It is now more than three decades since the historic Supreme Court decision on desegregation, Brown v. Board of Education. Thomas Sowell takes a tough, factual look at what has actually happened over these decades -- as distinguished from the hopes with which they began or the rhetoric with which they continue, Who has gained and who has lost? Which of the assumptions behind the civil rights revolution have stood the test of time and which have proven to be mistaken or even catastrophic to those who were supposed to be helped?
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
December 17, 1985
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Civil Rights by Thomas Sowell
The Civil Rights Vision
May 17, 1954 was a momentous day in the history of the United States, and perhaps of the world. Something happened that afternoon that was all too rare in human history. A great nation voluntarily acknowledged and repudiated its own oppression of part of its own people. The Supreme Court decision that day was announced in an atmosphere of high drama, and some observers said that one of the black-robed justices sat on the great bench with tears in his eyes.
Brown v. Board of Education was clearly much more than another legal case to go into the long dusty rows of volumes of court decisions. It represented a vision of man and of the world that touched many hearts across the land and around the world. The anger and rancor it immediately provoked also testified to its importance. In a larger historic context, that such an issue should reach the highest court in the land was itself remarkable. In how many places and in how many eras could an ordinary person from a despised race challenge the duly constituted authorities, force them to publicly defend their decisions, retreat, and finally capitulate?
Brown v. Board of Education may have been intended to close the door on an ugly chapter in American history, going back to slavery and including both petty and gross bigotry, blatant discrimination, and violence and terror extending all the way to brutal and sadistic lynchings. Yet it also opened a door to political, constitutional, and human crises. It was not simply a decision but the beginning of a revolution that has not yet run its course, but which has already shown the classic symptoms of a revolution taking a very different path from that envisioned by those who set it in motion.
The civil rights revolution of the past generation has had wide ramifications among a growing variety of groups, and has changed not only the political landscape and social history of the United States, but has also altered the very concept of constitutional law and the role of courts.
Behind the many visible changes has been a change in the way the world is visualized. The civil rights vision is not only a moral vision of the way the world should be in the future, but also a cause-and-effect vision of the way the world is today. This cause-and-effect vision of the way the world works is central to understanding the particular direction of thrust of the civil rights revolution, its achievements, its disappointments, and its sharp changes in meaning that have split its supporters and confounded its critics.
It is far from incidental that the civil rights movement began among black Americans. The basic vision of what was wrong, and of what social effects would follow from what institutional changes, bore the clear imprint of the history of blacks in the United States, though the general principles arrived at were later applied successively to very different groups in American society -- to women and the aged, for example, as well as to such disparate racial and ethnic groups as Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians. It is now estimated that 70 percent of the American population is entitled to preferential treatment under "affirmative action."' The civil rights vision has even been extended internationally to the plight of the Third World and to racial policies in other nations, such as South Africa.
Ironically, the civil rights revolution began by emphasizing precisely what was unique about the history of black Americans -- slavery, Jim Crow laws, and some of the most virulent racism ever seen anywhere. But upon that very uniqueness, general principles of morality and causation were established. These principles constitute the civil rights vision of the world.