- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

Over the past two months, America has engaged in a national discussion about civil rights and equal justice for all. It is my hope this discussion will help to ensure that last vestiges of racial discrimination meets the same fate as the Berlin Wall.
There has been an aspect to the discussion, however, that has been very frustrating to me and to many others. I am speaking of the tiresome and shrill rhetoric coming from individuals who somehow can't get through a day without trying to score some partisan political points, and who can't walk by a microphone without branding the entire Republican Party as racist.
All fair-minded Americans should be insulted by this accusation.
I can set the record straight, having been fortunate to have a ringside seat for nearly every landmark piece of civil rights legislation of the past four decades. I was in the House in 1964 when overwhelming Republican support overcame opposition by Southern Democrats to ensure passage of the Civil Rights Act, striking down barriers in the workplace and public accommodations.
I was there in 1965 when the same Republican support brought about passage of the Voting Rights Act, which enfranchised millions of African-Americans. I was in the Republican majority Senate in 1982 and helped to write the legislation that extended the Voting Rights for 25 years legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan. And I was the floor manager of the 1983 legislation passed by a Republican Senate and signed, too, by President Reagan that made the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday.
When I accepted the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1996, my speech included these words: "If there is anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you: Tonight this hall belongs to the party of Lincoln. And the exits which are clearly marked are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise."
Despite these words, and despite my record of support and my running mate Jack Kemp's record of support for meaningful civil-rights legislation, my presidential campaign received the support of only a small percentage of African-Americans. A similar small percentage supported the 2000 campaign of President Bush, who has spoken eloquently about his desire for an inclusive Republican Party.
I have devoted over half my life to the Republican Party, serving it in the Kansas State Legislature, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate. I have served as chairman of the Republican National Committee. I have campaigned for Republican candidates in all 50 states. I was honored to be nominated by my party for both vice president and president. A journalist even titled his biography of me "The Republicans' Man for all Seasons."
I am now in the winter of my life, and while I now leave the partisan legislative and political battles to another member of my household, the recent national discussion led me to a conclusion that perhaps my record and my experiences as a member of a minority community the disabled community qualified me to still provide some service to my party and my country.
I placed a call to my friend, former Democrat Rep. Bill Gray, the president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, and asked him to work with me in setting up a series of meetings on the campuses of five of America's historically black colleges and universities. My goals for these meetings are simple: to listen to concerns, to move beyond past misperceptions, to see what we need to do to reduce barriers and increase opportunity, and to ensure that this generation of African-Americans knows there are leaders who want an inclusive America.
In my 1996 presidential nomination acceptance speech, I described myself as "the most optimistic man in America." I am sure there are those who think my vision of much increased African-American support of and participation in the Republican Party still qualifies me for that title.
Perhaps it does. But of all the lessons I have learned in my life, the most important and enduring may be what I learned as a member of the 10th Mountain Division in World War II, where we fought in the same area as the African-American troops of the famed 92nd Division.
What I learned there was that when the blood of the sons of immigrants and the grandsons of slaves fell on foreign fields, it was American blood. In it, you could not read the ethnic particulars of the soldier who died next to you. He was an American. If all Americans always remember that lesson, then there is nothing that will stop Dr. King's dream from becoming a reality.

Bob Dole, the former senator from Kansas, was the 1996 Republican nominee for president.


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