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September 26, 2013

Constitution Day guest speaks on race

How one of the nation's oldest docunts help guide the future

By Daniel Herda

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law celebrated Constitution Day on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, by inviting F. Michael Higginbotham, a University of Baltimore professor, civil rights author and constitutional lawyer, to speak to a gathering inside the Moot Court Room about his new book titled “The Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America” and by speaking on the importance of the Constitution.

The audience was packed with young law school students, professors and community members who came to hear the lecture. Many were standing.
Craig Boise, dean of CM-Law, and members of the Cleveland Athletic Club introduced Higginbotham before he rose to the podium.

“It is wonderful to be back in Cleveland,”he said.

Higginbotham discussed the messages of his book and how he provides his own justification for why racial disparities continue, and a basis to be aware of them. He summarized them in his book with three aspects: racial high-lining, racial division and racial victimization.

“Not only do I identify problems, but I identify solutions,” Higginbotham said, referring to guidlines in his book.

Recognizing that a problem still exists is one way that Higginbotham enlightens the readers. Also, to empower the black communities through legislation, like passing the American Jobs Act, which targets areas of super-high unemployment and would create jobs and educational opportunies.

Higginbotham said that too many black youths are turning to drugs and gangs, and that society must provide them with more opportunities.

“I wrote this book to remind all of us how far we have come and to encourage every one of us to continue to make sure that we live up to that 220-year-old identification of self-evident truth, that all are created equal,” said Higginbotham.

Higginbotham said he did not return to his hometown for a reunion, but to discuss and celebrate the Constitution, which he said is the most important document in U.S. history because of its monumental achievement in self-governance. He also mentioned his goal was to ensure the conversation on racial-equality continues through the ages.

Higginbotham stressed that America should live up to its committed values created over 200 years go.

“It’s not easy to discuss issues of race today, particularly when that discussion occurs across racial lines and ideological lines,” Higginbotham said. “People feel strongly about many of these issues and state very clearly their positions, sometimes in a hostile manner.”“In many respects as a nation we have overcome. We have stopped slavery and passed anti-discrimination laws, implemented affirmative action programs and most recently elected and re-elected President Barack Obama.”

The idea that progress is closer to a post-racial society is something that Higginbotham stressed, before winding the clocks of his lecture into the past again and speaking about the shooting and recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Higginbotham mentioned how Giffords was immediately aided by her Latino legislative assistant, operated on by an Asian-American brain surgeon, and visited by an African-American president.

“In America today, anyone, in respective of race, can aspire to and can achieve the highest levels in our society,” said Higginbotham.

Even though we have moved through racial issues as a society, there were still many challenges yet to face, which seemed to be the centerfold of the Constitution Day theme that Higginbotham stressed.

Higginbotham added that, despite post-racial progress, there was still a wide gap between White-Americans and African Americans regarding the socioeconomic index in all categories, like wealth accumulation, unemployment, education, graduation rates and mortality rates. He said these were huge alarming disparities between the racial groups.

Laws and judicial decisions have helped to create racial separations and racial inequalities, making it difficult to eliminate these disparities, according to Higginbotham.

Higginbotham mentioned the Fisher vs University of Texas case, which dealt with affirmative action, and how the Supreme Court passed laws allowing government agencies to limit remedial action to reduce racial disparities in education. He further informed how bi-partisanship is one reason that ending racism is more difficult today.

“I believe in a non-partisan judiciary, when I see a 5-4 decision, as many of these race decisions are, and when I see five members appointed by republican presidents and four appointed by democratic presidents, that to me undermines the political integrity of the courts, and is particularly troubling to me,” Higginbotham advised.

There was only a short time for Q and A, and only two students had time to ask Higginbotham questions. One student asked Higginbotham if there were any parallels to his book on Jim Crowe and modern voting rights.

Higginbotham responded by mentioning that all Americans should have the right to vote and many do not, as he mentioned how incarcerated individuals are denied the right to vote. He further added that he supports the fact that all people, guilty or innocent, should have their right to cast a ballot on Election Day.

Higginbotham ended his speech by mentioning Dr. Martin Luther King’s words about having a dream, where his children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the conduct of their character. He hoped that everyone who attended his lecture would leave the auditorium thinking about their own actions and their own values. He said if we all look inside ourselves we would find some prejudices that continue to drift us apart.