Civil and Women's Rights Legend Passes

Call it a coincidence, but on the day that Dorothy I. Height passes, to find a separate story about segregated schools creeping back into the south seems like a country crying out for more witness to progress we’ve made, then lost.

Studies have shown schools drifting back into segregation since the 1980s, when the federal government became less aggressive in its enforcement. The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that school districts cannot make racial balance a policy goal unless — as is the case in Walthall — they are attempting to comply with a federal desegregation order. – Ruling on racial isolation in Miss. schools reflects troubling broader trend

“Less aggressive in its enforcement” in the 1980s was one of the things for which Pres. Ronald should be remembered.

There was a reason Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign at the Neshoba County Fair, talking about state’s rights in front of a crowd that reportedly hit 10,000 cheering fans. He may have been the first to do it, but nobody was naive enough to miss his message. It was Reagan who made efforts to reinstate tax exemptions for private schools who practiced segregation, or if you prefer racial discrimination.

Of course, during the campaign season of 2008, a columnist for the National Review Online described Reagan’s courting of whites in the county where the young Congress of Racial Equality freedom riders, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were killed by the KKK, which was depicted in the marvelous film “Mississippi Burning,” totally benign. It was in rebuttal to columns of Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert, with all three writers getting it wrong.

Next, Reagan prescribes federalism – the basic conservative, constitutional principle of devolving power and resources as close to localities as possible.

I believe there are programs like that, programs like education and others that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them, and let the people [inaudible].

The crowd roars over the end of that sentence. Reagan continues:

I believe in states’ rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, [applause] I will devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions that properly belong there.

The NRO columnist goes on to describe all the ways Reagan wasn’t a racist, including Pres. Reagan’s appearance in front of African American groups, as well as citing his mother making sure he also had black friends. Of course, he is correct when he states that Michael Dukakis also went to Neshoba County. Dukakis invoked these words when there: ”bring down the barriers to opportunity for all our people.” I also don’t recall there being any mention of “states’ rights” and the winking nod of “people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level” either. There is, however, no equating Dukakis with the signal Reagan sent, which continued during his presidency. Who can forget the phrase “welfare queens” Reagan tried to help Bob Jones University get a tax exemption. Is there any Democratic presidential candidate, let alone president, who worked to strip the Voting Rights Act? You know, in order that people could do “as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level.”

The NRO columnist conveniently skips over the meaning of the Goldwater – Nixon – Reagan Southern strategy, but to be fair so did Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert. It has little to do with what’s in a candidate’s heart, which only he or she knows. The Republican Southern strategy is about courting racists when it will help you win the votes, and never speaking the truth to the white power who promoted discrimination and segregation when you are among them. The Republican Southern strategy gives a wink and a nod to the proclivities of racism, which rises locally, as in the story linked to above, by implying the GOP will protect it.

Of course, there is a flip side, race-baiting. Implying that someone is racist is wrong, especially when they’ve got a life-long record to prove they are not. It’s one reason I will never forget what happened in the 2008 primary season when Obama’s South Carolina campaign team released the “South Carolina memo” that charged the Clintons with racism. Just this past Friday, David Remnick, speaking on Bill Maher’s HBO show, said that there wouldn’t have been a Barack Obama without Jesse Jackson. There wasn’t a ripple, because it was true. However, when Bill Clinton implied the same thing during the primary season in South Carolina all hell broke loose with people twisting his statement and implying it meant what it did not. Some progressives and new media sites, as well as cable talking heads, helped send this heinous message, all because the Obama campaign was willing to use the race card to their advantage. Anyone could have argued that former Pres. Bill Clinton’s statement was ill advised given the heated primary contest, but especially given the historical roughness of primaries in South Carolina, with the former president clearly off his game. However, to call him a racist was inexplicable.

Rush and Sean Hannity like to say it was Democrats who promoted segregation in the south. But when the Democratic Party moved forward with racial equality, seen through Harry Truman’s presidency, these Southern Democrats moved quickly to become the new Republicans of that region.

Candidates on both sides of the aisle know how to play the race card to their advantage, even when it’s wrongly aimed, but it is only the Republican Party that created then manifested the Southern strategy in multiple presidential elections.

As the Tea Party gains ground, with Americans in southern states more likely to believe Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., is there any doubt that what’s creeping into Mississippi schools is also creeping into the minds of some Americans?

Losing Dorothy I. Height should remind us all that we still need champions of racial equality today.