This week's feature on Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders quoted briefly from some columns he wrote as a young man for the University of Washington Daily. On Friday, in the interest of sharing source documents, we brought you his full 1968 column on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "suicide." Yesterday we brought you his 1968 column on the 14th Amendment. Below is another representative Richard B. Sanders column from the time period, this one originally published in the Daily on November 20, 1968. It was transcribed (original bolds included) by Stranger intern Ernie Piper.
Questions dealing with race are always the most difficult to confront in a rational, unemotional manner. Indeed, the absence of this column from last week’s DAILY indicates my personal difficulty in dealing with this subject.
That is one reason why I find it refreshing when a man like the president of this University, Charles Odegaard, addresses himself so forthrightly to the racial problems of our society and our campus. In a recent speech at Lander hall Dr. Odegaard said:
“The history after slavery of a hundred years will have to be matched by at least some years of separate and unequal treatment the other way if the situation is to be remedied. If the University is to be used by all kinds of Americans from whatever racial or cultural group for their individual betterment, there must follow a period of special provision for disadvantaged black Americans."
While I have long suspected this notion bottomed many of the policies of our government as well as our University, this is one of those rare occasions when it is clearly and sincerely articulated. Of course, that doesn’t mean one should agree with it.
Obviously Dr. Odegaard, and those who share his point of view, are at least partially correct. It is undeniable that many of the ancestors of Negroes currently living in America were brought here in chains and sold as slaves. It is also undeniable that even after slavery was formally abolished the American black man suffered under discriminatory laws. He was also discriminated against by other individuals who judged him by the color of his skin rather than by his personal worth. This is all to be admitted.
Of course, this may not tell the whole story of the American social and economic ladder. There have been just too many examples of successful blacks to conclude that Negroes with the proper motivation and intestinal fortitude could not “make the grade.” Indeed, one can easily name many Negroes who have been extremely successful in virtually every walk of life. It is my view then that there is a volitional choice involved. If a man decides he wants to succeed bad enough to make a few sacrifices along the way, he can do it. If he makes the other choice, or dose not choose at all he may have resigned himself to a life of insignificance.
But all this is really beside the point. The real point is that even if black people were “kept down” by a “racist society and institutions,” is it up to individuals who were personally innocent of any wrong doing to do something about it? To put it in Dr. Odegaard’s words, “must” whites really be expected to “walk that extra mile to make up for the past impositions of whites on blacks?”
Now in that same speech Dr. Odegaard said “I believe that we can resist the effect of the past by acts of will of individual men and women.” I wonder if Dr. Odegaard really means that. If it is true that man is a volitional creature and free agent of his own individual conscience, why is it that he can be held accountable for the acts of other men in this generation and past generations? Either a man is responsible for his own acts, or he is not. In all fairness to Dr. Odegaard I suspect that the general import of his article was the latter rather than the former.
To put it another way, Dr. Odegaard reminds me of a certain individual I quoted in this column last spring. The man to whom I refer was Alfredo Rocco, minister of justice in Fascist Italy. He once commented, “The relations between state and citizen are completely reversed by the fascist doctrine. Instead of the liberal-democratic formula, ‘society for the individual,’ we have ‘individuals for society.’…The capacity to ignore individual private rights in factor of the higher demands of society and history (italics mine) is a very rate gift and the privilege of a chosen few.”
While Dr. Odegaard, a historian, seems to be dedicated to righting the scales of history, I must confess a less ambitious objective. We could not give justice to those who lived in the past even if we wanted to. By the same token, to confuse past injustice with present remedies is not only to continue to deny justice to those dead and buried but to impose brand new injustices on those presently alive.
I say it is injustice when a boy is denied admission to a state supported university because (other things being equal) his skin is white rather than black. I say it is injustice when a boy flunks out of this university because he did not have the same access to tutorial services as did other students—because the color of his skin was different. I say it is intolerable injustice when a boy finds it necessary to quit school because a racially biased enforcement of dormitory regulations makes it impossible for him to sleep or study. I say it is injustice when the same administration which engages in the probing of minds to root out “discrimination on Greek row” does not assure that meetings of student organization held on public property are not limited to those of a particular race.
Justice delayed is justice denied. It has been forever denied to yesterday, but does that mean it must be denied today and tomorrow?