53 Years After Brown
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Can I just tell you? Every now and again when I have something on my mind I like to talk about it. And today, I'm thinking about the anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. That's the decision that ended legally enforced race-based segregation in this country. The decision came down 53 years ago yesterday.
Also yesterday, the Census Bureau told us this country is a very different place than it was 53 years ago in a number of ways, about a hundred million ways. As we said earlier in the broadcast, it turns out that the country's minority population now exceeds 100 million. That's about a third of the population.
I'm thinking about both of these stories together because some still argue that Brown was wrongly decided. The critics say that whenever the court's get out in front of the people it just sparks resentment. It would have been better to have waited for society to come to the decision to integrate on its own without being pushed by the country's elites.
The new census numbers might give credence to that thinking: With a third of the country now people of color, it was inevitable that this country would have had to integrate. Could I just tell you? It's easy to make that argument when you're not the one being asked to do the waiting.
I was a freshman in high school before there was a black mayor of a major American city. NASA first accepted female trainees the year I graduated from high school, 1976. Just a few weeks before I graduated from college, 1980, came the Miami riots, sparked by the acquittal of four white police officers who beat a black motorist to death. Then, of course, came Rodney King riots a dozen years later.
Now fast-forward and at the top of the news every day are names like Barack Obama, a black man, Bill Richardson, a Latino man, and Hillary Clinton, a white woman. Not running for mayor, although that's a big job, but competing to lead the nation. And yet the news still also sometimes seems like a bad movie where the hero have to keep living the same life over and over again until he learned some lesson. Three weeks ago, a pro-immigration rally in Los Angeles saw the police wade into a crowd swinging batons and firing rubber bullets to make a few troublemakers disperse. But the mayor there, who happens to be Latino, says he will get to the bottom of it.
African-Americans look back with pride on the Brown decision not just for the outcome but because the case was argued by three black lawyers. Consider this: There were only 2,000 black lawyers in the country at the time. Today, there are 40,000. But black and Hispanic attorneys each account for less than one percent of the partners at the nation's largest law firms. So yes, change is inevitable. But what kind of change? That's still a question of leadership.
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MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. You've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.