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A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Executive Offices, Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board Strategies for the Future Based on Lessons from the Past Vilma S. Martinez Martin L. King Day Speech Nearly ten years have passed since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. The murder of this man, whose dream had become the civil rights movement’s greatest symbol of hope, filled us with an anguish that does not diminish with time. His death signaled the close of an era and the beginning of another in which, as never before, his dream challenges America to fulfill its destiny. We would do well now to distill the strategies Dr. King used so effectively and tallor them to counteract today’s forces of fear and racial hatred. The year was 1954 when Reverend King moved to Montgomery, Ala., to begin serving his first congregation. The courtroom battles that brought, at least on the books and in theory, racial justice to this nation were already well underway. The Supreme Court had just handed down its epochal decision in Brown v. Board of Education, declaring unconstitutional the racial segregation of our public schools. During the preceding decade, the court had taken gradual steps that permitted minority groups more breathing spacethe Democratic Party primary could no longer be restricted to whites in South Carolina blacks and Chicanos could no longer be excluded from grand or petit juriessegregation on dining cars traveling on interstate trains was held unconstitutionalracially restrictive housing covenants were no longer enforceable in a court of law. Encouraged and awakened by the stirrings of change, a few Southern blacks began to resist such daily humiliations as Montgomery’s city ordinance mandating segregated seating on buses. In reaction, white authorities not only stiffened their resistance to change, but intimidated moderate whites as well. In 1955, five black women and two children were arrested and one man shot to death as a direct result of disobeying a bus driver’s orders. It was in this intensely polarized atmosphere that the phase of the civil rights movement led by Dr. King took hold. As head of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Dr. King organized the now historic bus boycott In an unprecedented action, black citizens united in their refusal to submit to demeaning racism. For more than a year, the black community, despite every conceivable form of harassment and intimidation, sustained a total boycott of the Montgomery buses until the Supreme Court struck down Montgomery’s bus segregation ordinance. Oddly, many initially failed to grasp the compelling role that organized displays of nonviolent resistance would play in advancing the cause of racial equality. But in fact, Dr. King could not have chosen a better strategy. In the 1950s the common tools of white racists were police dogs, guns, bombs, harassment through discriminatory enforcement of civil and criminal statutes, and caricatures of civil rights leaders as communist infiltrators. Dr. King recognized that nonviolence was a brilliant counter-offensive because it appealed to the inherent fairness of all people; his strategy focused on institutional changes rather than victimizing individ uals caught up in the system and it most importantly held out the promise that we as Americans might really achieve the goals upon which this nation was founded. The strategy also combined idealism and pragmatism in one stroke. Dr. King designed events which were uniquely suited to national media coverage because each contained drama, action, human interest and the ever-present “threat of violence.” By asserting his dream of brotherhood in the face of dramatic and persistent denial, Dr. King did more than any other American to expose the fraudulence of America’s boast that this was a land of freedom and equality. Ultimately, his work made this nation realize that racial justice is the supreme moral issue of our time. Absent this realization, the Supreme Court’s desegregation orders would have remained little more than words printed on a pageand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could never have been enacted. e ‘en” , ir v. weir b abd….. gm Alb Mb AP In April of 1968, the same month Dr. King died, a small group of Chicano lawyers in San Antonio united to secure for Chicanos the same kinds of legal protection that blacks were gaining in the South and founded the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, now known as MALDEF. Also in that year, the women’s movement was just beginning to coalesce. Today, the black civil rights movement that flourished under Dr. King has grown and broadened into a national human rights movement in which the fate of equal protection under the law for women and all racial and ethnic groups has become inextricably woven together. Separately and collectively, we have secured greater legal protection from harsh and arbitrary treatment. Yet today we find that the courts have retreated markedly from the role of moral leadership in protecting the rights of minority citizens. The Burger Court has set up formidable barriers for civil rights plaintiffs by requiring, for example, that they prove their injuries resulting from intentional discrimination. At a time when the devices of discrimination are better disguised and more sophisticated than ever, this imposes upon plaintiffs such a heavy burden of proof that many are discouraged from even attempting to assert their claims in a court of law. Moreover, in holding that only intentional discrimination is unlawful, the court has in effect told employers, educators and local zoning boards that the constitution imposes no duty upon them to consider how their decisions affect the quality of life for minority citizens. We have been informed that we have no fundamental right to such necessities as housing, employment, education and welfare benefits. In short, the court has signaled its extreme reluctance to become involved in civil rights litigation. The modest gains that we began to make in the late ’60s and early ’70s to meet our unique legal needs have not expanded to provide full legal protection. The cause of equal justice stands on the proverbial slippery slopeunless we launch a renewed and vigorous effort to educate Americans as to those unmet needs of minority groups, we will not only fail to advance, we will lose more than 20 years of advancement. How can we begin to meet this challenge? First, we must work in concert and in trust. Women, blacks, browns and all Americans of good will must recognize that they have much in common. More importantly, all minority people must borrow from Dr. King’s wisdom: He knew that racial minorities were just thatin the minorityand that minorities alone could never, in a democracy ruled by majority vote, overwhelm the forces of racism through traditional electoral politics. And we must also have Dr. King’s courage to believe that on a national scale, the proponents of racial hatred and violence are also in the minority and that the future of equal justice rests in the hands of that vast group who, out of fear, ignorance, or apathy, stand somewhere in the middle. Using Dr. King’s skills of persuasion, we must carry our message to this vast group, to the policymakers at all levels \(federal government, city councils, state governments, school boards, the business community, philanthropic and educational instituthat there are children in their schools who are receiving instruction in a language they do not understandthat one half of all young black Americans are without jobsthat nearly 40 percent of all minority households are headed by women and that for these people, equal opportunity remains but a fading dream. We at MALDEF maintain an abiding confidence in that vibrant and honorable tradition within this country which sustains and nourishes civil rights and human dignity, and we have confidence in our ability to work with and within that tradition to gain our full measure of civil rights in this society which is so deeply divided on issues of race and equality. The burden is on us to re-create the atmosphere which Dr. King was instrumental in creating in which Americans from all segments of society began to see that it is not enough to simply stop discriminating that what is needed is positive, conscious action to insure equal treatment in a still unequal worldand that in so doing, we are all strengthened and enriched. We at MALDEF need your support to do our part. MALDEF 501 Petroleum Commerce Building 201 N. St. Mary’s Street San Antonio, Texas 78205 Enclosed is my contribution of $ Name Address City State Zip Make checks payable to MALDEF. Contribution* ere tax deductible. MEXICAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND 16 MARCH 3, 1978