When We Talk about Race
Dramatic stories of hardship and injustice have always been at the center of the struggle for racial equality. Homer Plessy refused to ride in a segregated black train car in late-19th-century Louisiana; the World War II veteran George Dorsey and three other African-Americans were killed by a racist mob outside Atlanta in 1946; Emmett Till was lynched by white bigots in Mississippi in 1955; and in that same year, Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery bus boycott when she would not surrender her seat to a white passenger. These events and many others inspired activists to press for change and convinced average Americans that change was necessary. The worst abuses of the Jim Crow era have been eliminated, but the moral outrage inspired by a personal encounter with a bigot remains the most powerful vehicle for conveying the injuries and indignities of racial inequality. Accordingly, civil rights lawyers seek out plaintiffs whose grievances reflect larger injustices, and activists rally around people who symbolize pervasive social problems.