Although the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of affirmative action in the University of Michigan Law School case three years ago and Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Black leaders say affirmative action and school desegregation are among the most important issues facing Black America in 2007—both being at risk.
“The Supreme Court is likely to issue a devastating opinion in the Seattle cases [this] year and it will possibly set back the premise of Brown v. Board of Education to provide quality education for all children,” says Harvard University law professor Charles Ogletree. “And I think that it will unsettle plans by conscientious school districts, surveyors and educators.”
The two cases heard by the Supreme Court recently, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education (Kentucky), could end voluntary programs that use race in order to maintain racial integration in public schools.
“I was at the argument and I heard the questions,” Ogletree says. “And there was little enthusiasm among the majority of the justices to support a voluntary integration plan that both Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Wash. had devised to protect the interest of children.”
Successful campaigns to end affirmative action in Michigan, California and Washington state will likely spread, civil rights advocates say. Conservative activist Ward Connerly is researching possible ballot initiatives against affirmative action in at least nine more states.
From academia to activism, Black leaders fear 2007 could bring an end to affirmative action, causing a reversal in decades-old policies established for racial and economic justice.
If it happens, activist Al Sharpton says the same way that Blacks got equal justice programs, they will have to fight for it again.
“We got it through mass mobilization and putting pressure on the Senate and the Congress to enact legislation that would offset it. And that’s the only way we’re going to do it this time,” Sharpton says. “The minute we start deluding ourselves that we don’t need a movement, Whites will use that as a license to stop dealing with us in ways that are adverse to our progress because they feel that they can.”
What the new Democratic-majority Congress will do on behalf of Black people is yet another major issue facing Black America, political observers say.
“Blacks have the power right now to help determine the agenda of the U. S. Congress. We’ve never had that power before,” [Jesse Jackson Sr.] said. He cited Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) as chair of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) as chair of the Ways and Means Committee as potential powerbrokers on behalf of the socially, politically and economically disadvantaged. “We were completely locked out of power. . .. Now, our point of view matters because we can alter legislation. We can have an impact now on priorities in the U. S. Congress.”
Recalling the often-used term, “urban agenda,” Spriggs says geographic changes mean that language must be clarified for 2007.
“The reality is that people are using ‘urban agenda’ as a euphemism for race. And the reality is that more Black people live in suburbs than the city. . .. We ought to cut to the chase. If what you want to do is deal with racial disparity, then you ought to have a racial disparity agenda.”
Some African-Americans think Black leadership itself is among the crucial issues facing Blacks in 2007.
“The challenge is to become honest about Black leadership. Look at where we are. They play the game the same way,” says civil rights lawyer Thomas N. Todd. “The whole point, I thought, was to get leadership into a position where the games would be changed for the benefit of the masses.”
Todd questions whether Blacks in Congress will hold any real power.
“A person who has been consistent like John Conyers, they are not favored by the Democratic political establishment. And as a result of that, they don’t enjoy the kind of popularity and power,” Todd says.
On the other hand, Ron Walters, director of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, says continued attacks on Black leadership by other Blacks would cause a decline in Black progress in 2007.
“We need to have some confidence in our leadership. We seem to not have the correct posture with respect to our leadership. We seem to think that it’s time for those civil rights folks to go sit down in a corner somewhere and for the new people like [U. S. Sen.] Barack Obama to lead us to the Promised Land,” says Walters. “No. That ideology is the key to our weakness. I’d much rather have confidence in the proven leadership that we have before us. These people didn’t get there by accident you know. They got there because they had something on the ball.”