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Support for segregation as a youthful indiscretion

August 23, 2010 |  1:19 pm

Kilpatrick-King
Elaine Woo's excellent obituary of James J. Kilpatrick noted that the onetime  supporter of school segregation moderated his views on race, pleading in an interview that  "I was brought up a white boy in Oklahoma City in the 1920s and 1930s. I accepted segregation as a way of life. But I've come a long way. Very few of us, I suspect, would like to have our passions and profundities at age 28 thrust in our faces at 50."

Maybe not, but Kilpatrick made it sound as if his position on segregation  -- that states could override the Supreme Court -- was something of a youthful lark. Instead, it was a considered constitutional theory in service of a social system that many sophisticated and erudite adults defended.

One of the unfortunate aspects of the passage of time is that many young people imagine that segregationists were all potbellied sheriffs and vulgar race-baiters. It's important to know that the obstructionists included a lot of Kilpatricks, which makes the achievement of the civil rights movement all the more radical and remarkable.

-- Michael McGough

Photo: James J. Kilpatrick prepares to debate Martin Luther King Jr. in 1960 about the propriety of sit-ins. Credit: AP file photo.

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