Civil Rights Gone Wrong

By Jackson, Jesse | The Nation, June 9, 1997 | Go to article overview

Civil Rights Gone Wrong


Jackson, Jesse, The Nation


In 1957 Orval Faubus, Governor of Arkansas, called out the National Guard to resist integration in Little Rock. President Dwight Eisenhower was hardly a champion of civil rights, but he was not a man to be trifled with. He nationalized the Guard, called in the Army and backed Faubus down.

Bill Clinton, an 11-year-old boy in nearby Hot Springs when Governor Faubus turned out his National Guard, has called racial discrimination the abiding "scar" of our history. Last year, he decided to "mend" affirmative action, not "end" it. But the question is whether he will defend it. Today, California Governor Pete Wilson stands in the schoolhouse door, and his state is violating the law of the land. Will the President enforce it?

Wilson has strong-armed the University of California into ending affirmative action admission and employment programs. He pushed the state's passage of Proposition 209, which prohibits the taking of affirmative steps to remedy discrimination. (Wilson argues that discrimination is no longer a problem.) The measure of his defiance can be seen in California law schools where affirmative action measures have been scotched. This year, offers of admission to African-Americans at Boalt Hall, U.C. Berkeley's law school, are down 81 percent; to Hispanics, down 50 percent; and to Native Americans, down, 78 percent. At U.C.L.A.'s law school, offers to African-Americans are down 80 percent, to Hispanics 32 percent. Law school officials acknowledge that the drop-off in students actually admitted will be even worse, as talented minority candidates are likely to go where they are more welcome. Next year, the same decline will play itself out at the undergraduate level across the state as those schools abandon the law.

According to his aides, the President plans to launch a "national discussion about race" in mid-June, hoping to make racial healing a theme of his second term. As a son of the South, witness to the bitter conflicts over integration, he wants Americans to confront their fears and feelings. (Just recently he offered an apology for the infamous Tuskegee experiments.) Great, but he's not a minister, he's a President. When Presidents speak, people listen--but only if action ensues. A failure to act speaks louder than words.

Clinton governs at a time when the entire cause of civil rights is under furious attack. …

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