Future endeavors to fight racism can be helped by using the lessons of the past, according to several civil rights leaders and activists who convened last week at the Brookings Institution for a national issues forum on "Race: The Great American Divide."
One of eight national issues forums to be held at Brookings Institution this year, this forum focused on racism and equality with two panels--one recalling the civil rights era of the 1950s and '60s and one focusing on the future and obstacles to equality.
The forum began with a keynote speech from Roger Wilkins, former assistant attorney general and Clarence J. Robinson professor of history and American culture at George Mason University.
Wilkins recalled some of his own family history during his speech, about how his father and his siblings were raised by an aunt and uncle in Minnesota, fulfilling their mother's dying wish that they not be raised in Mississippi.
In Minnesota, Wilkins' father and his brother and sister, flourished with the guidance of two loving parents with strong values, a middle-class income made possible by the uncle's good job and good schools, according to Wilkins.
"Struggle counts," Wilkins said. "Struggle changes things." Employment and education, as well as the involvement of parents, birth or otherwise, are essential to the growth of good and healthy people, he said.
Wilkins also stressed the necessity for all races to not live in denial when it comes to equality. "Racism is tenacious and denial is a powerful part of that tenacity."
The keynote address was followed by the two panel discussions to further explore the issue.
We Shall Overcome: Recalling the Civil Rights Struggle of the '50s and '60s
Juan Williams, author of "Eyes on the Prize" and "Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary," moderated this forum. He was joined by Judy Richardson, producer of several PBS documentaries including "Eyes on the Prize" and `Malcom X: Make it Plain," and Joyce Ladner, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, author of "The Ties that Bind: African American Values," and the first woman president of Howard University, and Wilkins.
The panel members discussed how young people today think of the struggle against racism in a different way than they did during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of them say they "would know what to do," if they had lived in that era in the struggles they face today, the panelists said.
Ladner discussed the continuing problem of "being treated as a suspect instead of a customer." This issue affects young people as well as those of her generation. In a store, she still walks with her hands outside her pockets, years after she began her involvement in civil rights issues.
Her son faced the issue of "driving while black." He was pulled over, frisked and given a ticket with the word "Warning" scrawled across the top and nothing checked off on the ticket as an explanation. Ladner, of course, complained to a number of people, but wondered what happens to people who don't have the same political framework.
Richardson said there really is a different reality when talking to white people. In discussing the New York City cab issue, where actor Danny Glover sued the city in response to not being able to hail a cab due to his race. One white person told her she couldn't get a cab in New York City either.
Richardson relayed a stow from 1963 when she and Joyce Ladner were active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), they went to visit with a Kenyan leader, who much to her surprise spoke beautiful English. "It was one of those times where I thought if they lied about the view of Africa, what else did white people lie about?"
Wilkins said he thought blacks would be better off in this country if the Republican party had more black members and both parties had to …