Keeping the Dream Alive: A History of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from King to the Nineteen-Eighties

By Thomas R. Peake | Go to book overview

Let modern dictatorship not serve as an alibi for our conscience. We have failed to fight for right, for justice, for goodness: as a result we must fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil."

Abraham J. Herschel


12
Fighting Back in the Eighties

On balance, the discouragement felt by virtually all the leaders of civil rights organizations at the end of the seventies was not entirely justified. Much progress had been made, both in terms of specific advancement of blacks and other minorities, and public attitudes. And even the sense of decline had its positive side. "Civil rights advocates can turn this crisis into opportunity," wrote Larry Riedman, "can turn this reaction into reform and progress, but we will have to modify or abandon some of our most familiar characterizations of our fellow citizens, our adversaries, and our way of work."1

As part of the Civil Rights Commission's mid-Atlantic office, Riedman knew much about the "changing climate" of the civil rights movement, but he felt that its leaders should avoid reeling back in fear and pessimism since this would not only deny the positive attitudinal changes already achieved but also weigh heavily on all specific efforts to move ahead.2 At best, however, the movement faced some very serious difficulties.

An important aspect of the new climate of civil rights advocacy was a kind of leveling of public opinion on treatment of blacks and other distinct social categories. Polls showed that slightly more than half the population (52%) believed in 1979 that minorities were treated equally or better than whites and some 39% thought that blacks received "too much" special consideration by employers.3 Affirmative action--especially forms that

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