Civil Rights in America Today

The crowd applauds speakers from the Southern Equality Movement's We Do rally supporting marriage rights for gay and lesbians in Asheville, N.C. Friday, Oct. 14, 2011.  - (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

The crowd applauds speakers from the Southern Equality Movement's We Do rally supporting marriage rights for gay and lesbians in Asheville, N.C. Friday, Oct. 14, 2011.

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Civil Rights in America Today

As the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday approaches, Diane and her guests discuss the most pressing civil rights issues in America today. A look at what has been achieved and new challenges ahead.

At the recent dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., President Obama said the slain civil rights leader would recognize many challenges our nation faces today, including neighborhoods with underfunded schools and inadequate health care. But since Dr. King’s time, much has changed. Not only African-Americans, but women, Hispanics, and homosexuals have -- and still are -- waging civil rights campaigns. And while some problems persist, great strides have been made toward equal rights, including passage of the Americans with Disabilites Act and the ability of gays to serve openly in the military. Diane and her guests discuss civil rights in America today.


Wade Henderson

president and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Hans Von Spakovsky

senior legal fellow, Heritage Foundation and manager of Civil Justice Reform Initiative

Michelle Bernard

founder, and president, Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy

Janet Murguia

president and CEO, National Council of La Raza

Program Highlights

Forty-six years after its passage, the Voting Rights Act is still in the news. South Carolina plans to sue the Department of Justice over its recent rejection of the state's voter ID requirement. Diane and guests talked about the legacy of the civil rights movement and the most pressing civil rights issues today in the U.S.

What Does The Civil Rights Movement Look Like Today?

Michelle Bernard points out that Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke often about economic freedom and poverty during the civil rights movement. But Bernard points out that today, we hear very little public discussion about the poor. "From my perspective today, if you look at Dr. King's message of economic inequality, and you ask yourself what is the most important civil rights issue of today, my personal opinion is that it is education inequality," she said.

Education Inequality

Han Van Spakovsky agrees that education inequality is a serious civil rights issue. Hispanics and African Americans often get poor educational opportunities at the elementary and middle school levels, Spakovsky said. Voucher programs have been tried in several urban areas to try to expand
school choice for poor and minority families, but they are not available everywhere and can generally accomodate only a small number of students.

Voter ID Laws

Another serious civil rights issue today has to do with voting. According to Wade Henderson, at least 14 states have adopted laws making it more difficult for people who would otherwise have been eligible to vote and who have voted in the past to vote again. Some have enacted stricter voter ID laws, some have made it more difficult for those
providing assistance to voters at polling places to do so, and some have challenged third party registrations. Diane asked why it would be difficult for someone to present ID at a polling place, and Henderson said that about 25 percent of the African-American population does not have any photo ID. In some cases, Henderson said, people who had been able to vote for decades were denied the right to vote because they lacked a driver's license or other photo ID.

Equal Rights for Homosexuals

"Given what we saw in New York last year, we have come far, but we have not come far enough," Bernard said. "My personal belief is that it's really none of the state's business and people should be free to marry," she said. "You measure these things by a yardstick and if civil and human rights have meaning for anyone, surely they must have meaning for the gay and lesbian community, as well," Henderson added.

You can read the full transcript here.

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