WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Paving the Way for Jim Crow's Return?

May 7, 2014

A lot of attention has been paid to racist comments apparently made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

But the consequences of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision dismantling affirmative action in college admissions has been nearly absent in everyday people’s conversations.

Credit Wikipedia

Sterling has the First Amendment right to say anything he wants, of course (although by buying a National Basketball Association franchise, he agreed to abide by its rules). However, the Court has jeopardized minority students from their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that no state shall deny to anyone within its jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws.”

Using the same twisted logic that gutted the Voting Rights Act – it’s been successful – the Court in “Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action” seemed to rule that affirmative action is no longer necessary, so states can go their own way despite federal law, and a majority can vote to limit rights of minorities.  

That denies the past.

Listeners might reference books recounting what the country and a bipartisan effort in Washington achieved in the 1950s and ‘60s. (Taylor Branch’s “Parting the Waters” and Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff’s “The Race Beat” are highly recommended.) History shows the struggle: sit-ins at Nashville and Greensboro, N.C.; the lynching of Emmett Till; the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott; integration battles at Little Rock public schools, the University of Alabama and Ole Miss; actions in Albany, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., that saw police brutality, fire hoses and dogs used against peaceful protestors; “Freedom Rides”; the Selma to Montgomery marches; voter registration drives and the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner; the fatal bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church…

Is the Supreme Court offering a way back to the decades of “Jim Crow” laws establishing “separate but equal” that stressed the former at the expense of the latter? Is the Court’s 6-2 majority opening a way to what racists then called “interposition,” statutory resistance to equal protection?

“The Race Beat” quotes Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy: “States, he said, can’t pick and choose which laws they’ll obey, any more than citizens can legally decide to quit paying income taxes just because they dislike them.”

Already, advances in opportunity – exemplified by increased enrollments of racial minorities, women and others historically hurt by discrimination, and even the election of President Obama – is threatened by the aforementioned weakening of the Voting Rights Act, the re-segregation of many schools that ensures minority high school students aren’t as prepared for college or careers as whites (recently exposed by ProPublica reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones), and the legalized “lynching” provided in states’ “Stand Your Ground” laws.

Bill Knight

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Elena Kagan recused herself), said, “This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. Judges ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race ... is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

A friend-of-the-court brief from the Service Employees and National Education Association unions said diversity “is critical” to schools’ “missions of preparing students to function as citizens of our increasingly diverse country,” adding that “affirmative action proponents should not be disadvantaged in the political process based on their views that it is appropriate to take race into account to ensure student bodies are fully representative of all groups in our society.”

After the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing four little girls and injuring 22 others, Atlanta newspaperman Gene Patterson wrote an essay, “A Flower for the Graves,” that was also read on CBS News. It started, “A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her. Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.

“It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite,” Patterson continued. “The FBI and the police can deal with that kind. The charge against them is simple. They killed four children. Only we can trace the truth, Southerner – you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.”

Six Supreme Court Justices on April 22 forced Americans to return to that time. We must not accept becoming segregationists, states’ right supremacists or onlookers, too. Progress must not be surrendered.  

Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.