Civil rights milestone

April 20, 2010 

Progress in overcoming great social challenges typically comes slowly. But with respect to the challenge of ensuring American racial equality under the law, even if the clock must be set to measure in decades, the progress for which so many have yearned and sacrificed has occurred. Is occurring. To help mark it, Eric Holder last weekend came to Raleigh.

That would be U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold that post, serving under the first African-American president.

From the perspective of 1960, when the civil rights movement shifted into a higher gear largely on the strength of momentous events in North Carolina, national black leadership at those lofty levels was a distant dream indeed. Now Holder was there to remind his Raleigh audience that people who seized the moment long ago deserve credit for helping that dream come to pass.

President Barack Obama's attorney general was the keynote speaker at a conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a group that had coalesced as student civil rights activists met at Shaw University. SNCC's work often put members in peril - registering voters in Deep South locales where blacks had been essentially forbidden from casting ballots, participating in marches countered by the violence of repressive lawmen defending the old order.

Noting the lunch counter sit-ins that were a hallmark of that era, and that originated in Greensboro, Holder traced what he called a direct line from lunch counter to the Oval Office. But he did not declare final victory. The Justice Department he heads will strengthen its efforts to combat discrimination in housing, the workplace and at the polls. No matter how enlightened the civil rights laws enacted since SNCC's heyday, they don't mean much if they're not enforced.

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