Senator Clinton, Lifetime Champion of Civil Rights??

As the Democratic 2008 presidential campaign moves forward, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination, claim to be legends of the civil rights movement benefiting from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet neither was there when white police beat black Alabamans 42 years ago. Obama was born in 1961 and the confrontation at Selma took place in 1965. Hillary, on the other hand, was born in 1947 and had the advantage of being involved with the civil rights movement. But in 1964, a year after Martin Luther King’s famous address at the Lincoln Memorial, she was a 17-year-old class president at Main East High School in the Chicago suburbs describing herself as “an active Young Republican” and “a Goldwater girl, right down to my cowboy outfit.” This was during a time when Goldwater was one of only six Republican senators who joined Southern Democratic segregationists opposing the historic Voting Rights Act, which King inspired. Even though she defected to the Democrats, Hillary was the first Wellesley student to deliver the school’s commencement address in 1969 — yet did not place civil rights first on the agenda.

During their pilgrimage to Selma last week, Obama and Hillary made personal appeals to voters in the sanctuaries of black churches for their support in the upcoming elections, even though both have had very little experience in minority communities. If Sen. Clinton is an example of a dedicated commitment to the civil rights movement at the age of 17, when she showed where her heart really was, then Martin Luther King must be weeping in his Atlanta tomb.