Sources & Extracts

Review these ideas and then go back to the main thread.


In June of 1965, just before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was to take effect, President Johnson spoke at Howard University. In his speech he suggested that the non-discrimination provided by that act and others were "not enough." He not only suggested that some further compensation for a history of injustice might be in order, but that tangible results rather than formal equality were the goal. Many black Americans, he believed, still faced a range of obstacles, some inherited from a long history of injustice, that prevented them from developing their abilities and making use of new opportunities. Johnson is not thinking of what would come to be thought of as strong affirmative action, but his speech is important as an early recognition of the possibility that the Civil Rights Act would not have results as impressive as some expected.

But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.
Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.
This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity --not just legal equity but human ability-- not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and as a result.