Wednesday, April 8, 2020
RACE IN AMERICA: WHAT HAS CHANGED HALF A CENTURY SINCE MLK?HLPR Volume 14.1
HLPR Volume 14.1: Harvard Law & Policy Review, Volume 14.1: Race in America: What Has Changed Half a Century Since MLK?
FOREWORD by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland*
I must acknowledge that when I received the invitation to contribute a foreword to this issue of the Harvard Law & Policy Review, I experienced the mixed feelings that so often accompany challenging opportunities. In part, my ambivalence was occasioned by the very complexity of the theme— “Race in America: What has changed half a century since MLK?”
The reader will find this theme broadly and ably addressed in the following pages by serious thinkers for whom I have the greatest respect. My opportunity and challenge, therefore, is to share some added value to what these experts offer. Any assessment of the ideals, impact, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his contemporaries within the civil rights movement of the last century will necessarily be laudatory. After all, the ideals expressed so clearly and prophetically by Dr. King were drawn from the highest ideals of justice and equality from our shared Abrahamic religious traditions, as well as (though less consistently) from the founding constitutional documents of our democratic republic. Still, a degree of humility is in order. Of equal if not greater importance, we must also recognize that Dr. King’s legacy is unfinished and, in many respects, being undone. Progressives, including progressive lawyers, have played a role in furthering Dr. King’s legacy for everyday people in our society, including people of color. Those of us who have been privileged to be trained in the law have no exclusive, proprietary interest in the highest and most noble ideals of our society.
We are less like ministers and prophets pointing the way to a nobler promised land—and more akin to engineers and mechanics, working to apply the ideals of our culture and society to the practical circumstances of daily life for those who depend upon our expertise. The tools of our profession are litigation and legislation—tools that have been critical in expanding upon Dr. King’s legacy—and I have had the privilege to engage in both during the last 42 years of my professional life...
* Congressman Elijah E. Cummings was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, where he still resided until his passing. He obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Howard University, serving as Student Government President and graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and then graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law. Congressman Cummings also received 13 honorary doctoral degrees from Universities throughout the nation. Congressman Cummings began his career of public service in the Maryland House of Delegates, where he served for 14 years and became the first African American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro Tem. From 1996 until his passing in October 2019, Congressman Cummings proudly represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Cummings served as the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform and as a senior Member of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Congressman Cummings was an active member of New Psalmist Baptist Church and is survived by his wife, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, and his three children. Congressman Cummings authored this Foreword prior to his passing, with the assistance of members of his staff: Special Assistant Michael A. Christianson, Counsel Aaron D. Blacksberg, Legislative Director and Counsel Yvette Badu-Nimako, and Legal Fellow Christina Volcy