Mayor 's 2004 Prayer Breakfast
May 6, 2004, Hilton Hotel
At this Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, I want to offer a few thoughts about the special needs of this community. Let me start with a little history, which was related in a recent article by Bob Herbert of the New York Times.
On Monday, May 15, 1954, a warm and muggy day in our nation’s capital, history was being made.
“We conclude unanimously”, said Chief Justice Earl Warren, reading from the Court’s decision in the case of Oliver Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, “that in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
The 50th anniversary of this decision will be celebrated soon.
This ruling, perhaps the most profound Supreme Court decision of the 20th century, was the essential first step toward a difficult but phenomenal transformation of the American social landscape. Something basic—American lives and values—had been touched.
It can be difficult now to understand just how degraded conditions were for black people in the United States in the early 1950’s. Many were routinely addressed by whites in terms that are no longer used in public, and the all too frequent response was “yessir” or “no ma’am”. Segregation was the norm in places of public accommodation. Employment discrimination was a given. In Topeka, according to the 1950 Census, there were 2,158 whites employed in retail sales. The grand total for non-whites: 11.
In the national imagination, blacks were typically janitors, maids, chauffeurs, or boot-blacks. There were lynchings and cross burnings, and the Ku Klux Klan was still energetically spreading its terror. In some venues, blacks were expected to step off the sidewalk or cross to the other side of the street if whites were approaching.
So it is difficult to overstate the change set in motion by the brilliant team of lawyers who developed and worked so hard and long on Brown vs. Board of Education.
But I want to remind us all on this day of prayer that over the course of half a century, this far-reaching decision has fallen far short of its objective: equal opportunity for all young people for access to education and to the other basics of life: decent housing, enriching after-school activities, and job opportunities.
As I go about the City of Pasadena, I am reminded every day of the urgent needs of this community. They are reported day after day in our newspapers and many of the persons gathered here are involved in meeting them. The most urgent needs are: affordable housing; quality public education; after-school activities for high school students; and job opportunities for high school graduates.
It is ironic that the discrimination in our society, as it has become more complex, has evolved over 50 years from black and white to great diversity, based on increasing disparities in wealth and income. There are gross disparities in this City between those who are comfortable and those who are poor.
On this day of prayer, I would commend these special community needs in Pasadena to your prayers.
I look forward to celebrating the Brown case and the greater future that it achieved. It unlocked the door to a glorious period of freedom and civil rights for all Americans. But its main goal—equal opportunities for all—has been thwarted by various circumstances, most of which are extremely difficult to change.
But change they must. The disparities of our community today are not just a betrayal of Brown vs. Board of Education. They are a betrayal of this great country and this great community.
Inspired by this wonderful event, I ask you to join me in solemn prayer for these special community needs.