Presidential Civil Rights Quiz

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I hope everybody has a well-sharpened number two pencil ready. Now please remove everything from the top of your desks except for your answer sheet and the pencil. I will now show you two separate question and answer exchanges. Please identify the U.S. President in each exchange and then select the President whose view is most compatible with that of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate on the third Monday of each January.

Exchange #1:

Q: Mr. President some Negro leaders are saying that, like the Jews persecuted by the Nazis, the Negro is entitled to some kind of special dispensation for the pain of second-class citizenship over these many decades and generations. What is your view of that in general, and what is your view in particular on the specific point that they are recommending of job quotas by race?

A: Well, I don't think -- I don't think that is the generally held view, at least as I understand it, of the Negro community -- that there is some compensation due for the lost years, particularly in the field of education. What I think they would like is to see their children well educated so that they could hold jobs and have their children accepted -- have themselves accepted -- as equal members of the community.

So, I don't think we can undo the past. In fact, the past is going to be with us a good many years in uneducated men and women who lost their chance for a decent education. And we have to do the best we can now. That's what we're trying to do.

I don't think quotas are a good idea. I think it's a mistake to begin to assign quotas on the basis of religion, or race, color, nationality. I think we'd get into a good deal of trouble.

Our whole view of ourselves is a sort of one society. Now, that hasn't been true, but at least that's where we're trying to go. And I think that we ought to -- not to begin the quota system.

On the other hand, I do think that we ought to make an effort to give a fair chance to everyone who's qualified -- not through a quota, but just look over our employment rolls; look over our areas where we're hiring people and at least make sure we're giving everyone a fair chance. But not hard, fast quotas.

So much for the -- we're too mixed, this society of ours, to begin to divide ourselves on the basis of race or color.

Exchange #2:

Q: Mr. President, related to Deborah's question, several years ago a Piscataway, New Jersey, school board had to lay off teachers. And it came to a white female teacher and a black female teacher. And rather than flipping a coin -- as it turns out, both had been hired on the same day so they had equal experience --the school board fired the white teacher because of the color of her skin.

Now, your Justice Department originally opposed the school board in court, but has flipped recently. And I was wondering if you agree with that decision, if you think that we need more affirmative action acts like this, or whether that's a case of reverse discrimination.

A: I support the position as finally articulated, but I'd like to say it's a very narrow case. That is, if you have a school district where the children are overwhelmingly of one race or another and the faculty is as well, and you have two equally qualified people, and you stipulate that -- in this case, both sides in the lawsuit stipulated they were absolutely equally qualified -- then can trying to preserve some racial diversity on your faculty be a ground for making the decision as opposed to flipping a coin. As long as it runs both ways, or all ways, I support that decision. That is, there are other conditions in which if there were only one white teacher on the faculty in a certain area and there were two teachers, they were equally qualified, and the school board or the school administrator decided to keep the white teacher also to preserve racial diversity -- that is the position the Justice Department has taken. And on those very narrow grounds, I support it because both sides stipulated, both teachers and their lawyers stipulated that there was absolutely no difference in their qualifications for the job.

Answers:

Exchange #1 -- President John F. Kennedy, press conference on August 20, 1963 (New York Times, Aug. 21, 1963, p. A-14).

Exchange #2 -- President Bill Clinton, press conference on October 21, 1994 (available from the major computer online services). View most compatible with that of King -- JFK (King said, "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Speech delivered during the March on Washington, August 28, 1963).