Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • January 14, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Gregg Ivers, professor of government, American University. He is currently working on a book, Swingin’ at Jim Crow: How Jazz Became a Civil Rights Movement.

    In 1976, when I was in tenth grade, the dreaded “back-to-school” assignment for my American history class was to write an essay about the three most important Americans in our nation’s two hundred-year history. This was, I suppose, our school’s nod to the celebration of the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. I chose Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. It turned out that I was one of two people in my class to include King, the other being the class hippie, whose other two choices were Alan Ginsburg and Jimi Hendrix. My teacher returned the assignment to me the next day and said that I needed to write about someone “serious,” like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or, and I kid you not, the Rev. Billy Graham. I told my teacher that I would rather write about Rev. King than Rev. Graham, and refused to change my mind. My teacher refused to change her mind as well. I received a D on the assignment because, as my teacher told me, Lincoln and Roosevelt were “genuine” Americans. I suppose it’s important to note here that I grew up and attended public schools in Atlanta, where, at the time, more than a few people still referred to the Civil War as the “War Between the States.” My teacher offered wise counsel: “Lincoln is still not all that popular around here, you know. Let’s not push things in the future.”

  • January 20, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At The Atlantic, Garrett Epps examines the two questions that the Court has asked the parties to brief on the same-sex marriage issue and concludes that that there is not a way to split them. He also references the recent guest post from Steve Sanders on ACSblog.

    Nina Totenberg of NPR reports on Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, which considers whether judicial candidates can solicit campaign money.

    Brianne Gorod continues the Constitutional Accountability Center’s series on Chief Justice John Roberts with a look at the how the Chief Justice has changed access to the Courts.

    At The Nation, Ari Berman argues that the best way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy is to protect voting rights.

  • August 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor, West Virginia University College of Law

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Summer protest, it is well worth reflecting on the how the movement challenged us to not only establish formal legal equality, but also to address enduring poverty. The Civil Rights Movement sought to persuade America that all Americans are equal. The Freedom Summer riders (and the many, many more who pressed for civil rights) sought to expose the inequality and oppression in the segregated south of 1964.

    The passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, still impact us today.  These enactments represent significant progress towards the goal of fostering equality. Moreover, with the contemporary tide of referenda and judicial rulings on marriage equality, the Civil Rights Movement continues to evolve to protect many people who fifty years ago weren’t deemed deserving of civil rights.

    Though we think of Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Summer, and formal legal equality when we think about the Civil Rights Movement, we should also remember that the struggle is really, as historian Jacqueline Dowd Hall explained, a “long civil rights movement.”  Hall’s work locates the genesis of the twentieth century movement in the 1930s with the social transformations that occurred due to economic disruption of the Great Depression.  Moreover, the long arc of legal transformation to foster equality began with the Civil War and the Reconstruction Amendments.  The civil rights struggle began with confronting the subordination and poverty slavery created.

    In this sense, the long civil rights struggle had economic equality of opportunity at its core from the beginning. As Jeremy Leaming discussed on this blog, the question of racial equality in twenty-first century America is at a crossroads in light of retrenchment in civil and voting rights.  Yet racial inequality and poverty walk hand and hand and continue to affect the lived experiences of people of color.

    NPR host Michel Martin recently wrote an article in the National Journal, discussing the key obstacles that women of color continue to face in the twenty-first century.  In discussing this article on NPR’s All Things Considered (where she called her essay her own “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”) she explained how poverty creates an enduring problem for racial minorities:

    People of color particularly — but not exclusively blacks and Latinos — are connected to poverty and to disadvantage in ways that often our white colleagues don't understand. That causes you to have to think about things that they aren't thinking about. And that's the kind of thing that I really feel a need to call attention to.

    Martin’s words -- especially as they reflect her own experience navigating the intersection of race and class-- remind us that poverty daily affects the lives of people of color, no matter how affluent.  Indeed, it is a yet-to-be-fulfilled civil rights issue of the long civil rights movement.

  • August 30, 2013
    Guest Post

    by David Frank. Mr. Frank is a former speechwriter to the U.S. Secretary of State and Communications Director for the U.S. Department of Education. Frank is working on a biography of A. Philip Randolph. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    The seeds of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom were planted, almost 40 years earlier, in Harlem, when several sleeping car porters met with A. Philip Randolph, a magazine editor and eloquent soapbox orator.

    Though overshadowed today as on the day of the march by the magnificent message of Martin Luther King Jr., Randolph was the architect of the March on Washington and the movement that led to it.  His pivotal part in the march 50 years ago was the culmination of a lifetime of laboring in political and social battles, an often lonely voice insisting on dignity and fair treatment from racist institutions.

    Born 40 years before King, in 1889, in the small town of Crescent City, Florida, Randolph was the son of a traveling African Methodist Episcopal preacher who supplemented his meager church income as a tailor. From this inauspicious beginning, Randolph rose to a position of leadership that saw him engage in high-stakes discussions in the Oval Office three times in the mid-twentieth century with three different presidents. In 1941, he demanded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt integrate African-Americans into the rapidly growing defense industry, threatening a march on Washington unless Roosevelt complied. In 1948, he insisted that President Harry S. Truman integrate the armed forces. In 1963, he resisted President John F. Kennedy’s plea to call off the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, rejecting Kennedy’s argument that the march could somehow undermine the effort to enact a civil rights bill.

    Randolph took an eclectic route from his humble background to tense negotiations with U.S. presidents.  He was at various times an elevator operator, a ship’s waiter (fired for trying to organize his fellow workers), a Harlem street corner orator and a two-time unsuccessful Socialist candidate in New York.    For about a decade, beginning in 1917, he co-edited a lively, radical journal of politics and the arts called “The Messenger.” Fiery editorials questioning why blacks, denied equality in America, should serve in the First World War, (“Patriotism has no appeal to us; justice has,” Randolph and his co-editor Chandler Owen wrote) led Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer to label Randolph and Owen “the most dangerous Negroes in America.”  In 1918, Randolph and Owen were arrested in Cleveland and held in jail for two days for urging African-Americans to resist the draft.

  • August 29, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Janai S. Nelson, law professor, associate dean for faculty scholarship, and associate director of the The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development,  St. John's University School of Law. She is also author of the article, “The Causal Context of Disparate Vote Denial” on the Voting Rights Act. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    The commemoration of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is a reminder both of how far we've come as a nation and how far we’ve yet to go.

    The 1963 march signaled the beginning of the end of America’s racial apartheid regime and brought over a quarter of a million citizens together, largely African-Americans, in one of the nation’s largest human rights demonstrations.  The power of their presence and the movement they represented forced the nation’s leaders finally to allow the words of the American constitution to ring with unprecedented truth. 

    However, many of the legal victories of the civil rights movement -- affirmative action, voting rights, and equal employment opportunities -- have been scaled back by the Supreme Court in recent years.  The real change in our democracy envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others requires immediate and sustained attention from our legislators and advocates.  It means strengthening the Voting Rights Act by reinstating federal oversight of our nation’s most troubled voting locales.  It also means articulating an affirmative, equal right to vote, and making voter registration automatic. 

    These are fundamental steps to ensure that the commemoration of the march and King's dream speech is more than just a remembrance but rather is a call to action. As I’ve written in this post on Reuters, “The promise held in King’s dream is to wake up one day to its reality — not to slumber while discrimination marches on. The immediate step we can take is to reverse the continuing assault on voting rights and expand participation in our democracy. Rehabilitating the Voting Rights Act of 1965, following the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down one of the law’s most important provisions, should be at the top of this agenda.”  The full text on this post, “King’s Deferred Dream of Democracy,” is here.