THE BLOG
05/21/2010 12:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Civil Rights Act Leads toward Hope & Healing Paul's View Reminiscent of George Wallace

Rand Paul has opened his candidacy for the U. S. Senate from Kentucky by offering a view of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that is so toxic that it fouls the air of progress in race relations that's been achieved since its passage. This version of race relations is consistent with the views of those who have challenged President Barack Obama's place of birth; those who have created fantasies of so-called "death panels" taking over the adminstration of health care as part of his reform package; and those who have challenged his loyalty to this country by calling him a socialist.

Dr. Paul's attitude, which privatizes national civil rights, is a wishful look at the past rather than the future. He would return to an era of racial despotism rather than acknowledge that the Civil Rights Movement empowered blacks as well as m any of his own potential constituents in Kentucky who are women, elderly, disabled and poor. Racial segregation dehumanized blacks and rendered their resources unequal to those of whites. We could not eat, vote, live nor, in many cases, work in the same jobs as whites. Where I grew up, students became martyrs fighting for social change. I was jailed along with them. But we were right because the end result was that the moral authority established by this fight and its success helped to distinguish America from South Africa.

The 1964 act unleashed a different America, a new Kentucky where blacks could not only gain access to restaurants, but young people could play sports together, and Title 9 allowed women to gain some parity with men. Would they want to return to an era of racial separation and gender subordination? Not only was the stigma of being black, female, elderly or disabled removed, but the new South exchanged the cotton curtain for urban and industrial development. Presidents were elected from the South. The Olympics could be held there and professional teams could play there bringing a new economic dimension to that region.

As Rand Paul constructs his campaign, this is an opportunity for him to serve his constituents in Appalachia where thousands need good health care and jobs that do not force them to go down into the death pits of unsafe coal mines. Paul must decide whether it is the past which serves his constituents best or the progress we have made toward developing a democracy that moves forward.

His view is a throwback to a time when George Wallace stood in the way of social progress by being an icon of racial segregation. If his view that favors allowing private institutions to practice segregation is not to be the modern signature of the Republican Party and its Tea Party affiliates, it should be repudiated at their "unity rally" this weekend.

Recent public opinion polls show that Rand Paul's views on race relations may be so narrow and regressive that they do not represent most of his Tea Party associates. What makes tea drinkable for most is the addition of sugar, and the ingredient of old school race relations that he proposes makes it exceedingly bitter. We can only hope that most Americans will take their tea with the sugar of progress promoted by the 1964 Civil Rights Act which leads towards hope and healing rather than pain and ideological pollution.

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