Martin Luther King Service
Metropolitan Baptist Church
January 19, 2003
Mayor Bill Bogaard
It is a privilege for me to be part of this important gathering and to have this opportunity to approach the podium. Thank you very much.
I decided what I wanted to say as I was reading the newspaper yesterday. My topics are two fundamental civil and human rights: voting and education, in this case, higher education.
The paper reported that the Supreme Court had accepted a politically charged redistricting case arising in Georgia. At issue is the meaning or interpretation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The paper also reported that National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice publicly disagreed with President Bush’s announcement the day before the University of Michigan’s admission policies are quota systems in disguise and unconstitutional.
It struck me that we in this country have been waiting a long time for clarity and national commitment to the right to vote and the right to education. It is over three decades ago when Martin Luther King eloquently proclaimed his goals, in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
These are complicated issues, and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert in either area. But I know a little bit more about Michigan’s admission policies, because that is my alma mater and the cases that are pending today before the Supreme Court were filed in the spring of 1997, when I was teaching at the Michigan Law School.
The suits charge that the University’s recognition of race as one of many factors in making the admission decision is improper under the Constitution.
The school maintains that a diverse student body provides important educational benefits and that consideration of race is essential to ensuring diversity in the classroom and is permitted under the Bakke decision 25 years ago.
The University believes, and I agree, that classroom diversity is linked directly to the quality of education. This view is based on the experience that students learn more, and learn more effectively, in settings that include individuals from many different backgrounds. It is interesting that the evidence in this case shows that Michigan’s commitment to diversity in the classroom dates not from the time of Dr. King, not from the date of Brown v. Board of Education, but from the principles upon which the University was founded in the second half of the 19th Century.
Then, as students leave our institutions of higher learning to confront a multicultural world, these young people have the tools needed to help all of us cope with racial, ethnic and cultural differences. This is not so much about remediating the effects of past discrimination—which is another important topic—but about citizens of all backgrounds contributing positively to the country’s social fabric and future success…to help this nation achieve its dream!
There is a tight bond between democracy and voting, and between democracy and education. The Supreme Court has the opportunity this year to secure the critical links in that chain.
But we all have a role in this ongoing struggle. Voting and education, and other issues involving civil and human rights, have an ongoing presence in our community. Pasadena is and always has been a diverse community. Our racial, cultural and ethnic differences constitute both our glory and our greatest challenge.
Today we live in a nation that is stronger because of Dr. King’s work, but there is much remaining to be done. We are far from achieving his dream. I want to suggest that our responsibility has never been greater than it is today to fight in support of equality and against discrimination; to fight in support of fairness and against bias; to fight in support of democracy and all it means to all of us.
Let us then rededicate ourselves—it is no less needed than three decades ago!—to achieving that dream, so we might someday be “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”