Redefining Civil Rights

Article excerpt

In the wake of decades of political struggle to secure strong civil rights laws, the civil rights community is redefining its agenda in Washington. Leaders say that in addition to lobbying for legal protections they plan to push Congress and the White House for an economic agenda for black America. Their mission will not be easy, however. With a huge budget deficit, federal dollars are hard to come by. Civil rights leaders will also have to capture the attention of a Congress that represents a white majority constituency. This constituency believes that the African-American struggle for justice was satisfied long ago.

The focus of the struggle, along with the political playing field, has changed, says ex-NAACP head Benjamin L. Hooks.

In the days when the most basic human rights were denied, the priorities of the black community were clear-cut. Today, they are less so. For example, when the Senate considered the nomination of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the battle divided the African-American community.

A similar split has appeared regarding lower court nominees. Earlier this year, civil rights groups fought the nomination of Alabama Assistant Attorney General and head of the state's capital punishment division, Edward Earl Carnes Jr,, to the U.S. Circuit Court. Carnes, they argued, perpetuated racism in the criminal justice system. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination, however, And some senators cited division in the civil rights community. One respected civil rights lawyer had testified on Carnes' behalf. As BLACK ENTERPRISE went to press, the full Senate had not voted on the nomination.

Hooks argues civil rights organizations must fight on many fronts. But, he maintains their core function is working to ensure that voting and civil rights laws are upheld and enforced. "The disparity between white net worth and black net worth really reflects the fact that white folks have greater access to credit and capital," Hooks says. …