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Affirmative Action needed, chair of NAACP board says
By Luis Mocete (February 21, 1997)
As a child, Myrlie Evers-Williams recalls using textbooks that were old, with pages and chapters missing.
"I remember going to chemistry class and there was not one test tube to do experiments," Evers-Williams told the audience at her lecture Monday evening at von der Mehden Recital Hall. "Our parents paid taxes and we were unable to go to the parks, the recreation centers, swimming pools, and we never had the opportunity to go to libraries."
These were only some of the things she had to face while growing up in Mississippi.
"Even if we had money, we couldn't buy homes in certain areas and go to restaurants, because of the color of our skin," said Evers-Williams, chair of the national board of directors of the NAACP and widow of slain civil-rights leader Medgar Evers.
Despite the successes in race relations during the last 40 years, Evers-Williams believes that the United States is still not providing equal opportunities for people of color.
"We are all people," she said. "We are all human beings and as I stand before you there are still too many people in American society who want to raise up those barriers between us. Those who feel superior, those who feel neglected, those who feel they have no opportunity, those who feel they must have it all."
To bridge those gaps, people must be able to come together, as they did in the 1950s and '60s, to deal with the problems of society openly and honestly, Evers-Williams added.
"We look around America," she said, "and we see the hate groups that are springing up all over this country ... not just the deep South, but here in this state and everywhere you look they are coming. They are getting younger and what comes from their mouths reminds me so much of what I heard some years ago. America should have no place in our society for that kind of hatred, for that kind of racism."
Worried about complacency
"America needed affirmative action when it was first created," Evers-Williams said, "and we still need it today because there is no level playing field in America."
Many people besides African-Americans have benefited from affirmative action, according to Evers-Williams. But corporate America still needs to be educated on diversity, she said.
"There is no seriousness about diversity training," Evers-Williams said. "It is simply something there to meet the standards of what is expected of corporations."
Evers-Williams warned that some in Washington, and in state and local offices, are determined to turn the clock back.
"Don't buy into all the perceptions you see," she said. "All welfare mothers are not black, big and have 10 children. There are too many of us who see certain things and we assume that is the gospel. In this country we will always be struggling to some degree with the race issue. We have to keep moving in a positive way. Keep the fires burning and help America find the right direction in which it should travel."