I spent the morning at Philander Smith College. I heard an engrossing talk by Kerry Kennedy, the human rights activist and daughter of Robert Kennedy. If only your childhood had included playing at J. Edgar Hoover’s desk and your mementos included personal notes from your dad on the occasion of the historic entry of black students to the University of Alabama. She talked movingly, too, of her family gathering (all 100-plus of them) on the death of her uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Then I got to “moderate” — mean let speak — a truly distinguished panel on education. It was part of a two-day symposium on social and political issues to mark the 52nd anniversary the desegregation of Central High.
I mean no slight to all the enthusiastic participants, but highlights included Sylvia Mendez, whose parents won equal access for Latino children to “white” California schools with a landmark lawsuit in the 1940s. Her story includes a modern footnote — all-Latino populations at the two California schools named for her parents. Dr. Terrence Roberts, the Little Rock Nine member who’s a college professor in California, was his usual warm, erudite and funny self. America is not post-racial yet, but Roberts offered a prescription for how it could be, starting with a blindness to color. He could have been a successful politician, had he not aimed at a higher calling. Teaching, he noted, is a calling, not just a job.
The program continues today and tomorrow.