Yesterday's heinous and utterly predictable decision by a virulently rightwing and clearly white supremacist Supreme Court to uphold the right of the state of Michigan voters to use a legislative initiative to "legally" eliminate affirmative action in its public colleges and universities, is yet another brazen example of the racist contempt and dismissive indifference of the notorious reactionary cabal of the five rightwing Justices on the Court (John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy) to the human, civil, and constitutional rights of African Americans. Along with this Court's equally vicious white supremacist decision in 2012 to strike down section five of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the parallel class based decisions in the infamous pro-corporate Citizens United vs. FEC case in 2010 and the McCutcheon vs. FEC case this week upholding unlimited political donations by extremely wealthy donors, we are now living in a thoroughly sordid era whose massive corruption, criminal venality, fraud, and elitist domination that rivals any in the history of this increasingly totalitarian society--which means any in the history of the world. What we know for sure is that it's only going to get (far) worse and soon unless and until we collectively decide to something about it beyond merely shaking our heads and bemoaning our fate...
Court Backs Michigan on Affirmative Action
By ADAM LIPTAK
APRIL 22, 2014
WASHINGTON — In a fractured decision that revealed deep divisions over what role the judiciary should play in protecting racial and ethnic minorities, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action in admissions to the state’s public universities.
The 6-to-2 ruling effectively endorsed similar measures in seven other states. It may also encourage more states to enact measures banning the use of race in admissions or to consider race-neutral alternatives to ensure diversity.
States that forbid affirmative action in higher education, like Florida and California, as well as Michigan, have seen a significant drop in the enrollment of black and Hispanic students in their most selective colleges and universities.
Editorial: Racial Equality Loses at the Court
In five separate opinions spanning more than 100 pages, the justices set out starkly conflicting views. The justices in the majority, with varying degrees of vehemence, said that policies affecting minorities that do not involve intentional discrimination should be decided at the ballot box rather than in the courtroom.
How Minorities Have Fared in States With Affirmative Action Bans:
In states that have banned affirmative action in college admissions, prominent public universities have tended to enroll fewer black and Hispanic freshmen.
But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in the longest, most passionate and most significant dissent of her career, said the Constitution required special vigilance in light of the history of slavery, Jim Crow and “recent examples of discriminatory changes to state voting laws.”
Her opinion, longer than the four other opinions combined, appeared to reflect her own experiences with affirmative action at Princeton and Yale Law School. “I had been admitted to the Ivy League through a special door,” she wrote in her best-selling memoir, “My Beloved World.” For years, she wrote, “I lived the day-to-day reality of affirmative action.”
In contrast to Justice Sotomayor’s outraged dissent, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s controlling opinion for three justices took pains to say that the decision was a modest one.
“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” he wrote, in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”
His announcement of the decision from the bench was businesslike. Signaling deep displeasure, Justice Sotomayor summarized her dissent from the bench, an unusual move that happens perhaps three times a term. She said the initiative put minorities to a burden not faced by other college applicants. Athletes, children of alumni and students from underrepresented parts of the state, she said, remained free to try to persuade university officials to give their applications special weight. “The one and only policy a Michigan citizen may not seek through this long-established process,” she wrote, “is a race-sensitive admissions policy.” That difference, she said, violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
“The Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat,” she wrote. “But neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the dissent.
Justice Sotomayor seemed to mock one of Chief Justice Roberts’s most memorable lines. In a 2007 decision that limited the use of race to achieve integration in public school systems, he wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Justice Sotomayor recast the line. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” she wrote, “is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
Chief Justice Roberts responded in a brief concurrence, saying that affirmative action, and the stigma that he said could accompany it, may do more harm than good. “People can disagree in good faith on this issue,” he added, “but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.”
In earlier cases, including one from last June challenging the admissions policies of the University of Texas, the court has said that race-conscious selection can be constitutionally permissible in states that wish to use them. In a concurrence, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said those decisions were wrong, and he suggested that they were in peril. He added that the question in Tuesday’s case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, No. 12-682, was laughably easy.
“Even taking this court’s sorry line of race-based admissions cases as a given,” he wrote, “I find the question presented only slightly less strange: Does the equal protection clause forbid a state from banning a practice that the clause barely — and only provisionally — permits?”
He added that courts should resist involving judges “in the dirty business of dividing the nation into racial blocs.”
“That task is as difficult as it is unappealing,” Justice Scalia said, giving an example: “Does a half-Latin, half-American Indian have Latino interests, American-Indian interests, both, half of both?”
The most surprising opinion came from Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who abandoned his usual liberal allies to vote with the majority, although he did not adopt the majority’s reasoning. The Constitution, he said, permits but does not require states to use race-conscious admissions for educational diversity.
In general, he said, “the Constitution foresees the ballot box, not the courts, as the normal instrument for resolving differences and debates about the merits of these programs.”
Justice Elena Kagan recused herself, presumably because she had worked on the case as United States solicitor general.
The Michigan initiative, known as Proposal 2, was a response to Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld the use of race as one factor among many in law school admissions to ensure educational diversity.
Proposal 2, approved in 2006 by 58 percent of Michigan’s voters, amended the State Constitution to prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment in public education, government contracting and public employment. Groups favoring affirmative action sued to block the part of the law concerning higher education.
In 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled by a vote of 8 to 7 that the initiative violated the federal Constitution’s equal protection clause. The appeals court majority said the problem with the law was that it restructured the state’s political process by making it harder for disfavored minorities to press for change.
Justice Sotomayor agreed, saying citizens seeking to have the state’s public universities adopt race-conscious admissions plans had to “undertake the daunting task of amending the State Constitution.”
Justice Kennedy said that was as it should be.
“Here Michigan voters acted in concert and statewide to seek consensus and adopt a policy on a difficult subject against a historical background of race in America that has been a source of tragedy and persisting injustice,” he wrote. “That history demands that we continue to learn, to listen and to remain open to new approaches if we are to aspire always to a constitutional order in which all persons are treated with fairness and equal dignity.”
Complete video of President Johnson's Commencement Speech at Howard University on behalf of Affirmative Action
"To Fulfill These Rights." June 4, 1965
LBJ Library video MP 2265-66 donated by CBS. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcfAuodA2x8
LBJ 1965 Howard University Commencement Address Excerpt on YouTube
Timeline of Affirmative Action Milestones
by Borgna Brunner and Beth Rowen
Learn about the major milestones in the history of affirmative action (from the Columbia Encyclopedia: Programs to overcome the effects of past societal discrimination by allocating jobs and resources to members of specific groups, such as minorities and women). Read more about the history of affirmative action.
March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first reference to "affirmative action"
President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order 10925, which creates the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and mandates that projects financed with federal funds "take affirmative action" to ensure that hiring and employment practices are free of racial bias.
July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson
The most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
June 4, 1965
Speech defining concept of affirmative action
In an eloquent speech to the graduating class at Howard University, President Johnson frames the concept underlying affirmative action, asserting that civil rights laws alone are not enough to remedy discrimination:
"You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: 'now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.' You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe you have been completely fair . . . This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity—not just legal equity but human ability—not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."
Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time
Issued by President Johnson, the executive order requires government contractors to "take affirmative action" toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment. Contractors must take specific measures to ensure equality in hiring and must document these efforts. On Oct. 13, 1967, the order was amended to cover discrimination on the basis of gender.
The Philadelphia Order
Initiated by President Richard Nixon, the "Philadelphia Order" was the most forceful plan thus far to guarantee fair hiring practices in construction jobs. Philadelphia was selected as the test case because, as assistant secretary of labor Arthur Fletcher explained, "The craft unions and the construction industry are among the most egregious offenders against equal opportunity laws . . . openly hostile toward letting blacks into their closed circle." The order included definite "goals and timetables." As President Nixon asserted, "We would not impose quotas, but would require federal contractors to show 'affirmative action' to meet the goals of increasing minority employment."
June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
This landmark Supreme Court case imposed limitations on affirmative action to ensure that providing greater opportunities for minorities did not come at the expense of the rights of the majority—affirmative action was unfair if it led to reverse discrimination. The case involved the Univ. of California, Davis, Medical School, which had two separate admissions pools, one for standard applicants, and another for minority and economically disadvantaged students. The school reserved 16 of its 100 places for this latter group.
Allan Bakke, a white applicant, was rejected twice even though there were minority applicants admitted with significantly lower scores than his. Bakke maintained that judging him on the basis of his race was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that while race was a legitimate factor in school admissions, the use of such inflexible quotas as the medical school had set aside was not. The Supreme Court, however, was split 5–4 in its decision on the Bakke case and addressed only a minimal number of the many complex issues that had sprung up about affirmative action.
July 2, 1980
Fullilove v. Klutznick
While Bakke struck down strict quotas, in Fullilove the Supreme Court ruled that some modest quotas were perfectly constitutional. The Court upheld a federal law requiring that 15% of funds for public works be set aside for qualified minority contractors. The "narrowed focus and limited extent" of the affirmative action program did not violate the equal rights of non-minority contractors, according to the Court—there was no "allocation of federal funds according to inflexible percentages solely based on race or ethnicity."
May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education
This case challenged a school board's policy of protecting minority employees by laying off non-minority teachers first, even though the non-minority employees had seniority. The Supreme Court ruled against the school board, maintaining that the injury suffered by non-minorities affected could not justify the benefits to minorities: "We have previously expressed concern over the burden that a preferential-layoffs scheme imposes on innocent parties. In cases involving valid hiring goals, the burden to be borne by innocent individuals is diffused to a considerable extent among society generally. Though hiring goals may burden some innocent individuals, they simply do not impose the same kind of injury that layoffs impose. Denial of a future employment opportunity is not as intrusive as loss of an existing job."
Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise
In July 1970, a federal court found that the State of Alabama Department of Public Safety systematically discriminated against blacks in hiring: "in the thirty-seven-year history of the patrol there has never been a black trooper." The court ordered that the state reform its hiring practices to end "pervasive, systematic, and obstinate discriminatory exclusion of blacks." A full 12 years and several lawsuits later, the department still had not promoted any blacks above entry level nor had they implemented a racially fair hiring system. In response, the court ordered specific racial quotas to correct the situation. For every white hired or promoted, one black would also be hired or promoted until at least 25% of the upper ranks of the department were composed of blacks. This use of numerical quotas was challenged. The Supreme Court, however, upheld the use of strict quotas in this case as one of the only means of combating the department's overt and defiant racism.
Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson
This case involved affirmative action programs at the state and local levels—a Richmond program setting aside 30% of city construction funds for black-owned firms was challenged. For the first time, affirmative action was judged as a "highly suspect tool." The Supreme Court ruled that an "amorphous claim that there has been past discrimination in a particular industry cannot justify the use of an unyielding racial quota." It maintained that affirmative action must be subject to "strict scrutiny" and is unconstitutional unless racial discrimination can be proven to be "widespread throughout a particular industry." The Court maintained that "the purpose of strict scrutiny is to `smoke out' illegitimate uses of race by assuring that the legislative body is pursuing a goal important enough to warrant use of a highly suspect tool. The test also ensures that the means chosen `fit' this compelling goal so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate racial prejudice or stereotype."
June 12, 1995
Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña
What Croson was to state- and local-run affirmative action programs, Adarand was to federal programs. The Court again called for "strict scrutiny" in determining whether discrimination existed before implementing a federal affirmative action program. "Strict scrutiny" meant that affirmative action programs fulfilled a "compelling governmental interest," and were "narrowly tailored" to fit the particular situation. Although two of the judges (Scalia and Thomas) felt that there should be a complete ban on affirmative action, the majority of judges asserted that "the unhappy persistence of both the practice and the lingering effects of racial discrimination against minority groups in this country" justified the use of race-based remedial measures in certain circumstances.
July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action
President Clinton asserted in a speech that while Adarand set "stricter standards to mandate reform of affirmative action, it actually reaffirmed the need for affirmative action and reaffirmed the continuing existence of systematic discrimination in the United States." In a White House memorandum on the same day, he called for the elimination of any program that "(a) creates a quota; (b) creates preferences for unqualified individuals; (c) creates reverse discrimination; or (d) continues even after its equal opportunity purposes have been achieved."
March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School
Cheryl Hopwood and three other white law-school applicants at the University of Texas challenged the school's affirmative action program, asserting that they were rejected because of unfair preferences toward less qualified minority applicants. As a result, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals suspended the university's affirmative action admissions program and ruled that the 1978 Bakke decision was invalid—while Bakke rejected racial quotas it maintained that race could serve as a factor in admissions. In addition to remedying past discrimination, Bakke maintained that the inclusion of minority students would create a diverse student body, and that was beneficial to the educational environment as a whole. Hopwood, however, rejected the legitimacy of diversity as a goal, asserting that "educational diversity is not recognized as a compelling state interest." The Supreme Court allowed the ruling to stand. In 1997, the Texas Attorney General announced that all "Texas public universities [should] employ race-neutral criteria."
Note: The June 23, 2003, Supreme Court ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger invalidates Hopwood.
Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California
A state ban on all forms of affirmative action was passed in California: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." Proposed in 1996, the controversial ban had been delayed in the courts for almost a year before it went into effect.
Dec. 3, 1998
Initiative 200 enacted in Washington State
Washington becomes the second state to abolish state affirmative action measures when it passed "I 200," which is similar to California's Proposition 209.
Feb. 22, 2000
Florida bans race as factor in college admissions.
Florida legislature approves education component of Gov. Jeb Bush's "One Florida" initiative, aimed at ending affirmative action in the state.
Dec. 13, 2000
University of Michigan’s undergrad affirmative action policy
In Gratz v. Bollinger, a federal judge ruled that the use of race as a factor in admissions at the University of Michigan was constitutional. The gist of the university's argument was as follows: just as preference is granted to children of alumni, scholarship athletes, and others groups for reasons deemed beneficial to the university, so too does the affirmative action program serve "a compelling interest" by providing educational benefits derived from a diverse student body.
March 27, 2001
Univ. of Michigan Law School's affirmative action policy
In Grutter v. Bollinger, a case similar to the University of Michigan undergraduate lawsuit, a different judge drew an opposite conclusion, invalidating the law school's policy and ruling that "intellectual diversity bears no obvious or necessary relationship to racial diversity." But on May 14, 2002, the decision was reversed on appeal, ruling that the admissions policy was, in fact, constitutional.
June 23, 2003
Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action in University Admissions
In the most important affirmative action decision since the 1978 Bakke case, the Supreme Court (5–4) upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6-3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rates students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, does not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.
See Grutter v. Bollinger.
June 28, 2006
Supreme Court Rules Against Considering Race to Integrate Schools
In Parents v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson, affirmative action suffers a setback when a bitterly divided court rules, 5–4, that programs in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., which tried to maintain diversity in schools by considering race when assigning students to schools, are unconstitutional.
November 4, 2008
Ballot Measure to Ban Affirmative Action Goes Before Voters
Ballot measures proposing to ban affirmative action — race and gender based preferences by public entities — goes before voters in two states, Nebraska and Colorado. The ban passes with more than 50% of the vote in Nebraska. Voters in Colorado, though, reject the proposed ban.
June 29, 2009
Ricci v. DeStefano, Firefighters Go to Court
In a lawsuit brought against the city of New Haven, 18 plaintiffs—17 white and 1 Hispanic—argued that results of the 2003 lieutenant and captain exams were thrown out when it was determined that few minority firefighters qualified for advancement. The city claimed they threw out the results because they feared liability under a disparate-impact statute for issuing tests that discriminated against minority firefighters. The plaintiffs claimed that they were victims of reverse discrimination under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court ruled (5–4) in favor of the firefighters, saying New Haven's "action in discarding the tests was a violation of Title VII."
June 24, 2013
Court Orders University to Re-examine Affirmative Action Policy
In Fisher v. University of Texas, the court allows universities to continue considering race as a factor in admissions to achieve diversity, but it does tell them that they must prove that “available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice” before considering race. The court ruled 7–1 to send the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for further review to determine if the school passed the test of "strict scrutiny," the highest level of judicial review. The ruling is considered a compromise between the court's conservative and liberal factions.
Read more about the history of affirmative action:
Affirmative Action Timeline | FactMonster.com
Complete transcription and text of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Commencement Address at Howard University:
"To Fulfill These Rights"
June 4, 1965
Dr. Nabrit, my fellow Americans:
I am delighted at the chance to speak at this important and this historic institution. Howard has long been an outstanding center for the education of Negro Americans. Its students are of every race and color and they come from many countries of the world. It is truly a working example of democratic excellence.
Our earth is the home of revolution. In every corner of every continent men charged with hope contend with ancient ways in the pursuit of justice. They reach for the newest of weapons to realize the oldest of dreams, that each may walk in freedom and pride, stretching his talents, enjoying the fruits of the earth.
Our enemies may occasionally seize the day of change, but it is the banner of our revolution they take. And our own future is linked to this process of swift and turbulent change in many lands in the world. But nothing in any country touches us more profoundly, and nothing is more freighted with meaning for our own destiny than the revolution of the Negro American.
In far too many ways American Negroes have been another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope.
In our time change has come to this Nation, too. The American Negro, acting with impressive restraint, has peacefully protested and marched, entered the courtrooms and the seats of government, demanding a justice that has long been denied. The voice of the Negro was the call to action. But it is a tribute to America that, once aroused, the courts and the Congress, the President and most of the people, have been the allies of progress.
LEGAL PROTECTION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Thus we have seen the high court of the country declare that discrimination based on race was repugnant to the Constitution, and therefore void. We have seen in 1957, and 1960, and again in 1964, the first civil rights legislation in this Nation in almost an entire century.
As majority leader of the United States Senate, I helped to guide two of these bills through the Senate. And, as your President, I was proud to sign the third. And now very soon we will have the fourth--a new law guaranteeing every American the right to vote.
No act of my entire administration will give me greater satisfaction than the day when my signature makes this bill, too, the law of this land.
The voting rights bill will be the latest, and among the most important, in a long series of victories. But this victory--as Winston Churchill said of another triumph for freedom--"is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
That beginning is freedom; and the barriers to that freedom are tumbling down. Freedom is the right to share, share fully and equally, in American society--to vote, to hold a job, to enter a public place, to go to school. It is the right to be treated in every part of our national life as a person equal in dignity and promise to all others.
FREEDOM IS NOT ENOUGH
But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.
Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.
This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.
For the task is to give 20 million Negroes the same chance as every other American to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities--physical, mental and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness.
To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in--by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.
PROGRESS FOR SOME
This graduating class at Howard University is witness to the indomitable determination of the Negro American to win his way in American life.
The number of Negroes in schools of higher learning has almost doubled in 15 years. The number of nonwhite professional workers has more than doubled in 10 years. The median income of Negro college women tonight exceeds that of white college women. And there are also the enormous accomplishments of distinguished individual Negroes--many of them graduates of this institution, and one of them the first lady ambassador in the history of the United States.
These are proud and impressive achievements. But they tell only the story of a growing middle class minority, steadily narrowing the gap between them and their white counterparts.
A WIDENING GULF
But for the great majority of Negro Americans-the poor, the unemployed, the uprooted, and the dispossessed--there is a much grimmer story. They still, as we meet here tonight, are another nation. Despite the court orders and the laws, despite the legislative victories and the speeches, for them the walls are rising and the gulf is widening.
Here are some of the facts of this American failure.
Thirty-five years ago the rate of unemployment for Negroes and whites was about the same. Tonight the Negro rate is twice as high.
In 1948 the 8 percent unemployment rate for Negro teenage boys was actually less than that of whites. By last year that rate had grown to 23 percent, as against 13 percent for whites unemployed.
Between 1949 and 1959, the income of Negro men relative to white men declined in every section of this country. From 1952 to 1963 the median income of Negro families compared to white actually dropped from 57 percent to 53 percent.
In the years 1955 through 1957, 22 percent of experienced Negro workers were out of work at some time during the year. In 1961 through 1963 that proportion had soared to 29 percent.
Since 1947 the number of white families living in poverty has decreased 27 percent while the number of poorer nonwhite families decreased only 3 percent.
The infant mortality of nonwhites in 1940 was 70 percent greater than whites. Twenty-two years later it was 90 percent greater.
Moreover, the isolation of Negro from white communities is increasing, rather than decreasing as Negroes crowd into the central cities and become a city within a city.
Of course Negro Americans as well as white Americans have shared in our rising national abundance. But the harsh fact of the matter is that in the battle for true equality too many--far too many--are losing ground every day.
THE CAUSES OF INEQUALITY
We are not completely sure why this is. We know the causes are complex and subtle. But we do know the two broad basic reasons. And we do know that we have to act.
First, Negroes are trapped--as many whites are trapped--in inherited, gateless poverty. They lack training and skills. They are shut in, in slums, without decent medical care. Private and public poverty combine to cripple their capacities.
We are trying to attack these evils through our poverty program, through our education program, through our medical care and our other health programs, and a dozen more of the Great Society programs that are aimed at the root causes of this poverty.
We will increase, and we will accelerate, and we will broaden this attack in years to come until this most enduring of foes finally yields to our unyielding will.
But there is a second cause--much more difficult to explain, more deeply grounded, more desperate in its force. It is the devastating heritage of long years of slavery; and a century of oppression, hatred, and injustice.
SPECIAL NATURE OF NEGRO POVERTY
For Negro poverty is not white poverty. Many of its causes and many of its cures are the same. But there are differences-deep, corrosive, obstinate differences--radiating painful roots into the community, and into the family, and the nature of the individual.
These differences are not racial differences. They are solely and simply the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice, and present prejudice. They are anguishing to observe. For the Negro they are a constant reminder of oppression. For the white they are a constant reminder of guilt. But they must be faced and they must be dealt with and they must be overcome, if we are ever to reach the time when the only difference between Negroes and whites is the color of their skin.
Nor can we find a complete answer in the experience of other American minorities. They made a valiant and a largely successful effort to emerge from poverty and prejudice.
The Negro, like these others, will have to rely mostly upon his own efforts. But he just can not do it alone. For they did not have the heritage of centuries to overcome, and they did not have a cultural tradition which had been twisted and battered by endless years of hatred and hopelessness, nor were they excluded--these others--because of race or color--a feeling whose dark intensity is matched by no other prejudice in our society.
Nor can these differences be understood as isolated infirmities. They are a seamless web. They cause each other. They result from each other. They reinforce each other.
Much of the Negro community is buried under a blanket of history and circumstance. It is not a lasting solution to lift just one corner of that blanket. We must stand on all sides and we must raise the entire cover if we are to liberate our fellow citizens.
THE ROOTS OF INJUSTICE
One of the differences is the increased concentration of Negroes in our cities. More than 73 percent of all Negroes live in urban areas compared with less than 70 percent of the whites. Most of these Negroes live in slums. Most of these Negroes live together--a separated people.
Men are shaped by their world. When it is a world of decay, ringed by an invisible wall, when escape is arduous and uncertain, and the saving pressures of a more hopeful society are unknown, it can cripple the youth and it can desolate the men.
There is also the burden that a dark skin can add to the search for a productive place in our society. Unemployment strikes most swiftly and broadly at the Negro, and this burden erodes hope. Blighted hope breeds despair. Despair brings indifferences to the learning which offers a way out. And despair, coupled with indifferences, is often the source of destructive rebellion against the fabric of society.
There is also the lacerating hurt of early collision with white hatred or prejudice, distaste or condescension. Other groups have felt similar intolerance. But success and achievement could wipe it away. They do not change the color of a man's skin. I have seen this uncomprehending pain in the eyes of the little, young Mexican-American schoolchildren that I taught many years ago. But it can be overcome. But, for many, the wounds are always open.
Perhaps most important--its influence radiating to every part of life--is the breakdown of the Negro family structure. For this, most of all, white America must accept responsibility. It flows from centuries of oppression and persecution of the Negro man. It flows from the long years of degradation and discrimination, which have attacked his dignity and assaulted his ability to produce for his family.
This, too, is not pleasant to look upon. But it must be faced by those whose serious intent is to improve the life of all Americans.
Only a minority--less than half--of all Negro children reach the age of 18 having lived all their lives with both of their parents. At this moment, tonight, little less than two-thirds are at home with both of their parents. Probably a majority of all Negro children receive federally-aided public assistance sometime during their childhood.
The family is the cornerstone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitions, and the values of the child. And when the family collapses it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale the community itself is crippled.
So, unless we work to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together--all the rest: schools, and playgrounds, and public assistance, and private concern, will never be enough to cut completely the circle of despair and deprivation.
TO FULFILL THESE RIGHTS
There is no single easy answer to all of these problems.
Jobs are part of the answer. They bring the income which permits a man to provide for his family.
Decent homes in decent surroundings and a chance to learn--an equal chance to learn--are part of the answer.
Welfare and social programs better designed to hold families together are part of the answer.
Care for the sick is part of the answer.
An understanding heart by all Americans is another big part of the answer.
And to all of these fronts--and a dozen more--I will dedicate the expanding efforts of the Johnson administration.
But there are other answers that are still to be found. Nor do we fully understand even all of the problems. Therefore, I want to announce tonight that this fall I intend to call a White House conference of scholars, and experts, and outstanding Negro leaders--men of both races--and officials of Government at every level.
This White House conference's theme and title will be "To Fulfill These Rights."
Its object will be to help the American Negro fulfill the rights which, after the long time of injustice, he is finally about to secure.
To move beyond opportunity to achievement.
To shatter forever not only the barriers of law and public practice, but the walls which bound the condition of many by the color of his skin.
To dissolve, as best we can, the antique enmities of the heart which diminish the holder, divide the great democracy, and do wrong--great wrong--to the children of God.
And I pledge you tonight that this will be a chief goal of my administration, and of my program next year, and in the years to come. And I hope, and I pray, and I believe, it will be a part of the program of all America.
WHAT IS JUSTICE?
For what is justice?
It is to fulfill the fair expectations of man.
Thus, American justice is a very special thing. For, from the first, this has been a land of towering expectations. It was to be a nation where each man could be ruled by the common consent of all--enshrined in law, given life by institutions, guided by men themselves subject to its rule. And all--all of every station and origin--would be touched equally in obligation and in liberty.
Beyond the law lay the land. It was a rich land, glowing with more abundant promise than man had ever seen. Here, unlike any place yet known, all were to share the harvest.
And beyond this was the dignity of man. Each could become whatever his qualities of mind and spirit would permit--to strive, to seek, and, if he could, to find his happiness.
This is American justice. We have pursued it faithfully to the edge of our imperfections, and we have failed to find it for the American Negro.
So, it is the glorious opportunity of this generation to end the one huge wrong of the American Nation and, in so doing, to find America for ourselves, with the same immense thrill of discovery which gripped those who first began to realize that here, at last, was a home for freedom.
All it will take is for all of us to understand what this country is and what this country must become.
The Scripture promises: "I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out."
Together, and with millions more, we can light that candle of understanding in the heart of all America.
And, once lit, it will never again go out.
NOTE: The President spoke at 6:35 p.m. on the Main Quadrangle in front of the library at Howard University in Washington, after being awarded an honorary degree of doctor of laws. His opening words referred to Dr. James M. Nabrit, It., President of the University. During his remarks he referred to Mrs. Patricia Harris, U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg and former associate professor of law at Howard University.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was approved by the President on August 6, 1965.
Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965. Volume II, entry 301, pp. 635-640. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1966.
Last Updated June 6, 2007