On Jan. 14, 1963, America's leading segregationist, George Wallace, was sworn in as governor of Alabama. Even today, his defense of government discrimination proves depressingly resilient.
"Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," Wallace bellowed in his inaugural speech. These words signaled a rallying cry for a dying resistance to the message of equal treatment for all. To him, the government had a right to treat people differently and withhold opportunities on the basis of race. As governor, he put these words into action.
Wallace vehemently opposed efforts to force integration. In June 1963, he carried out his infamous "stand in the schoolhouse door" to personally and physically halt the enrollment of two black students at the University of Alabama. Later that year, he attempted to stop four students from enrolling in four separate elementary schools simply because they were black. In both cases, federal intervention overturned his efforts.
Fifty years later, it is easy to see Wallace's use of government to preserve racial discrimination as desperate, repulsive and morally wrong. Unfortunately, our government still picks winners and losers based on race, and Wallace's intransigent message has been adopted by those who claim to stand for equality.
In a 2006 speech to the NAACP, then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick proclaimed, "Affirmative action will be here today, it will be here tomorrow, and there will be affirmative action in the state forever." He was wrong. Shortly after his speech, Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, a constitutional amendment that ended preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity and national origin in public institutions.
The measure passed by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent, but not before being relentlessly attacked and smeared by radical, and sometimes violent, groups such as the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, also called simply By Any Means Necessary. The coalition lived up to its name in the fight against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. Its members harassed signature gatherers, threatened supporters, pressured signers to recant their signatures, and stormed a Board of Canvassers meeting attempting to keep them from certifying the initiative.
When those measures failed to work, they asked a court to declare the signature gathering a "fraud" for confusing people with clear and simple language. They even went as far as to ask local officials to exercise "moral authority" and leave the initiative off the ballot. When all this failed and the people of Michigan chose equality over discrimination, the University of Michigan president ordered the school's legal counsel to pursue every legal option to bypass or undermine the ban on racial preferences. By Any Means Necessary and its allies promptly filed a lawsuit arguing that Michigan's prescription for equal treatment violates the Equal Protection Clause.
On Oct. 15, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this legal challenge, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. On one side stand the people who understand that it is wrong to discriminate, employ different standards and deny opportunities to people because of race or ethnicity. On the other side stands By Any Means Necessary, calling for perpetual government discrimination and preferential treatment for favored races.
By Any Means Necessary, however, is not alone. It has the Department of Justice pushing businesses to adopt racial quotas to avoid lawsuits for not employing the proper number of minorities and pressuring public schools to adopt race-based disciplinary policies. It has the traditional civil rights establishment peddling racial politics across the country. It has politicians who are only interested in opposing politically incorrect forms of discrimination. It has university presidents and administrators who wholeheartedly embrace "diversity" as an excuse for instituting race-based admissions policies.
Though often driven by good intentions, these are the new George Wallaces. Through their actions, they continue to stand in the schoolhouse door, blocking the way to equal treatment for all.
Jennifer Gratz, founder and CEO of the XIV Foundation, led the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.
Editor's note: In the late 1970s, Wallace renounced his segregationist past and apologized for it.