Michigan Cases Set Civil Rights Landmarks, Attorney Tells Local NAACP
Freedom Fund Dinner Marks 50 Years Since Brown vs. Board of Education
"Michigan has been the venue for much of what has happened in civil rights," Grand Blanc attorney Kendall Williams told a crowd of several hundred at the recent 44th annual Freedom Fund Dinner of the Bay City Chapter of the National Association forthe Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Mr. Williams, who was introduced by George Charles, principal of Central High School, reviewed the key Michigan cases in civil rights including the Sweet Trials in Detroit in 1925.
Following months of violence over blacks moving into white neighborhoods, an all-white jury freed Dr. Ossian Sweet and Henry Sweet of manslaughter charges. The black brothers were defended by famed attorney Clarence Darrow.
Darrowstated in his classic eight-hour summation: "If I thought any of you had any opinion about the guilt of my clients, I wouldn't worry, because that might be changed. What I'm worried about is prejudice. They are harder to change. They come with your mother's milk and stick like the color of the skin. I know that if these defendants had been a white group defending themselves from a colored mob, they never would have been arrested or tried. My clients are charged with murder, but they are really charged with being black."
(For further reference, see "Melting Hearts of Stone: Clarence Darrow and the Sweet Trials," by Douglas O. Linder.)
The 1974 Michigan case of Milliken v. Bradley, over cross-district busing in Detroit, limited the ability of the courts to do anything about integration in suburban school districts.
Mr. Williams was speaking at the local NAACP's observance of the half century mark of the historic Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education case that declared that all children have a right to equal education.
"Integration has not automatically led to educational success," commented Mr. Williams. "We have a horrendous dropout rate in urban areas; something has to be done about it."
Equal education for all regardless of economic station was a promise implicit in Michigan's Proposal A, he said. This ballot initiative changed school funding from the property tax to the sales tax, plus other sources like the lottery. "However, there are not enough dollars to go around," said Williams. "Urban school districts get $6,000to $7,000 a child while suburban districts get $10,000 to $12,000 per child," he pointed out. "Unfortunately, the economic gap continues to widen."
However, it's not all about dollars, he said. Mr. Williams noted that parental involvement is a key to the high achievement of children in private schools. "The parents are very engaged, involved, in guiding their sons and daughters to educational success."
"Where do we go from here? Mr. Williams asked. "There's no simple answer.The doors are indeed opened by Brown. It is a matter of seizing the opportunity created by all this hard work." Parents are the key; they can make the difference, he said.
He pointed to the "shocking number of registered voters who don't vote," noting "it's a sad comment and analagous to what we face with parental involvement in the education of their children."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Bay City has a virtually unknown involvement with the civil rights movement because of its connection with James G. Birney, pioneer co-founder of the town. Birney, in 1840 and again in 1844 when he lived in Bay City, was the first candidate for President to advocate freedom for the African slaves.
Birney's initiative to move abolition to political action from the "moral suasion" preferred by the followers of William Lloyd Garrison started the most dramatic shift in public opinion in the nation's history. This is confirmed by the fact that Birney got only about 7,000 votes in his first campaign in 1840 while anti-slavery Presidential vote totals grew gradually until Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 with 1.8 million votes.
Birney lived in Bay City from 1842 until 1853. He died in Eagleswood, New Jersey, in 1857 andis buried in Livingston County, New York.###
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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