There's still work to be done to realize Dr. King's dream
President George W. Bush's opposition to the University of Michigan's admissions policy that takes race into consideration, and U.S. Sen. Trent Lott's expression of nostalgia for this nation's segregationist past make today's commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday all the more significant.
Bush and Lott both insist that they aren't advocating a return to government-sanctioned discrimination, but because of their national prominence, what they say does warrant attention.
With the president, in particular, his use of the most powerful pulpit in the land to express comity with the opponents of race-conscious admissions policies has prompted concerns about his commitment to tearing down the barriers to social and economic equality and justice.
By celebrating Dr. King's birthday as a national holiday on the third Monday in January, this nation not only honors a man who gave his life for what he believed in, but makes a commitment each year to the establishment of the colorblind society that King craved.
To be sure, great progress has been made since the early days of the civil rights movement that was Dr. King's life's work.
Last week, for instance, retired federal appeals court Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, a native of Youngstown, told a gathering at Youngstown State University that King would be pleased with some of the changes that have taken place in this country.
Indeed, Jones himself epitomizes the great strides blacks in America have made in being judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
Jones, who is retired from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, is considered one of the leading jurists on issues of social justice and equality. His dedication to the law is being recognized in a way that the people of the Mahoning Valley and the nation will not forget.
His name will soon adorn the new federal courthouse in downtown Youngstown.
But while applauding the progress that has been made in this country in tearing down barriers, Jones, the keynote speaker at YSU's diversity breakfast Wednesday in honor of the 74th anniversary of King's birthday, noted that the civil rights leader, who was killed by an assassin's bullet, would have been distressed at the continuing opposition to such just causes as affirmative action.
"He never intended for his call to judge a person by the content of character and not skin color to be a justification for killing off affirmative action and other remedies designed to overcome the vestiges of racial discrimination," he said.
Jones warned that an adverse ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the University of Michigan admissions case "would set back for decades the quest for diversity, not only in education, but also in jobs and economic opportunity."
That is why President Bush has a responsibility to clearly articulate what he means when he says he supports "affirmative access" to higher education, as opposed what Michigan has been using. Bush must reassure all Americans that his administration will not dismantle the programs now in place that are designed to make Dr. King's dream a reality.