Passing of Dorothy Height: What future for civil rights movement?
Internecine fighting and the passing of icons like Dorothy Height and Benjamin Hooks indicate a civil rights movement unmoored from its past. Its search for relevance is coming to a head.
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"The new politicians have based their appeal on anything but race," wrote Paul Harris of the British newspaper the Observer before Obama's election. "They have forged voter coalitions across racial boundaries, including whites and Hispanics. And it has worked."Skip to next paragraph
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Nowhere is the divide more apparent than in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded by Martin Luther King Jr. This week, two separate groups fought for domination of the SCLC, holding two separate board meetings in Atlanta and Eutaw, Ala.
The central issue is a federal investigation into missing funds, but the internal coup attempt points to an organization facing an existential crisis.
“It’s time for those who would pimp the organization to step aside,” SCLC general counsel Dexter Wimbish told the Associated Press. “But when they step aside, what do we have left?"
The movement has faced other embarrassments around its aging core. Earlier this year, Juanita Goggins, the first black woman elected to state office in South Carolina, froze to death in her Columbia home, largely forgotten by the movement she championed.
Voting together, despite organizational dispute
The civil rights movement's troubles, however, don’t necessarily signify a split in the black electorate, 95 percent of whom voted for Obama in 2008. And despite deep historic divides over vision, strategy, and politics in the civil rights movement, most black Americans operate on the idea of "linked fate" that guides them at the ballot box, says Professor Gillespie at Emory.
"As it relates to voting behavior we still see the idea of 'linked fate' at play," says Gillespie. "Blacks are not individualistic when thinking about votes, and Republicans haven't figured this out and haven't been able to craft a message that's going to appeal to black voters, even though blacks agree [with Republicans] on certain issues."
For her part, Height saw fighting inequality as well as racism as central to her role in the National Council of Negro Women.
According to the Washington Post, "she often urged her co-workers to 'stop worrying about whose name gets in the paper and start doing something about rats, and day care and low wages.”
“We must try to take our task more seriously and ourselves more lightly," she said.