Dr. King, Gov. Christie, and Segregation

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It’s amazing to think that if Dr. King’s life had not come to a tragic end, he might have still been with us today. Yesterday would have been his 82nd birthday. No doubt he would not be silent.

Recently, I was talking with a pastor who marched with Dr. King. He told us that when he heard Gov. Christie’s rhetoric on local rights to ban certain people from their community, it sounded a lot like the states rights rhetoric of Southern politicians who resisted the Civil Rights Movement:

“I’ve always believed municipalities should be able to make their own decisions on affordable housing, without being micromanaged and second-guessed from Trenton.”

– Chris Christie, on abolishing the independent Council on Affordable Housing and placing it under his direct control (which we at Fair Share Housing are currently challenging in court).

“Let the poll tax be repealed, if it should be, at the proper place. We have not yet come to the state of affairs in Georgia where we need the advice of those who would occupy the position of the carpetbagger and the scalawag of the days of Reconstruction to tell us how to handle our internal affairs.”

– Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, opposing federal legislation on voting rights.

Dr. King knew the danger of this kind of rhetoric. He recognized, most famously in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, that his most dangerous opponents were not the George Wallaces who militantly declared “Segregation Today, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever.” They were the Richard Russells – who claimed to agree with King’s ends, but argued against any meaningful action to achieve them. As Robert Caro recounts in his book “Master of the Senate,” Russell knew that a majority of the country was opposed to him on segregation – but thought that if he could focus instead on states’ rights and images of federal bureaucrats, he could keep African-Americans off the voter rolls and out of the lunch counters of the South.

Governor Christie similarly knows that most New Jerseyans won’t tolerate bald-faced statements of discrimination such as “We don’t want mentally ill people living here” (that’s an actual quote from a public debate in Raritan Township, Hunterdon County) or towns that want to keep out disabled veterans. So, like Russell, Christie talks about local control. But by doing so he can also play to those who simply don’t want “those people” living nearby – as he sometimes does in unscripted moments like telling a town hall questioner in September that his town simply doesn’t need any apartments and that the Mount Laurel decision was an “abomination.”

If Dr. King were alive today, he would call out Governor Christie, for acting against the fair housing principles he fought so hard for. He would note that – as the Courier-Post reminds us in an editorial today – our state is “among the most segregated in the country,” far more segregated than King’s Georgia, and Governor Christie’s actions further that segregation.  And Dr. King would transcend racial lines – pointing out that while the Governor’s actions to maintain segregation do fall particularly hard on African-American and Latino communities, they also impact working-class white families, people with special needs, and struggling seniors.

But Dr. King is no longer with us. And so his legacy is in all of our hands – and it’s far from secure here in New Jersey. There’s more on what you can do – and a more detailed version of this post – at Fair Share Housing Center’s website. Thanks for making this MLK Day a day of action.

Comment (1)

  1. Jersey Jazzman

    This is the true legacy of Dr. King. Are we prepared to realize it?  


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