Thursday, January 23, 2014

MLK, Jim Crow, and the Rule of Law

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., like most mortals, evokes a certain ambivalence regarding what should be celebrated and what should be rightly critiqued. There are certainly parts of his life and thinking that warrant correction, rebuke, and challenge, but this will be true of all us if we live long enough. On this MLK holiday, however, I am thinking about my parents. My parents spent the first third of their lives being denied the equal application of the rule of law because of Jim Crow laws.
During Jim Crow, my parents could not trust the justice system. State and local courts of justice were unreliable. My parents were not free to take roads trips wherever they pleased, especially at night. They were not allowed to attend certain elementary and high schools. They were not allowed to even apply to several colleges. They were not allowed to equally compete in the marketplace against whites in the South. What made Jim Crow additionally immoral is that they were laws that protected a particular class of people so that they could not suffer the consequences of racial discrimination. Jim Crow protected whites in the South from learning the hard lesson that racial discrimination is bad for business and undermines social flourishing.