Rebuttal to Earl Ofari Hutchinson's Accounty of MLK's View of Racial Preferences for Blacks

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In "Color or Character" (Opinions, Jan. 15) Earl Ofari Hutchinson needlessly muddles the issue of whether Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have supported the elimination of state-sponsored racial preferences.

Hutchinson states that at the time of King's August 1963 speech "affirmative action had not seeped into the nation's vocabulary and quotas and goals were not issues of public debate." This is untrue.

There was so much debate about the issue that President John Kennedy was asked during a press conference on August 20, 1963, whether there should be "job quotas by race" to benefit blacks. As reported by the New York Times the following day, Kennedy rejected racial quotas and the attempt to "divide ourselves on the basis of race or color."

Hutchinson notes President Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Executive Order requiring that federal contractors conduct hiring and promotions "without regard to race." According to Hutchinson, "[e]veryone understood then that affirmative action was designed to encourage employers, not simply to hire and promote the `disadvantaged' of all races, as King insisted, but blacks." This is untrue.

The "affirmative action" of Kennedy and Johnson's Executive Orders was not designed to hire blacks, but to hire individuals "without regard to race." Under these orders, the racial composition of the workforce was not mandated. Rather, there was a mandate to refrain from racial discrimination. Failure to understand the difference is at the root of our problem today.

If speculation about whether King would have supported state-sponsored racial preferences for nonwhites is based upon King's conduct, then such speculation must not only take account of King's demonstrated "pursuit of justice and equality," as correctly noted by Hutchinson, but also must take account of the significant public debate about the issue and King's opportunity to join the call for such preferences up until his death in 1968 and his failure to do so. Most importantly, it should take account of King's support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which on its face and throughout its legislative history, expressly rejected all racial preferences.

Therefore, based on the evidence, the King of 1968 clearly would have supported Proposition 209. A hypothetical King of 1996 would have opposed Proposition 209, but only if he had abandoned his previous support for racially neutral laws.

Los Angeles Daily News, January 17, 1997, p. 24.