Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka:
40 Years Later
[Woodstock Report, June 1993, no. 34, pp. 3-10]
Copyright © 1993 Woodstock Theological Center
All rights reserved
On April 22, 1993, a Woodstock forum addressed the progress of African-American
education since Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the 1954 landmark
decision of the Supreme Court which called for racial integration of public schools.
Panelists for this program were Samuel Harvey, Jr., vice president for urban affairs at
Georgetown University; Dr. Floretta Dukes McKenzie, former Superintendent of Schools in
the District of Columbia; and Roger Wilkins, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History and
American Culture at George Mason University. Moderator of the forum was Jim Vance, an
award-winning journalist and anchor for News 4, WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. We present
edited and abridged versions of the talks, along with some of the questions and comments
which followed. The views expressed at a Woodstock forum do not necessarily reflect the
views of the Woodstock Theological Center.
New Challenges in Minority Education
Samuel Harvey, Jr., is Vice President for Urban Affairs at Georgetown
University. He is a graduate of Fairfield University and Georgetown University School of
Law. A member of the advisory board of The Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts,
he also serves on the D.C. Committee on Public Education.
In the nearly 40 years since Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka formally desegregated public schools, African-American youth have made enormous progress
in high school completion, in better test scores, in greater college enrollment, in
obtaining college degrees and in careers. The endless stream of negative statistics tends
to overshadow the individual accomplishments of those who found their way around the
barriers and through the closed doors.
However, there are other facts which we simply cannot avoid. First, while
African-American educational attainment has improved, the amount of education needed to
have a real chance in life has grown even more. Second, general trends do not reflect how
really awful educational conditions are in some schools, in some regions, and for some
groups, including African-Americans in urban areas. And third, the gap between white and
African-American achievement remains substantial.
The minority population of these United States is growing, and in many geographic
areas, the term minority has lost its statistical meaning. Around the year 2020, one-third
of our nation will be minority, including Asian-Americans. By the last quarter of the 21st
century, as a result of immigration and differing birth rates, minorities may have become
the majority. This nation is not preparing to meet this change. In our schools, the future
is already upon us. In our country, between 1968 and 1986, the number of white school
children fell by 16%, the number of black children increased by 5%, and the number of
Hispanic children increased by 100%. While there has been some success in school
desegregation over the last 25 years, in general segregation has not decreased
significantly since 1970. In fact, in some areas it has gotten worse. Today, 22 or 23 of
the 25 largest central-city school districts in this nation are predominantly minority.
Perhaps desegregation is not the key. Possibly there are other, more important factors
on which we should focus if we are ever to provide a quality education for all our
children. Maybe the push to raise test scores, to institute competency tests, and to
increase teacher standards without addressing root causes of the problems has hurt more
than it has helped. African-Americans have long understood that education, above all, is
the way to freedom and opportunity. For centuries, we have fought for an educational
system that responds to the needs of our children. Without some very definite change in
the way we view our interdependence on each other, perhaps the need for this discussion
will be with us in the year 2033, 40 years from now.
To help avoid that necessity, let me recommend three informative publications that you
might want to look at. The first is Three Realities: Minority Life in the United States,
which is a report by the Business Values Educational Forum, published in June of 1990 and
available through the American Council on Education. The second is Education that
Works: An Action Plan for the Education of Minorities, a Quality Education for
Minorities Project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published in January
1990. And the last is an article in Fortune, special issue 19, published in Spring
1990, called "Saving our Schools."
A 40-Year, Ongoing Struggle for Equity
Floretta Dukes McKenzie is president of The McKenzie Group, an educational
consulting firm. She is a former Superintendent of Schools in the District of Columbia and
a former Deputy Superintendent of Schools in Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools.
Dr. McKenzie has also served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of
As I reflected on Brown v. Board of Education 40 years later, I first
thought about it from a personal perspective, how that decision impacted on me, a
second-year college student. When I heard that the Supreme Court had ruled this way, I was
a student at a segregated public institution of higher learning, Miner Teachers' College
of this city. There was a white teachers' college, Wilson. We were very proud of the
education we were getting at Miner. We knew we would be sought-after teachers in the
region, and we recognized that Wilson also had a good reputation.
The next year we all came together as the D.C. Teachers' College. I was one of the
first graduates, and I felt very comfortable believing and demonstrating that I had gotten
an excellent education. I'd come out of Dunbar High School in Washington, which was of
course separate, but there were some very excellent teachers there. Some African-American
teachers who could not get jobs in other areas came into public education, a number of
them graduates of Ivy League colleges with Ph.D.s, so we really had the best.
Perhaps a magic potion?
Some of us believed that Brown v. Board of Education would be the magic
potion that would make all things right, that it would erase the vestiges of the dual
system and we would all move forward, prospering and learning. It didn't happen that way,
because in spite of the Supreme Court decision, there was resistance. There have been a
number of decisions after Brown clarifying exactly what the decision meant. In
1968, there was Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, Virginia,
in which the Court declared that racial desegregation extended to every facet of school
operations. The faculties needed to be desegregated, along with staff, transportation
facilities and even extra-curricular activities. Because in spite of the Brown decisions, some adults didn't want certain students in clubs and didn't want them in
Then the courts moved again, because there was still resistance to equal education,
opportunity and access. In 1971, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of
Education addressed the problems which arise when the minorities in metropolitan areas
become the majority. Then we moved to U.S. v. Jefferson County Board of
Education, where the courts decided there were lasting effects of inequalities and
there was need for compensatory programming. In 1977, a very important decision, Milliken v. Bradley, was a case in Detroit which held that reassignment and compensatory and
remedial actions were to be taken. Last, a more recent decision, still trying to remove
vestiges of desegregation, was Jenkins v. Missouri, a Kansas City decision
which held that the state would have to spend millions of dollars to try to equalize the
education of students in urban districts.
Results have been elusive
In general, what have been the results of Brown v. Board of Education? I
regret to say that the net academic results of the decision that tried to cure inequality
within the schools have been elusive. Unfortunately, African-Americans still ride behind
their white and Asian counterparts. In too many schools we are teaching African-American
students using dull strategies, rote learning, sometimes without teaching the higher
thinking skills that are necessary for future success in college and in the workplace.
African-Americans are approximately 16% of the school population but make up 35% of
students assigned to special education classes. Indeed, some students are misplaced there.
African-American students in our country have been disproportionately suspended and
expelled from our schools. Since leaving the superintendency in D.C., I've audited some
school districts and I learned of one district where the youngsters, African-American
grade school students, were bused to integrate schools and had to return to their
neighborhoods because the teachers in the other part of town refused to teach them
effectively. It was no magic bullet, no magic potion that came from Brown.
Still, there are some positives. In 1967 the U.S. Census found that 54% of
African-Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 had completed high school. By 1987, this
number had risen to 83%. African-Americans also made some progress on achievement tests
given by the National Achievement Education Program. Their reading scores had risen from
238 in 1971 to 274 in 1991. African-American student scores have risen on the SATs also,
while other ethnic group scores have either lagged or remained static. A few years back we
experienced a decline in the numbers of African-Americans attending college, but that has
turned around, particularly among women.
There are still problems in spite of 40 years of trying to erase the inequalities in
education, particularly in public education. Funds for compensatory or remedial education
are not readily available. There have been demographic changes, not only the flight of the
white middle class to the suburbs right after the Brown decree, but a flight of
black middle class, leaving our center cities to become schools for poor and minority
students. We need a socio-economic mix in our public schools as well as an ethnic mix.
Another problem is the need for space, and perhaps we will see a new discussion in state
legislatures concerning rich school districts versus poor districts. The struggle for
equity and equality continues.
Economic Justice: The Basic Need
Roger Wilkins is a Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History and American
Culture at George Mason University. A former member of the editorial staff of The
Washington Post and The New York Times, Mr. Wilkins has received the Pulitzer
Prize. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Michigan
School of Law.
I started my education 57 years ago in a one-room, segregated schoolhouse in Kansas
City, Missouri. I have a nine-year-old child, who attends an expensive private school that
was segregated as late as 1965, but which has a reputation for excellence so high that the
President of the United States and his wife decided to send their child there. My child
would not be at that school if not for the impact of Brown.
Though substantial progress has been made, enormous gaps persist. The chances that a
black high school graduate will enter college within a year of graduation are less than
half the chances that a white high school graduate will enter college within a year of
graduation. Now, much of the differential between the achievements of black students and
white students is a result of socio-economic differences. Another part of the achievement
differential according to virtually all the studies that have been done is the social
background of the school and the children who attend the school with the particular
student being studied.
The arithmetic of race
These schools do not exist in an economic or cultural vacuum. Nor indeed are we looking
at the 39 years since Brown in a historic vacuum. The history of American race
relations did not begin on May 17, 1954, nor indeed did it begin in 1896 when the Supreme
Court, in the thrall of racist jurisprudence, handed down the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which permitted separate facilities for blacks. When we think of where we
have been in these 40 years, we have to think of the arithmetic of race on the North
American continent. Blacks and whites have been trying to figure it out for 373 years. The
first blacks were brought to Jamestown in August 1619. Before the end of the 17th century,
Virginia and the other states were passing slave codes. By the time the Constitution was
written in 1787, we had had slavery in this country for nearly a century and a quarter.
So, out of 373 years, two-thirds of the time we've had slavery. Two hundred and forty-six
out of 373 years.
For another hundred years after that, 1865 to 1965, we had legally and culturally
imposed racial subordination from one end of this country to the other. So, we've only had
something else that sure as heck is not equality for 28 years. If we expect that the
schools, even schools liberated from the shackles of Plessy, can make our children
equal in the space of 40 years, we are dreaming.
No equality without economic justice
Bob Carter, now a senior federal judge in the southern district of New York, was
Thurgood Marshall's deputy. At the time of Brown, he was asked, "Why didn't
you make more plans for what was going to happen?" He replied, "We thought that
segregation was the box that we were in." That is to say, blacks thought that when
segregation was over, the walls would come tumbling down and the scales would fall from
white people's eyes. Whites would see that blacks were really people; they would integrate
and everything would be fair. Well, that didn't work out. Racism was too deep in the
culture of the country. Martin Luther King understood the impact of racism. At the end of
his life, he was working for economic justice. He understood that you couldn't achieve
equality without achieving economic justice.
We can't have equal outcomes for children whose parents face dreadfully unequal
economic circumstances in this life. A third of black citizens live in poverty; adult
black males have not had an unemployment rate less than 10% since the seventies. The kinds
of jobs that blacks once used to get into the middle class are going south to Mexico or
abroad to Asia and we have no national policies to deal with that. As a matter of fact,
these issues are not in our national dialogue.
The fancy school my daughter attends, where I spend tons of money, requires my wife and
I, both teachers, to spend enormous amounts of time with her, on her homework, at the
school, paying attention to what she does and how she learns. If that kid with those
advantages and two parents with law degrees, who teach every day, needs us and our intense
attention to achieve, what can we expect for a kid whose parents are themselves children
and one of whom is probably not around anyway?
Lots and lots of African-Americans in this society cannot be helped by Brown or
any other dreams or theories or lawsuits or programs until their parents can be put to
work, until their families are stable, until there is hope, not only in their households,
but in their neighborhoods. Brown was just the opening door to the great national
task we have in front of us.
Questions and Comments
Jim Vance: If providing equal educational opportunities for all was the goal
of Brown v. Board of Education, is it obvious and incontrovertible
that we have failed?
Dr. McKenzie: I can't say we have failed because there are more
African-Americans in middle-class status than ever before, although there has been slower
progress over the last 12 years. But the quality of life for too many African-Americans
has not been that which would produce excellence in schools. There are a number of factors
that perhaps impede the progress in education that we would like to make. I think that
unionism in education did not provide for the continued nurturing of students in school.
However, some students made progress early on in spite of poverty, in spite of the
economic condition of their parents. On the other hand, these students had hope and they
believed education was the true equalizer. Today we are seeing too many children without
hope and without that firm belief in education.
Jim Vance: Mr. Harvey, you implied that in African-American communities it's
axiomatic that education is the way out of a bad situation. Is that the case today, and is
that the case in urban America?
Mr. Harvey: I still believe so. You know, all of us are products of segregated
education. I grew up in Georgia and went through high school in a segregated system. One
of the most important things I do is work with a group of young men at Malcolm X
Elementary School in Southeast Washington. This work is important because it taught me a
lot of things I forgot. There are some really bright, capable, outstanding kids out there
who aren't getting opportunities. We have a Saturday tutorial for those youngsters. We
have about 45 of them, but we could have 145. We can't get enough men to be mentors in the
program. A lot of these young men don't actually attend school every day, but the
attendance rate on Saturdays is tremendous. Most come from single parent homes and their
mothers insist that they come on Saturdays. These are young mothers, who really do believe
that education is the way, even if it is as informal and haphazard as the 25 or 30 of us
are able to give.
A survey done in 1989 of minority and poor parents asked which factors they considered
important in creating a better life for their children. Fifty-nine percent of those
parents said "staying in school," 58% said job training," and 55% said
"college degrees." If you add it all up, we are still talking about education,
even if it's job training. Job training is education.
Jim Vance: Other ethnic groups which have been victims of discrimination no
longer find themselves in the same situation as African-Americans do now. Why were they
able to move and we were not?
Mr. Wilkins: Until recently, most of the immigrants who came into the United
States have been white and after a while they could move into the general society. With
respect to blacks, there was a fundamental difference in the beginning. The system of
slavery was so brutal, so cruel, so inhumane that the white society which maintained it
had to develop a set of fantasies and psychological responses to slavery and to blacks
which became a deep part of the American psyche and a deep part of the culture. Blacks
became the designated despised in the United States and a substantial measure of that
cultural heritage is what we are still fighting. No other immigrant group in the history
of this society has had to carry that cultural psychological baggage. That's the
Mr. Harvey: When those other immigrant groups came into the country, there were
entry level jobs that allowed those families to progress, to educate themselves. Those
jobs are not there now and have not been there for a number of years. Any number of such
families, African-American families, cannot pull themselves up by the boot straps. This
has been a really enormous factor.
Mr. Wilkins: If you look at the history of immigration patterns, while those
white immigrants were being imported by the American economic machine to do entry level
work in the North, blacks were pinned in the South to do agricultural labor, by and large.
While whites went to pretty decent work that was moving them up and also getting them
educated, blacks were largely kept ignorant. So, in addition to the cultural and
psychological problems, the gap between them and the white immigrants was always kept
Dr. McKenzie: We have to remember also that the trip to this country was the
beginning of the dehumanizing. White immigrants were coming voluntarily, a few were
indentured servants because they had to pay off their transportation cost, but we were
forced to come in slavery, shackled. Many slaves watched their sea mates die. So, the
dehumanization of the African-American actually started before we got to land. That
Jim Vance: Why should anybody who is doing okay care? Why does it matter? Why
do we need to talk about this?
Mr. Harvey: When I spoke about interdependence, I did not want to get into the
whole dialogue about tax bases, but they are important because somebody is going to pay
the price for those things that are not right in this society. The things that are wrong
could affect us all. Over the past 17 years things have gotten bad because we aren't doing
what we need to do for the people who need those things done for them. We've got to
understand that what happens to that youngster out at Malcolm X School affects me. I live
in Fairfax Station, Virginia, 2.6 miles west of the main correctional facility at Lorton.
And I used this fact to try to keep my son on the straight and narrow: "Lorton is not
where you want to get your education." But we're paying for these wrongs and we're
going to continue to pay.
The one thing I will tell anybody about black folks is that we're survivors, and we're
going to survive one way or the other. Most black folks can become a part of the
mainstream of this country through economics, through education, through jobs. And, if we
don't believe that your future is tied to mine and mine to that youngster at Malcolm X,
we're making a serious, serious mistake.
Mr. Wilkins: We're already paying for our mistakes. We've increased our prison
capacity in this country a hundred percent in the past 15 years. We're no safer, we're a
lot less safe now, but we're paying for the prisons. In Virginia, the fastest growing item
in the state budget, crowding out opportunities to increase investments in education, is
prisons. A friend of mine is the state prison director in Michigan. When he became
director in about 1983, the budget for state prisons was $285 million; it is now $998
million, almost $1 billion.
Moreover, we cannot compete with Japan, with Germany, with Singapore, with the rising
Chinese economic colossus, and the European countries, while we have a substantial part of
our working age population educationally disabled. Those people are not going to produce,
we're going to support them, and we can't compete and pay for a huge disabled population
at the same time.
Jim Vance: If the consequences of failing to address this issue are clear and
obvious to any reasonable person, why is that urgency not felt among us today?
Dr. McKenzie: We see the lack of urgency in a number of jurisdictions in failing
bond issues. Recently a school in Michigan closed; its year ended a few months before the
real end of school. Too many of us in the aging population are saying, "I raised my
kids and these parents have got to raise theirs and they are not my responsibility."
But it doesn't work that way. Part of the solution won't come from the schools; it will
come from the community at large. The community must tell its youth that it really cares
about them. All of the acting out and the violence are not occurring only with
African-American youth. Youth in this country, period, are having problems connecting with
adults and feeling valued. We haven't moved as far as I had hoped from the "me"
generation. We must find out how to relate to young people, to be more accepting, and then
hold them to high standards.
Jim Vance: Is there a moral imperative here? Is there a role beyond that of
educators and/or governors to deal with this issue?
Mr. Wilkins: You know, when we passed the great civil rights decisions of the
sixties, priests, rabbis, and ministers, and city councils, mayors, and governors of both
political parties and all races were pounding down the doors of Congress to make this
happen. But the moral imperative is gone in part because of people like us. The country
sees that some black people have succeeded very well. The doors were open and those people
with backbones and spines stood on their hind legs. They had responsibilities and they
joined America because they had American values. Those other people who had not succeeded
are said, to be crude about it, to be inferior niggers. That's very tough stuff because in
the old days you could point to Marian Anderson and say, "How could you discriminate
against that fine woman?" Well, now all the Marian Andersons of the world are free.
We're out. We are not victims in any way that the world can see.
Of the people who are still the victims, many of them are not terribly attractive. They
are homeless people who get in our way when we want to go to the subway. They are kids who
frighten us on the streets. Even though they may be perfectly nice kids, they frighten us
because of our ideas about them. Or they are 14-year-old girls having babies, or they are
people who live in public housing projects and who may or may not be using crack. There is
precious little sympathy for them and there is virtually no national public leadership
that says, "Look at this, change our policies." Until we get national leadership
that is prepared to pull America by the scruff of its neck and make it see the kinds of
things that we see here, it's going to be very hard to get from here to there.
Audience: I would like the panel to respond to my proposition that white
immigrants have succeeded where blacks have not because whites stopped being on the
defensive. Blacks were excluded from the unions, and unionization was something which
allowed many whites to progress economically. Also, white immigrants stopped being on the
defensive about what I would call the affirmative action of their day. For example, in
Boston there were signs that said "Irish Need Not Apply." However, Boston Irish
took over the political system and when it did, all of the police officers were Irish.
What is that but affirmative action? One of my best friends is Jewish. Growing up, she was
taught to hire a Jew first, and she tells me that. Who has benefited from the early years
of affirmative action more than any other group? White women, but somehow we don't call
that affirmative action. And what is "good old boys" but affirmative action for
whites with access? We, for some reason, have allowed white people to win the argument
with regard to affirmative action. We blacks are on the defensive, and for that reason we
haven't excelled in the ways that we should have. We should be excelling.
The second way in which we're on the defensive is with regard to our own inferiority
complex, if you will. I think that many middle class blacks really doubt that they are
going to be able to survive economically. They feel that they've got a little bit in the
system and they've got to hold on to it for all its worth. They're afraid if they divert
too much time to lower income blacks that their share will be gone. Because of their own
internalized racism, they believe that lower income blacks aren't really going to make it
Mr. Harvey: I'll concede that when I was making a hundred and twenty dollars a
week, a college dropout, living in Hartford, Connecticut, I told my mama that I was going
to quit and find somebody to help put me through school. She told me I was crazy.
"You got a little bit. You better hold on to it." I understand where this
attitude comes from, but I don't think most of us have given up. I don't think
African-Americans have ever given up. We have got to build coalitions. We cannot survive
otherwise. We've got to build coalitions of cause, with people who believe in what we
believe in, coalitions with people who are of different cultures, of different economic
backgrounds, religious backgrounds.
Audience: I was speaking to a friend the other day about a new plan for an
all black school, for all black males with all black, male teachers. My friend said,
"What's wrong with segregation? Who ever said segregation was wrong anyway?"
Does the panel think that segregation of different races, different sexes, is maybe the
way to go in a crisis situation in cities?
Dr. McKenzie: I do support trying a number of ways to reach black young men
because we're losing too many of them. This just might be the answer. I was in both
Milwaukee and Detroit when these initiatives were being discussed. Neither group said that
they would not take boys of other ethnic groups. They also indicated that if the community
wanted a school for girls only, they would do that too. We are not being successful with
enough black boys and we have got to find a way to save more of them. They're beautiful
young people and already they're guilty before they even do anything. We have got find a
way to help their self-esteem and even to re-educate ourselves about how to educate boys
effectively. I believe that this is an alternative that really needs to be tried.
Mr. Wilkins: I'm skeptical. Now, there is a difference between this kind of
program and the state-enforced shunning of black kids that Brown v. Board of
Education struck down. When the state said to a black child, "You must be put
away from white children," that message was so powerful and so negative that it had a
very detrimental impact on that child's capacity to learn. The case that we are talking
about here is not that case. However, I was once that lone black child, not simply in the
classroom, but in the whole school. I'll tell you, it was hell! It was just awful! I would
leave school every day, the first year, and there would be at least one big, gooey glob of
spit on my bike seat. When I'd ride home, people would throw stones and apple cores at me
and shout, "Go home where you belong!" It was awful, but I survived and I made
friends, and ultimately I was both a political and an academic success in that school.
That integrated experience taught me some profound lessons that have stood me in good
stead for the rest of my life. The most profound lesson was that all of that baloney that
the culture is trying to teach you about white people being the master race is just that,
baloney. I learned that there are white people who are evil, and there are white people
who are wonderful. There are white people who can run as fast as you can, and there are
white people who can't. There are white people with better hook shots, but not many, and
there are white people who are smarter and white people who are dumber. That is to say, we
were just people, and there was no reason in the world for me ever, ever, ever to feel
inferior or to feel intimidated by the white world.
That was a lesson that my mother and my grandmother and my uncle and my father could
have told me until the cows came home, but I would not have known it in my gut nearly as
well as I learned it by living and competing with those white kids who were my classmates.
Understanding how valuable that experience was for me and knowing some black people who
have been injured by single-race education, I am skeptical. I am skeptical about the
psychic baggage that is left over.
Audience: I'd like to make a point about Germany and Japan, our principal
competitors in the world marketplace. I am a German who lived right after the second World
War and saw how the nation was built up again. Germany certainly benefited from U.S. aid
because its industrial plants were built up new. But I think a greater argument has to be
that both of those countries had maintained their educational systems and had in
fact, maintained that infrastructure. This shows the importance of the educational system
for a country, more so than practically anything else. It's the access to education for
the entire population that is most important. Japan and Germany, despite the tremendous
destruction of both countries, were able to pull out of the rubble by making education
accessible to everybody.
From my European perspective, what seems to be the key problem here, aside from
access to education which, of course, has been handled legally, is the way that education
is financed. Financing education at the local level, with the tax base of real estate,
given housing patterns and mobility, is the wrong way to go about it. Maybe this is what
needs to be looked at. In some states major school districts are suing at the state level
and saying, "We have this problem because of the poorly financed inner-city school
districts where the majority of the African-American community lives."
Dr. McKenzie: I don't think the solution resides only with the states. State
governments are now contributing most of the money for education within their states. I
think the federal government has to look at its role because some states are richer than
others. Equal access and equal opportunity have to become a national policy, with the
federal government providing Moines to make for that equality.
Audience: Many friends of mine are young African-American lawyers who believe
they will never make partner. You read in The Washington Post that out of 1700
partners in Washington, D.C., only 25 are black. So you run into the good old glass
ceiling. Now that various forms of discrimination have been abolished, what can be done
towards eliminating systemic forms of discrimination that will always hold back
Mr. Harvey: The first thing we have to know about racism is that it has nothing
to do with color. Racism has to do with wanting clout, prestige, power, or money. If you
can identify someone that you want power over, then color becomes important, but racism
doesn't have anything really to do with color. We can legislate, but we can't legislate
behavior. You really can enforce equal opportunity, but it requires commitment, it really
requires a national will. Everybody's got to get in there and pitch. Churches are very
important; they play a very central role. We could use some stern, straight-up moral
leadership because it takes a nation with a strong will to enforce equal opportunity and
prevent discrimination. It's a tough job, and it requires everybody to work at it. I don't
know any easy way around it. I'm almost convinced that the best I can do is to work
one-on-one with someone different from myself.
Mr. Wilkins: I don't really worry about glass ceilings too much. People like us
are going to figure out how to fight for ourselves and there are going to be more partners
and more partners and more partners. I worry about the people in Anacostia, the people we
talked about earlier. Because, without massive shifts in attitudes, in resources and in
efforts, these people are going to be separated further and further from the rest of us. I
think that people who are bumping up against glass ceilings should fight for themselves.
But they should spend less time worrying about themselves, and more time in mentoring
programs, or in any kind of activity designed to break the shackles that are hindering the
advancement of the poorest black people in this society.
Our greatest strategy is to recapture from the right something we have ceded to them,
the high ground of family and work. I do not believe we can educate school kids until we
make it possible for those kids to come to school out of families that have some kind of
stability and economic security. This is the work that the civil rights movement and all
of its allies should be focusing on. The task is to make Bill Clinton focus on these
issues in the way that the movement made John Kennedy focus on civil rights issues when he
was just as reluctant as Bill Clinton is now. These are the issues that face us.
Dr. McKenzie: And may I just add, if you happen to get there, beyond the glass
ceiling, bring along somebody else who looks like you.