To the Editor:
The thought occurred to me recently that not many years from now, there will be no one alive in the U.S. who, like me, lived in the era of rigid Southern segregation.
Segregation seemed to be so rooted, so part of the natural order of society, that in the years I lived in Dallas, before leaving as a young man in 1950, I never once heard the custom even discussed. If anyone felt critical of it, I never heard them speak up.
The black population appeared quiescent. Were there any street marches or other protest demonstrations? I never heard one reported by the newspapers or on radio.
In the 1960s, the crusade for civil rights rapidly picked up momentum. Particularly in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, it was met with lethal violence. There were murders and some horrific atrocities. Many died, including Martin Luther King Jr.
Yet the total death toll was lower than I would have expected. More died in Northern Ireland, as Catholics and Protestants murdered one another, than were murdered by die-hard Southern segregationists in the 1960s.
It would be absurd to suggest that in Texas — or any of the 49 other states — Black and white populations now live in universal friendship and harmony. But given time, even deeply seated customs can be changed. I believe that in Dallas, in this year 2022, few of its white residents feel discomfort at having Blacks among them in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, or working beside them in white-collar office jobs from which generations of Blacks had been excluded.
And as everywhere else in the U.S., Texas college students still cheer wildly for their football and basketball teams, now composed predominantly of Black athletes.
Now, in the year 2022, we are entering into a national battle on another front. Five Federalist Society Supreme Court justices have split the country in two: one group of states where women retain the legal right to abortion, versus states where abortions are now to be prohibited.
This battle will rage on far into the future. The emotional intensity of the combatants will not diminish. Every American with enough interest in our society to come out and vote will be aware of the heated conflict over abortion rights. Young people, 18 to 25, whose voting participation rate is usually quite low, will certainly be aware of it. “Whose side are you on?” This question will now be before the voters election after election.
The eventual outcome, of course, will be determined by whatever shifts in the American electorate take place, as successive cohorts of new voters replace older cohorts.
Will there be a surge of women entering the arena as pro-choice candidates for the states’ legislatures? Will there be an increase or decrease in the proportion of voters composed of Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, and others whose passionate religious views drive them to stamp out abortion?
How will the attitudes of male voters evolve, and will they be influenced by wives, sisters, daughters, and other women in their lives?
Twenty-five or 30 years from now, will a state law prohibiting abortion be supported by a majority of Texas college graduates? Or by a majority of graduates even in Mississippi?
Time will reveal the answer to such questions, which will determine whether Republican leaders, by choosing to embrace the antiabortion cause, placed their party on the right or wrong side of history.
Civil rights marchers in the 1960s sang, “Deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome someday.”
My hope is that the day will come, though it would be many years from now, when there will be no one alive who lived in a time when the right to legal abortion was denied to American women anywhere, throughout our land.