1991: The Year in Review

Article excerpt

MUCH like the slow but persistent tortoise who eventually outran the swifter hare in the ancient African fable, Black America inched steadily ahead in 1991. Modest gains out-stripped losses. Hence, the elections of Wellington Webb in Denver and Emanuel Cleaver in Kansas City boosted to 16 the number of Black mayors heading majority-White cities with populations of 50,000 or more, and the election of the first Black Memphis mayor and the inauguration of the first Black woman mayor of Washington, D.C., increased the number of Black chief executives in largely Black cities.

But all this was overshadowed by the televised hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas. America virtually ground to a halt as a former Thomas aide, law professor Anita Hill of the University of Oklahoma, accused Thomas of sexual harassment. With the strong backing of President Bush and a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats, the Black judge was confirmed by a close 52 to 48 Senate vote, and took his seat as the second Black on the Court and Thurgood Marshall's successor. But the fallout from the hearings and the confrontations between men and women and conservatives and civil rights supporters over the issues of affirmative action and sexual harassment will probably dominate debate in Black and White America for months to come. A surprising development was the departure of the highest-ranking Black congressman, Rep. William H. Gray, D-Pa., who resigned to accept the presidency of the United Negro College Fund.

Elsewhere in politics, there was continuing debate over a civil rights bill

designed, in part, to overturn Supreme Courts decisions limiting the impact of lawsuits on gender and racial discrimination. President Bush, who vetoed a similar bill in 1990, threatened to veto a redrafted bill and continued to debate the issues with civil rights leaders and major supporters in the Senate. Although the bill was eventually passed, the debate dramatized the rising influence of conservative forces who dominated the 1991 headlines with attacks on "quotas," and "affirmative action." The same forces used the slogan of "political correctness" to attack the increasing demands for respect for ethnic diversity and the role of Black, Hispanics and women in American history and American life.

In civil rights, the nation was shocked by videotape of the Los Angeles police beating Rodney Glen King, 25, an unemployed construction worker arrested for speeding.

In education, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Detroit's board of education had to admit girls to three public schools intended for Black, inner-city males. …