In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Resonant Events

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The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, is an incredible echo of King's legacy. Originally founded in 1968 by Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, the center is a living memorial to both Dr. King and his vision. By educating the world about Dr. King's "philosophy and methods of nonviolence, human relations, service to mankind, and related teachings," the King Center promotes social awareness and carries King's dreams forward.

On June 23, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld affirmative action in higher education when it affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in the case of Grutter v. Bollinger, et al. In a vote of 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court found the University of Michigan Law School's affirmative action policy to be in line with the equal protections clause of the 14th Amendment.

Justice O'Connor, in charge of preparing the majority opinion, stated, "We find that the Law School's admissions program bears the hallmarks of a narrowly tailored plan. As Justice Powell made clear in Bakke [Prominent Supreme Court ruling in 1978 upholding the general principle of affirmative action], truly individualized consideration demands that race be used in a flexible, non-mechanical way." She wrote that universities can "consider race or ethnicity more flexibly as a 'plus' factor in the context of individualized consideration of each and every applicant." And, in summary, she pointed out, "the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."

The state of Michigan passed a new law in 2006 -- one that said race could not be used as a preferential factor in publicly funded college admissions, along with sex, color, ethnicity and national origin. And in 2014, the Supreme Court upheld this ban. This time, Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote in a dissent, "For members of historically marginalized groups, which rely on the federal courts to protect their constitutional rights, the decision can hardly bolster hope for a vision of democracy that preserves for all the right to participate meaningfully and equally in self-government" [source: Mears].

At this point, you may be wondering, "How does this relate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., exactly?" The practice of affirmative action is inherently tied to the civil rights movement. Affirmative action is basically a strategic governmental safety net used to uphold the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its many amendments. The tireless efforts of Dr. King and many others helped encourage government to pass this landmark legislation in the first place. And in another piece of her dissent, Sotomayor expressed why the 2006 law and 2014 Supreme Court decision worried many civil rights activists: "This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination."

On the next few pages, we'll look at other resonant events in the decades since King's death.