Burying Black History Month: Graffiti Defacing America's Vaunted Wall of Greatness?
Ask journalists across America what is the seminal U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the First Amendment’s press freedom right and most with even a minimal knowledge of First Amendment history will quickly answer New York Times vs. Sullivan.
However, few journalists are aware that the Supreme Court decision significantly reinforcing their press freedom protections arose from the Civil Rights Movement, and in an action involving iconic activist Dr. Martin Luther King.
The 1964 New York Times vs. Sullivan decision is one of a number of U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the Twentieth Century where struggles by African-Americans to obtain long-denied constitutional rights succeeded in expanding constitutional protections for all Americans.
For example, the ability of all Americans to obtain employment free from suspiciously discriminatory job criteria and civil service tests received a big boost by the 1971 Supreme Court decision in the Griggs vs. Duke Power Co. job discrimination case.
The legal principle that authorities cannot secure the conviction of an accused individual unless that individual has received their right to assistance by an attorney received strength from the Supreme Court’s 1932 decision in Powel vs. Alabama, which involved the infamous Scottsboro Boys rape case.
“The right to the aid of counsel is fundamental,” that Court ruling stated, in overturning death sentences given to Scottsboro defendants based upon rape evidence that later proved to have been bogus.
Sadly, recognition of this U.S. Supreme Court legacy is too often limited to the annual Black History Month observance during February.
And sadly too, many white U.S. citizens dismiss Black History Month as if it were just annoying graffiti defacing America’s vaulted wall of greatness, staining this nation’s vaunted self-image as champion of equal opportunity for all.
Many conservative whites see Black History Month as a nuisance that should be eliminated. That sentiment has grown, ironically, since the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first non-white President, with many people claiming his election represents America’s giant step into a ‘post-racial’ era, thus rendering Black History Month unnecessary.
U.S. Supreme Court rulings in cases such as New York Times v Sullivan expose the fallacy behind the widely held "zero-sum" belief that any judicial recognition of the rights of blacks results in an erosion of the rights enjoyed by whites.
The opposite is actually true.