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2012 National Conference: Afternoon Plenary Session

Where Has All the Progress Gone? Are We Moving Backward in a Second Post-Reconstruction Era? How Do We Move Forward Again?

Down the long corridor of interrupted progress from slavery to freedom, African Americans have been unique victims and critics of a nation corrupted at its inception by a political economy anchored to race. Emancipated from slavery by war, politically empowered under Reconstruction, betrayed, disenfranchised, and resubjugated during the 50-year nadir of Plessy v. Ferguson, African Americans emerged from World War II a national people, urbanized, G.I. Bill literate, occupationally diverse, but a people still forced and favored by history to pursue the role of redeemers of their nation’s founding dogma. Decades of firsts in sports, the arts, entertainment, and brilliant legal strategies to overthrow Jim Crow laws climaxed in seeming triumph with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Perversely, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1955 enforcement decree “all deliberate speed” mobilized segregationists, frustrated integrationists, paralyzed many elected officials, and discouraged moderate civil rights leadership until nonviolent protests began in Montgomery, thanks to Mrs. Rosa Parks’ bus sit down that provoked the bus boycott and the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was followed in 1960 by extraordinary student protest movements, Freedom Rides and Black community organizing efforts which pushed the civil rights organizations and nation faster and farther toward the goal of civil rights equality and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and more. But another American deception for people of color was in the making as C. Vann Woodward, dean of American historians, famously forecast a “Second Reconstruction,” ending, like the first, with hard won social and economic progress undermined and reversed.

In 1953, W.E.B. Du Bois also described a turning-point conjunction of race, politics, information, and money. “The organized effort of American industry to usurp government surpasses anything in modern history,” he charged in “Negroes and the Crisis of Capitalism in the United States.” Today, the Black child faces one of the worst crises since slavery. The toxic cocktail of poverty, illiteracy, racial disparities, violence and massive incarceration is sentencing millions of children to dead end, powerless and hopeless lives and threatens to undermine the past half century of racial and social progress. Over 80 percent of Black children cannot read and compute at grade level in fourth, eighth or 12th grades; a Cradle to Prison Pipeline™ puts 1 in 3 Black boys born in 2001 at risk of prison; Black children under 5 are the poorest age group with 45.5 percent poor and more than two-thirds will be persistently poor; and increased racial profiling, hate crimes and epidemic gun violence make a successful transition to adulthood extremely difficult.

These realities add up to a major national catastrophe demanding urgent redress. Today’s Black children and youths, despite great individual progress of a minority, are losing ground and moving backwards. This panel will address how far we have come and still have to go on the long bumpy road from slavery to freedom and what we must do to move forward again. Courageous civil rights leaders, distinguished historians, and a key leader of the children’s movement in Florida will examine the state of racial realities today and whether the last half century of racial progress has ended and is being reversed despite a Black president of the United States.

Moderator:

  • Elaine Jones, Former Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; Chair, CDF strategic planning committee on mass incarceration and the privatization of prisons

Speakers:

  • Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America
  • David Lawrence Jr., former publisher of the Miami Herald; president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and “Education and Community Leadership Scholar” at the University of Miami’s School of Education and Human Development and key Florida children’s movement Leader
  • The Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, civil rights leader and Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
  • James Lawson, chief nonviolent strategist for the Nashville Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

America, in many ways, seems designed to perpetuate the Cradle to Prison Pipeline™. The fight against black victim-blaming and white supremacy is an urgent mission for Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture. Muhammad spoke to 3,000 advocates in the “Where Has All the Progress Gone? “ session of the CDF’s 2012 National Conference and shared his thoughts on stopping the cycle. Watch, listen, share, and organize—for the full session order this DVD or the full set of DVDs of plenary sessions from the Children’s Defense Fund National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Ph.D. is the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and a former associate professor of history at Indiana University. His book The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, published by Harvard University Press, won the 2011 John Hope Franklin Best Book award in American Studies. As an academic, Dr. Muhammad is at the forefront of scholarship on the enduring link between race and crime that has shaped and limited opportunities for African Americans. He is now working on his second book, Disappearing Acts: The End of White Criminality in the Age of Jim Crow, which traces the historical roots of the changing demographics of crime and punishment so evident today. Dr. Muhammad studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University.


 

David Lawrence, president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and “Education and Community Leadership Scholar” at the University of Miami’s School of Education and Human Development, speaks on the myth of post-racialism and equality in the “Where Has All the Progress Gone?” session of the CDF’s 2012 National Conference. If the successful social movements of the past are any indication, then real progress takes pushing and shoving. Lawrence demands that all advocates be students of history and get busy agitating for change, and he tells precisely how it can be done. Watch, listen, share, and organize—for the full session order this DVD or the full set of DVDs of all the plenary sessions from the Children’s Defense Fund National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.

David Lawrence Jr. retired in 1999 as publisher of The Miami Herald – after a 35-year career in journalism -- to work in the area of “school readiness.” During his tenure at The Herald the paper won five Pulitzer Prizes. He is president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and “Education and Community-Building Scholar” at the University of Miami.. He leads The Children’s Movement of Florida. He is a member of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet. He led successful campaigns for The Children’s Trust, a dedicated source of early intervention and prevention funding for children in Miami-Dade, and was a key figure in passing a statewide constitutional amendment for pre-K for all 4 year olds. The David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Public School opened in 2006. An endowed chair in early childhood studies is established in his name at the University of Florida College of Education. He is a graduate of the University of Florida. His 12 honorary doctorates include one from his alma mater. His national honors include the Ida B. Wells Award "for exemplary leadership in providing minorities employment opportunities” and the National Association of Minority Media Executives award for "lifetime achievement in diversity." He led both the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Inter American Press Association . Nationally, he has been honored with the Lewis Hine Award for Children and Youth, the “Children’s Champion” award from the National Black Child Development Institute and the Fred Rogers Leadership Award from the Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families.


 

Bernard Lafayette, civil rights leader and Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, clarifies the politics of exploitation and discrimination in America in the “Where Has All the Progress Gone?” session of the CDF’s 2012 National Conference. He wants the 3,000 people gathered to understand that class trumps race and the poor are all struggling together under the same system of oppression. Here, Lafayette tells what we need to do to make a change. Watch, listen, share, and organize—for the full session order this DVD or the full set from the Children’s Defense Fund National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bernard Lafayette Jr. is a long time civil rights activist and organizerwho was a leader in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. He played a leading role in early organizing of the Selma, Alabama voting rights campaign, was a member of the Nashville Student Movement and worked closely with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Lafayette went on to work on the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement and later became president of the American Baptist Theological Seminary. Lafayette helped to found the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, and is now a Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.


 

For James Lawson, chief nonviolent strategist for the Nashville Civil Rights Movement and for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., says the progress has not gone far—we all have the power to raise the question of liberty and justice and demand it for all Americans, not just the 90 percent in positions of power. We have not yet arrived to Dr. King’s ‘mountain’ and we have a long way to go, but Lawson knows exactly how we get there from here. Listen to him challenge the audience at the “Where Has All the Progress Gone?” session of the CDF’s 2012 National Conference. Then be prepared to act. Watch, listen, share, and organize—for the full session order this DVD or the full set from the Children’s Defense Fund National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Rev. James Lawson, Jr. was a leading theoretician and tactician of nonviolence in the Civil Rights Movement and continues to be active in training activists in nonviolence. He was a key adviser to Dr. King on nonviolent direct action strategies in the Civil Rights Movement.