Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Eyes on the Prize
The Story of the Movement — 26 Events

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26

Civil Rights Today

2006

"We are a society that has been structured from top to bottom by race. You don't get beyond that by deciding not to talk about it anymore."
—Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, law professor and trial analyst

Related Links:


Eyes on the Prize documents events through the mid-1980s. In later years, the fight for equality has continued. A notable -- and controversial -- African American gathering was the 1995 Million Man March, organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to encourage voter registration, black involvement in black communities, and as a protest against conservative Congressional efforts to eliminate the "safety net" of federal programs to help the poor.

Since the Sixties, two significant civil rights trends have emerged. First, others seeking to eliminate injustices in society, including farm workers, Latino groups, lesbian and gay groups, and most recently, immigrants, have successfully adopted the tactics of the movement.

Second, race relations have remained a flash point for the nation. The beating of a Los Angeles motorist, Rodney King, in March 1991 led African Americans to riot after the accused police officers were acquitted. That same year, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall retired. Clarence Thomas, the conservative African American nominated as his replacement by President George H. W. Bush, underwent scrutiny at confirmation hearings that Thomas, who was ultimately confirmed for the court, called "a high-tech lynching." In June 1994, retired football star O. J. Simpson was tried and acquitted for the murder of his ex-wife in a divisive, high-profile trial. The 1998 hate crime murder of James Byrd in Texas horrified Americans and revealed that racial tolerance was improving -- but polling at the time showed major gaps in blacks' and whites' perceptions about the existence of discrimination.

In the 21st century, Americans are finding other reasons for improving race relations. One is the increased focus on inclusive hiring practices and the need for a diverse workforce to compete effectively in the global economy. In 2003, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled that race can be used as a factor in university admissions decisions, revisiting the Bakke decision after 25 years. Businesses including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Nike filed a brief in support of the defendant, the University of Michigan, stating that diverse educational institutions were crucial to their own efforts "to hire and maintain a diverse workforce, and to employ individuals of all backgrounds who have been educated and trained in a diverse environment." And finally, the growing number of mixed-race families, and an acknowledgement of the racial complexity of individuals, is reflected in the U.S. Census as of 2000. In that census, people were allowed to identify themselves as more than one race for the first time.

Context

Other Events: Recent Years

Recent presidential campaigns field a larger number of mainstream black candidates. Jesse Jackson runs as a Democrat in 1984 and 1988. Alan Keyes runs for the Republican nomination in 1996 and 2000. And in 2004, Democratic hopefuls include Carol Moseley Braun and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

In 2000, two competing teams of researchers map the human genome, the collective name for the tens of thousands of genes in the human body.

September 11, 2001 brings unprecedented death and destruction to American soil when terrorists crash airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. A fourth hijacked plane is diverted by its passengers and crashes in a Pennsylvania field. America enters an ongoing War on Terror.

In 2002, African American entertainers flex their muscles at the 74th Academy Awards. Denzel Washington wins the Best Actor Award, Halle Berry wins for Best Actress, and Whoopi Goldberg hosts the ceremony. Hollywood legend Sidney Poitier, already a two-time Oscar winner, takes home an Honorary Award that year.

The U.S. invades Iraq in March 2003 with coalition forces to topple dictator Saddam Hussein and search for weapons of mass destruction.

When Hurricane Katrina strikes the Gulf Coast in 2005, 100,000 people, mostly African Americans, are stranded in the inundated city of New Orleans. The disaster reveals to many not only the inadequacy of emergency response plans but also the persistent poverty and racial divides still prevalent in America.

Press

The Boston Globe, October 16, 1991

Senate confirms Thomas, 52-48;
Approval margin is the narrowest in court's history

The Senate elevated Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court last night, but with more negative votes than any justice in history and lingering public doubt about his judicial qualifications and moral fitness.

Thomas' razor-thin margin, 52 to 48, was the narrowest in the history of the court. It was also the exclamation point to a day of rancorous debate dominated by partisan and sometimes personal outbursts at the Senate and its process, at its members and their tactics, at Thomas and his accuser, at President [George H. W.] Bush and at the news media...

...In the end, Thomas owed his confirmation to conservative Democrats, and to the notion, expressed by many of his supporters, that he deserved the benefit of the doubt in his denial of a sexual harassment charge made by Anita F. Hill...

...As senators from both parties expressed their anger, and even their remorse, at what many chose to call the Senate's "spectacle," few parties to the Thomas nomination were spared.

Sen. Alan K. Simpson, Republican of Wyoming, attacked the news media for circulating Hill's allegations. Many Democrats assailed the White House for employing what they called race-baiting tactics, a reference to Thomas' counterattack that his critics had engaged in a "high tech lynching" of an "uppity black."

.... Among those who shifted a vote because of the airing of [Hill's] allegations, only [Sen. Robert C.] Byrd [D-WV] took to the floor to say why.

"I believe Anita Hill," Byrd said. "I did not see" on her "face the knotted brow of satanic revenge. I did not see a face that was contorted with hate. I did not hear a voice that was tremulous with passion."

In contrast, Byrd said, he was offended by Thomas' decision to "stonewall" the committee, his declaration that many questions would be out of bounds, his insistence that he had not listened to Hill's testimony, his sweeping indictment of the Senate and its process, and his "attempt to fire the prejudices of racial hatred."

"What kind of judicial temperament does that show?" the courtly Byrd, who is one of the institution's strongest defenders, demanded to know....

The Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1992

VERDICTS GREETED WITH OUTRAGE AND DISBELIEF; REACTION: MANY CITE VIDEOTAPE OF BEATING AND ASK HOW JURY COULD ACQUIT OFFICERS. A FEW VOICE SATISFACTION.

Outrage and indignation swept the city Wednesday as citizens rich and poor, black and white, struggled to reconcile the acquittals of four Los Angeles Police Department officers with the alarming, violent images captured on a late-night videotape.

"If something in you can die, that something died," said the Rev. Cecil L. Murray, who, like countless others, sat spellbound before a television screen as verdicts were read that cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing in last year's beating of black motorist Rodney G. King.

... The verdicts drew fervent reaction virtually everywhere. A widely outnumbered minority voiced satisfaction with the acquittals. Among them was Barbara Williams, who stood with friends outside the courthouse after the verdict, expressing her support for the four LAPD officers.

"I'm glad they got off," she said. "They did what they were trained to do."

But overwhelming sentiment against the acquittals poured forth almost immediately -- both in the inner city and in outlying, largely white suburbs. Rose Brown, 43, of Los Angeles, who drove to the Simi Valley courthouse to hear the verdicts, said: "I'm not only shocked, but I'm hurt for Americans as a people... I don't think Rodney King was on trial, but I think America was on trial."

Brown then presaged the violence that would break out later in parts of the city, saying: "I am not given to riot, but you just watch. Something's going to break."

Linda Johnson Phillips, another Los Angeles resident who attended the trial's final day, rushed from the courtroom in tears. "The color of your skin determines the degree of justice you get," she said bitterly. "It's a shame that America has gotten to the point where people believe what they hear and not what they see."

Later, community leaders and activist groups met to urge calm, while neighborhoods around them simmered near a boil. At 55th Street and Normandie Avenue in the inner city, 31-year-old Tonia Smith, a mother of two, stood screaming about the verdicts. "It was wrong! Suspended without pay, that's no justice!" she hollered. "They beat that black man! It's time for us black folks... to reunite. It's our turn now. We're tired of being slaves!"...

Washington [D.C.] Afro-American, September 30, 1995

Million Man March Fact Sheet

WHAT:

The Million Man March is a Holy Day of Atonement and Reconciliation for, and by, Black men in the USA who will March in Washington, D.C., to convey to the world a vastly different picture of the Black male, and to publicly proclaim to the global community that the Black man is prepared and moving forward to unify our families and build our communities...

There are three key issue areas.

1. The Black Family and Community Development

This includes self-responsibility, love, nurturing, and caring for the Black family; work to end self-destruction, Black-on-Black crime and the epidemic for drug and other substance abuse. Coming together and being at one with God, and with one another.

2. Affirmative Action and Voting Right Support

We support affirmative action and are opposed to the dismantling of policies and regulations which uphold and protect our civil and human rights. We support Representative Cynthia McKinney and other policy-makers in the restoration of voting rights.

3. Corporate America's Reinvestment in the Black Community

We are asking Corporate America to reinvest in the Black Community. Economic viability is a sound and effective means to minimize the incidence of violence and crime, to provide business and employment opportunities, and to improve the quality of life in the Black Community. According to recent figures from the Wall Street Journal, the Black Community in America spends 433 billion annually in disposable income.

D.C. CITY COUNCIL

...Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), "Anything we can do as a group is good." We should have never stopped marching. We can't let people take us back 30 years. When the Million Man March takes place, I'll be right out there."

Kevin Chavous (D-Ward 7), "I support the thrust of the march. I think it is important for Black men to stand up and be men. That means taking on the responsibility of the children that they have fathered, and being active in the community as well."

Linda Cropp (D-At-Large), "Anything to strengthen the role of the Black family is needed and positive...."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 20, 2001

...RACE DOESN'T MATTER THAT MUCH ANYMORE

Today's pop culture is increasingly created and consumed by multiracial teens who are far more comfortable with their identities than any other generation. And judging by the mix of trends -- hair weaves, hip-hop attire, Asian tattoos and East Indian bracelets -- it seems downright hip to be multiracial. Or, at least, to try to look it...

"I don't know about if it's cool or not to be multiracial... all I know is from the stories my mom tells me, I seem to have it easy," says Tasha Kim, 18. Her mother is half African American and half white and her father is Korean. She talks about her mother's light mocha complexion, and how she was too dark to fit in with the white kids and not black enough for the black kids.

Kim is a DJ, and her eclectic genes seem to extend to what she spins.

"I love mixing hip-hop, Japanese bubble-gum pop and house music... I'd never think I couldn't mix it up for any racial reasons, like, if most of the people at a party were white or black or whatever," Kim says. Maria P. P. Root, a psychologist specializing in multiracial issues, says that as immigration and mixed-race marriages increase, the multiracial population will continue to increase as well. It makes perfect sense then for the younger generation to feel at ease in their mixed-race identities.

"We have lots of young people being beneficiaries of civil rights... it's not about being ashamed of being mixed. I just think it's a very different time because there's such a visible number of people who look mixed," Root says.

Kim is part of Washington's 4 percent multiracial population -- a demographic that is likely to grow. Census 2000 numbers indicate that 48 percent of all those who picked two or more races on the form are under 18...

...a 1995 survey done by Teenage Research Unlimited showed that teens and young adults are impervious to race when it comes to what they the love in music, movies, fashion and the rest of it. They judge things by that elusive standard of "cool," which more often than not is dictated by the celebrity used in the advertisement for the product, like, say, Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan. A recent survey done by Teen People magazine put rappers Outkast and Nelly on the hot list, right next to acts like 'N Sync. Also on the hot list were Jennifer Lopez, Kobe Bryant and hip-hop music, which is getting hotter by the minute for teens of all races. In fact, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, sales of rap albums are up 90 percent over the past four years...

...Today, singers, actors and athletes alike talk openly about their mixed heritage, and it's reaffirming for people of mixed race to open the New York Times and read Derek Jeter saying "I think people might feel a mystique about me because they don't know what I am... I heard I'm Italian, Jewish, Spanish. They don't know if I'm white or I'm black. Maybe that's it. My dad is black, my mom is Irish and I'm Catholic, so I hear everything."

Nonetheless, there is a pressure to figure out your identity and to fit in with at least one group, because even if you're not anxious to define yourselves, others are.

"When the face somehow defies easy categorizations ... they want to know where to put you. ... People are so focused on finding the one piece that doesn't fit in," says [Matt] Kelley, adding that this need to understand multiracial people isn't a bad thing because "people don't feel threatened by these seemingly ambiguous identities."

... [Sierra] Ranier chalks this up to the current cultural climate:

"We have more tolerance of different cultures these days. People seem to understand that you don't have to accept something to tolerate it."

back to top page created on 8.23.06

Eyes on the Prize Blackside American Experience