A couple of nights ago I watched a stage presentation called Thurgood, where Laurence Fishburne portrayed the civil rights lawyer and first black Supreme Court judge in a one man show. It was very well done and very entertaining, and I think we got a very nice view of what Justice Marshall was really like.

During the presentation, there was an alluding to conversations Martin Luther King, Jr used to have with Marshall on how to achieve equal rights. Dr. King believed that nonviolent protests were the way to go; Mr. Marshall believed that one needed to fight bad laws with other laws. As it turns out, both were right, both suffered wins and losses and both would be amazed to see how little they each really achieved in today’s world.

Marshall argued Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 and won; now 57 years later many communities across the country, especially in North Carolina, are going back to segregated schools, saying desegregation doesn’t work for them and it doesn’t work for black people and it’s too costly in today’s environment. Even here in Syracuse come schools are looking at segregating classes, although more towards separating boys and girls from each other; still, in my mind, segregation is segregation.

We also have communities looking to take away rights of immigrants that were granted by the Constitution and take away rights of unions that were fairly negotiated and supposedly protected by the NLRB. Marshall and King have to be rolling in their graves on this last one, as King’s last speech was in support of a union.

King would also be upset by the fact that he marched and protested for equal rights in voting, yet minorities don’t bother to take the time to vote. He and Marshall fought for education and now minorities don’t do well in school and often don’t go to school. Just look at dropout rates and rates of unexcused absence, and of course test scores.

I’m not sure that what we have today lives up to the legacy of either Mr. Marshall or Dr. King, who was assassinated 43 years ago today. Did he really go through all he did, and did Justice Marshall fight for all he fought for, so we could have what we’ve ended up with today? Can we say we’ve reached an equal footing when the country’s unemployment level goes down, yet black unemployment goes up?

I think not.

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