By: Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League
This month has brought fresh, tragic evidence of the fragility of human life. Most of us needed no reminders. Nonetheless, the horrible killings in London and Egypt and the continuing violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world have underscored how exposed the innocent everywhere are to those who use ideology as an excuse for murder.
These tragedies happened across an ocean and half a world away. Yet, their reverberations beat against our front doorsteps, even affecting the way we travel to and from work.
Grief for those lost abroad, and concerns about our own safety now seem as palpable as the heavy summer heat as the National Urban League undertakes its annual conference in Washington, D.C.
But those feelings are far from debilitating. Instead, in this the Urban League's ninety-fifth year, these acts of violence ultimately remind me, and the thousands who will join us here, of what determination in ourselves and faith in the future—in common human decency—can achieve.
Ninety-five years ago African Americans were marooned in a vast sea of cruelty in America, especially in the South, where they were subjected to a brutal reign of economic intimidation and murderous physical violence.
What that produced, however, was not dejection and submission, but the great movement of people called the Black Migrations—by which millions of southern blacks, unable to enjoy their "inalienable rights" of citizenship below the Mason-Dixon Line, voted with their feet and headed North and West.
The Urban League was formed to help these black migrants, most of whom had come from the rural areas of the South, adjust to the bewildering demands of modern urban living.
The measure of freedom and fairness they found was often not much better than in the South. But in the difference between the one place and the other lay opportunity; and African Americans seized it with an unshakable faith that led forty years ago to the landmark civil rights and voting rights acts of the mid-1960s.
What has happened to the American political landscape and America as a whole since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965 has justified their faith.
But the work the Voting Rights Act initiated is far from finished, as recent controversies about voting irregularities and discrepancies and complaints of voter intimidation have shown.
That's why it's imperative that Congress not wait for the 2007 deadline to approve an extension of the Voting Rights Act. They should do it now—and strike another blow for democracy by legislating full voting rights for the citizens of our
Nation's Capitol. Washingtonians are entitled to a voting member of Congress, two voting members of the Senate, and all the voting privileges other Americans have.
That's also why the Urban League intends to vigorously participate in the debate over the fitness of Judge John Roberts for the U.S. Supreme Court, which has had an enormous impact on America's great movements for justice. Before we make a judgment about the President's nominee, we want to know where Judge Roberts stands on the rights and freedoms for all Americans: on voting rights, on civil rights, on affirmative action, and economic opportunity for all.
We want a Supreme Court that respects the progress of the past fifty years, and one with an independent mind and a compassionate heart. So we must now exhaustively review his writing, his decisions, and who he chose to fight for as a lawyer. And we expect the United States Senate to do the same.
Our energies are not captured solely by Washington, however. The work of our one hundred-plus affiliates in 34 states and the District of Columbia has kept us all too aware that too many in America still languish outside the gates of opportunity.
Thus, we pledge to work to achieve an opportunity compact for America—a frame of reference and action that will devote more resources to helping every willing American gain a good job with good wages; to increasing the prospects for every American, especially African Americans, to become homeowners; to spurring business ownership and entrepreneurship among African Americans; and to inspiring greater academic achievement among African-American youth.
This is our way of keeping faith with the Urban League's historic mission—now needed more than ever in today's relentless globalized economy.
I also can't help but think that our plan to help others more actively embrace our responsibilities as citizens of a democracy is one way ordinary Americans can effectively and dramatically respond to the threat of terrorism, too.
True, this isn't the 1950s and 1960s, but today all Americans should recognize that in many ways we Americans are still fighting for our freedom and for the advance of democracy and decency—and that to do so effectively and fearlessly we need to keep faith in the power of the faith of our foremothers and forefathers.
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