Torch Passed for a New Civil Rights Movement

Article excerpt

Byline: Adrienne T. Washington, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Valentine's Day invitation for tonight is to honor Dorothy I. Height, chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women, as "a primary leader, shero, matriarch and 'sweetheart' of the struggle for civil and human rights, particularly for African-American women."

Hosts of the free love feast - from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the NCNW headquarters at 633 Pennsylvania Ave. NW - are members of the Stand Up for Democracy in D.C. Coalition and the D.C. Black History Celebration Committee.

Ms. Height is being honored a week after she spoke at the loving Southern funeral service for another civil rights maven, Coretta Scott King.

With these commemorations coming for passing or aging giants of the civil rights movement, larger questions are being raised about the movement itself.

Is it passing along with its icons?

"It's kind of all right that these people fade from the scene, because you have to understand that they didn't do what they did for the movement to stay in that mode - of marching in the streets for social change - for 50 years," said Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political science professor. "They wanted it to find its way into the necessary institutions of American society."

The eloquent Mr. Walters said he tries to dissuade the conversation about the civil rights movement's vitality because "we shouldn't let the average American off the hook that easily." Besides, he said, "That's too shortsighted."

His research, for example, showed that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2003 was working to help whites by a 2-1 margin with discrimination cases involving HIV/AIDS patients, people with disabilities and women seeking equal pay, along with race-based cases.

"To me, that manifestation shows how the civil rights movement can serve an entire society," he said.

"I don't think the civil rights movement is going to pass any time soon. However, we've used a kind of shorthand to refer to it - Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta, Rosa Parks.

"But the real face of the civil rights movement is the investment of millions of people, black and white, who believe in the mission of social justice and all kinds of activities that are geared to achieve it," he said.

The author of several books - his latest, "White Nationalism, Black Interests: Conservative Public Policy and the Black Community" - Mr. Walters added that all sorts of freedom movements around the globe, from Poland to China to Latin America, were inspired by the black American civil rights movement.

"America is the only one who has put [civil rights] in a tiny box," he said.

"It's not just a black struggle. Each individual should make use of the tools and values of the civil rights movement to make them and society whole," he said. Earlier this month, in an Associated Press article about the status of the civil rights movement, Mr. Walters said he was "suspicious of commemorations. …