Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The true character of a nation can be judged in part by the way it treats its weakest or most vulnerable members. In the past decades, no-where has this test been more evident than in the quest for civil rights by black Americans. Civil rights has also become the leading indicator of the moral health of the Nation.

With the passage of civil rights laws, one-third of black Americans-those prepared by family status, education, or economic circumstance-walked through the doors of opportunity once they were opened. For unprepared blacks, removing racial barriers did not enable them to join the mainstream of the American economy. Their problems were and remain economic, and continued attempts to apply race-specific solutions to their problems do nothing to advance economic progress for poor blacks.

The real question for black leaders, then, is the one they are rarely compelled to answer. Why have civil rights gains of the past twenty years bypassed poor blacks, even in those cities politically controlled by blacks? Traditional black leaders rarely challenge themselves with that question. Instead, they continue to appeal to white America for fairness. Fairness toward blacks, defense cuts, increased government spending on social programs for the poor, affirmative action, and job training are all summed up in the call for more "jobs, peace and freedom."