy qualification, and types of election systems.
Section 4Sets forth the formula under which a political jurisdiction is “covered” by and, therefore, subjectto the preclearance provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 4 has various dates that trigger coverage, e.g., if a jurisdiction used a “test or device” suchas a literacy test as of November 1, 1964 and less than 50 percent of the age eligible citizens wereregistered or voted in 1964, it became a covered jurisdiction. Section 4 further covers ajurisdiction if the jurisdiction provided English-Only voter registration/election materials,contained a registered voting age citizenry (or citizens actually voting) of less than 50 percent,and contained a single language minority group of greater than 5 percent of its citizens.
Covered jurisdictions include the entire States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana,Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia and counties and towns in California, Colorado,Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, NewYork, North Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Section 5This section was designed to prevent states and other governmental entities with a history ofvoting discrimination from continuing to devise new ways to discriminate after the abolishment ofprior discriminatory practices. Section 5 requires certain covered jurisdictions to submit anyproposed voting changes in their election law or practices, prior to implementation, for federalapproval by either the Attorney General of the United States or the Federal District Court for theDistrict of Columbia. Covered jurisdictions must demonstrate that the proposed voting changesdo not have the purpose or the effect of discriminating against protected racial or languageminorities. This process is referred to as the preclearance process.
Minority Language Groups: The minority language groups covered by the Voting Rights Act areNative Americans, Asian Americans, Alaska Natives, and persons of Spanish heritage.
Minority Language Provisions: The Voting Rights Act was amended in 1975 and 1992 to includepolitical jurisdictions with language minority groups and requires such jurisdictions to furnishbi-lingual assistance to language minority citizens at all stages of the voting process and in allelections. Some of the biggest and influential cases that have molded the United States into what it is todayand has continued to be remembered and make progressive changes in the new millennium.
On June 7, 1892, a 30-year-old colored shoemaker named Homer Plessy was jailed forsitting in the “White” car of the East Louisiana Railroad. Plessy was only one-eighths black andseven-eighths white, but under Louisiana law, he was considered black and therefore required tosit in the “Colored” car. Plessy went to court and argued, in Holmer Adloph Plessy vs. State ofLouisiana that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to theConstitution. The judge at the trial was John Howard Ferguson, a lawyer from Massachusettswho had previously declared the Separate Car Act “unconstitutional on trains that traveledthrough several states” . In Plessy’s case, however, he decided that the state could choose toregulate railroad companies that operated only within Louisiana. He found Plessy guilty ofrefusing to leave the white car . Plessy appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, whichupheld Ferguson’s decision. In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States heard Plessy’s caseand found him guilty once again. Speaking for a seven-person majority, Justice Henry Brownwrote:“That the Separate Car Act does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, whichabolished slavery…is too clear for argument…A statute which implies merely a legaldistinction between the white and colored races — a distinction which is founded in thecolor of the two races, and which must always exist so long as white men aredistinguished from the other race by color — has no tendency to destroy the legal equalityof the two races…The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforcethe absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it couldnot have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, asdistinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon termsunsatisfactory to either.”Justice John Harlan, showed incredible foresight when he wrote“Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. Inrespect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law…In my opinion, the judgment this dayrendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the…The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more orless brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the beliefthat it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which thepeople of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of theConstitution.”Over time, the words of Justice Harlan rang true. The Plessy decision set the precedentthat “separate” facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were “equal.”The “separate but equal” doctrine was quickly extended to cover many areas of public life, such asrestaurants, theaters, restrooms, and public schools. That is until the Brown vs. Board ofeducation case..
In the early 1950’s, racial segregation in public schools was the norm across America.
Although all the schools in a given district were supposed to be equal, most black schools werefar inferior to their white counterparts.
In Topeka, Kansas, a black third-grader named Linda Brown had to walk one milethrough a railroad switchyard to get to her black elementary school, even though a whiteelementary school was only seven blocks away. Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her inthe white elementary school, but the principal of the school refused. Brown went to McKinleyBurnett, the head of Topeka’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of ColoredPeople (NAACP) and asked for help. The NAACP was eager to assist the Browns, as it had longwanted to challenge segregation in public schools. With Brown’s complaint, it had “the rightplaintiff at the right time.” Other black parents joined Brown, and, in 1951, the NAACPrequested an injunction that would forbid the segregation of Topeka’s public schools.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas heard Brown’s case from June 25-26, 1951. Atthe trial, the NAACP argued that segregated schools sent the message to black children that theywere inferior to whites; therefore, the schools were inherently unequal. One of the expertwitnesses, Dr. Hugh W. Speer, testified that:“…if the colored children are denied the experience in school of associating with whitechildren, who represent 90 percent of our national society in which these colored childrenmust live, then the colored child’s curriculum is being greatly curtailed. The Topekacurriculum or any school curriculum cannot be equal under segregation.” The Board of Education’s defense was that, because segregation in Topeka and elsewherepervaded many other aspects of life, segregated schools simply prepared black children for thesegregation they would face during adulthood. The board also argued that segregated schoolswere not necessarily harmful to black children; great African Americans such as FrederickDouglass, Booker T. Washington, and George Washington Carver had overcome more than justsegregated schools to achieve what they achieved. On the one hand, the judges agreed with theexpert witnesses; in their decision, they wrote:Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect uponthe colored children…A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Brown and the NAACP appealed to the Supreme Court on October 1, 1951 and their case wascombined with other cases that challenged school segregation in South Carolina, Virginia, andDelaware. The Supreme Court first heard the case on December 9, 1952, but failed to reach adecision. In the reargument, heard from December 7-8, 1953, the Court requested that both sidesdiscuss “the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.” Thereargument shed very little additional light on the issue. The Court had to make its decision basednot on whether or not the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment had desegregated schools inmind when they wrote the amendment in 1868, but based on whether or not desegregated schoolsdeprived black children of equal protection of the law when the case was decided, in 1954.
Due to this breakthrough case in which school integration was recognized, and thedecision of separate but equal was dismissed, schools around the country had to begin theintegration process. One of the first schools to do this was Central High School in Little Rock,Arkansas. On September 2, 1957, in a televised speech that night, Governor Orval Faubusexplained that he had called the National Guardmen because he had heard that white supremacistsfrom all over the state were descending on Little Rock. He declared Central off-limits to blacksand Horace Mann, the black high school, off-limits to whites. He also proclaimed that if the blackstudents attempted to enter Central, “blood would run in the streets.” Yet on Monday, September23, the nine black students, often called “The Little Rock Nine” set off for Central High.
Meanwhile, the mob outside the school beat several black reporters there to cover the event. Thereporters were saved when word came that the black students had entered the school. The mobwent crazy. Mothers yelled to their children, “Come out! Don’t stay in there with those niggers!”Inside the school, the black students became the brunts of various jokes. White students spat onthem, tripped them, and yelled insults. More serious problems were to come. By 11:30, the citypolice surrounding the school felt that they could no longer control the mob. The students had toleave the school through a rear entrance. To ensure that the Little Rock Nine could complete afull day of classes, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock. The101st patrolled outside the school and escorted the black students into the school. In addition, theblack students were assigned a personal guard from the 101st who followed them around theschool. Still, they were subjects of unspeakable hatred. White students yelled insults in the hallsand during class. They beat up the black students, particularly the boys. They walked on the heelsof the blacks until they bled. They destroyed the black students’ lockers and threw flaming paperwads at them in the bathrooms. They threw lighted sticks of dynamite at Melba Pattillo, stabbedher, and sprayed acid in her eyes. The acid was so strong that had her 101st guard not splashedwater on her face immediately, she would have been blind for the rest of her life. Eventually eightof the Little Rock Nine finished the school year and in may Ernest Green became the first blackgraduate of Central High, the only minority student in his 602-member class.
So the main question now is – Has Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s dream been realized?Well, in my opinion it has as far as overcoming integration/segregation problems. As far ascompletely accepting everyone for who they are, I believe has still yet to be accomplished. Forexample, although the high school that I graduated from was very much diverse, looking at the setup of the school would imply a very segregated place. By observing at lunch time, a personwould see all of the cliques of friends to be predominately of the same racial background. Thewhite kids for the most part, brought sack lunches and sat in the grassy area in the back of theschool, while the black kids ate on the benches on the side of the school or in the front. Notimplying that all of the groups consisted of the same race, but for the most part the majority did.
And I am no less guilty than the next for surrounding myself in a clique that consisted of onlyEritreans. So what are the reason for this unconscious selecting of friends of the samebackground? Well for me, it was mostly a comfort level. Growing up in a white community andattending predominately all white schools in my early school years I tended to hang out with thewhite kids in elementary school. But in that clique I felt like I didnt completely belong because Iwas the only person of color and felt like I didnt completely fit their clique type. So in middleschool, a little bit more diverse, I decided to make more friends with the black kids. That didntwork to well either because although I am African-American, our backgrounds were very muchdissimilar. Also, in both instances, even with the black kids, they would make fun of Africa as ifit was a large mass of jungle with barbarians running around. So when I entered high school, Ifound that many Eritreans attended, and quickly joined their social group and felt fully accepted.
It was like a comfort level, because we were alike in our background and culture. I really dobelieve that is why so many people, adults and kids alike, stay in their own racial group. Butdidnt Martin Luther Kings speech clearly state …one day the sons of former slave owners, andsons of former slaves will sit together at the table of brotherhood..? For the most part, I dobelieve we have come a long way since the civil rights movement, but at the same time there isstill a lot of ground to be broken in order to finish the path of brotherhood that Martin LutherKing and so many other civil rights activists started.