Pulitzer Prize Winner Cynthia Tucker Examines Past Successes and Future Challenges of Civil Rights; Realizing the Dream Award Winners Recognized

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
Center for Community-Based Partnerships

(Complete transcript of Tucker’s lecture: King’s Beloved Community Was About More Than Race)

Is America ready to become a true “melting pot” of multiethnic culture? That question was posed by Pulitzer Prize winner Cynthia Tucker, an Alabama native and respected political observer and commentator, at the 5th annual Realizing the Dream Legacy Banquet on January 18 at Hotel Capstone in Tuscaloosa.

“It has been an absolutely astonishing 50-to-60 years of incredible progress,” Tucker said, noting that the election of President Barack H. Obama to a second term exemplifies that progress. 

However, she didn’t come to tell those in attendance at the University of Alabama’s fifth annual Realizing the Dream Legacy Banquet that it was time to celebrate. Instead, she told them it was time to get to work.

She said in 2008 even though polls clearly showed Obama as the person likely to win the election; she still did not believe he would be elected. She simply did not believe a black president would be elected in here lifetime. “I certainly believed it would happen but I did not believe I would live to see it,” she said.

“The first was historic; the second transformational,” Tucker told the audience of about 300 people. “The first election might have been dismissed as a fluke for many reasons; the second election shows that the country has changed in fundamental ways.”

She said the coalition of voters who elected Obama in each election has proven to her that young people don’t see America the way people from previous generations viewed America.

“Young people born in 1970 simply don’t know the country that I was born in and that’s a good thing,” Tucker said. “That country was so strange and so perverted that it’s really difficult to describe.”

But Tucker said recent events have proved that America has changed more than she had realized.

Citing exit poll data, Tucker said that while the president received 95 percent of the black vote, he has also received almost half of the votes of those 30 years old or younger in the two elections, proving there are large numbers of whites “who see the country in ways that their parents and grandparents do not.”

The syndicated columnist who headed the editorial page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 17 years before taking a visiting professorship at the University of Georgia. “Clearly they are much more comfortable with the demographic changes we’ve seen.”

Ultra conservatives would like the public to believe that America cannot survive if whites are not the majority – something that could become a reality in about 35 years.

“By the year 2050 whites will no longer be the majority of the population. They will still be the largest ethnic group, but they will not be the majority,” Tucker said, adding that the success of the nation will depend on how well we know each other.

She cited liberal Harvard University professor of political science Robert Putnam’s research on civic ties and social capital, including is 2000 book Bowling Alone.

“People of different races don’t have an easy time learning to live together as one community or one nation,” Tucker said of Putnam’s findings. “Residents of diverse cities and towns tend to trust neighbors and civic institutions less than residents of homogeneous communities.”

Tucker said Putnam referred to this as the “turtle effect.” He said there is something about diversity that makes turtles of all of us, she said.

However, these findings shouldn’t be misconstrued to suggest that America can’t survive once it becomes a melting pot; it just means Americans must work to make it happen, Tucker said.

“It does show that having communities forge strong social ties when they are diverse is not easy,” Tucker said. “It’s something that takes time and it’s something we all have to work at.”

She said although the racism battled by King is dead, there are other forms of racism alive and well in America.

“We have done so much over the last 50 years, but we all know that the work is not done,” Tucker said. “We still have to struggle with getting to know each other well enough and getting to trust each other enough that this country can continue to be a vibrant democracy.”

Tucker urged vigilance in the cause for equality, saying the next equality movement will involve homosexuals and the poor.

“Young people are already there. So I am confident that this is the change we will see by the year 2020 or 2030,” Tucker said, adding that only then will we see the “beloved community that Martin Luther King struggled for.”

“From what I know about King, he never saw the movement as about black people,” Tucker said. “He always saw the movement as multicultural.”

When he was killed in Memphis, King was there to launch a Poor People’s Crusade.

“He intended to unite all poor people in American: black, white and brown,” Tucker said. “He was committed to a multiethnic community.”

Tucker spoke at UA the day after the death of James Hood who integrated UA along with Vivian Malone Jones in 1963.

While introducing Tucker, Ed Mullins, Ph.D., and retired dean of the School of Communication and Information Science, called Tucker “one of the most distinguished American journalists in the past 25 years. I would even say among journalists born in Alabama, she may be the most distinguished journalist in the last 25 years,” Mullins said of the Monroeville, Ala., native and Auburn University graduate.

In honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., three awards were given to community members who exemplify King’s work.

Lubna Alansari received the Realizing the Dream Horizon Award for her work in promoting international studies in public schools.

Paula Sue Burnum-Hayes received the Realizing the Dream Mountaintop Award for creating the New Options for Women program, which encouraged women to seek economic independence.

Michael Culver was awarded the Realizing the Dream Call to Conscience Award for his efforts to help veterans and their families.

Legacy Banquet Speakers

2013 Cynthia Tucker
2012 Rep. Terri Sewell, United States Congress
2011 Hank Klibanoff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
2010 Trudier Harris, author
2009 Rep. Artur Davis, United States Congress