Emory Report

February 23, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 22

Connerly speech provokes
jeers from a hostile audience

Despite a large group of vocal and persistent protesters, California's Ward Connerly did manage to speak Feb. 17 in Cox Ballroom, battling a hostile crowd to explain his support of Proposition 209, the state's initiative that ended racial preferences in public education, hiring and contracting.

"Civil rights are not just rights for black people-they are rights for all Americans," Connerly said. "Unless you believe the state should discriminate, I don't see how you can oppose Proposition 209."

In 1993 Governor Pete Wilson appointed Connerly to the University of California's Board of Regents; in July 1995 the board followed Connerly's lead and voted to end racial preferences in University admissions. Later that year, Connerly accepted a position as chair of the California Civil Rights Initiative and helped the organization push Prop 209 onto the November 1996 state ballot.

Connerly's speech at Emory, sponsored by the College Republicans, was the first in the Steve Wood Lecture Series dedicated to conservative speakers. At least 200 people crowded into Cox Ballroom to hear Connerly speak, but just before he was introduced, a group of roughly 60 protestors marched into the hall, carrying signs and chanting "Support affirmative action! Fight discrimination!"

The protestors did take their seats and put their signs down, but Connerly often had to raise his voice over hecklers or wait for them to quiet down. Police even told one elderly man to behave himself or be ejected from the room.

"I've learned there is a correlation between weak minds and loud mouths," Connerly said, referring to his detractors. "But this is America, and we should all embrace free speech. I would hope you all will listen to what I have to say, even if you don't agree with it."

Connerly invoked several historical figures who supported civil rights, from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr., to John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. "January and February is the season in which we celebrate Dr. King," Connerly said. "There are those people who remind us of his dream, that his four little children might someday be defined by who they are, not what they are."

Connerly said he does not support the end of all affirmative action programs, simply those involving racial preferences and quotas. And he acknowledged those concepts were formed with admirable goals but insisted their time is past. He cited a litany of circumstances where he feels preferences resulted in discrimination against the white majority, such as college counselors visiting high schools and only speaking to blacks and Hispanics, or white-owned companies not being allowed to even bid on state contracts.

"Many of our well-intentioned efforts to ensure equality and nondiscrimination have gone awry," Connerly said. "These actions are not only illegal in some cases, they are immoral in all. George Orwell has returned. Discrimination has become the law of the land because it fulfills an objective. [But] for me, as one who has fought against discrimination all my life, diversity is no justification for discrimination.

"I submit to you that black people have to return to the attitude of our grandparents: that you have to be twice as good and work twice as hard to succeed, not do so because of preferences."

Jonathan Freimann, president of the Student Government Association, said that never in his time at Emory had he seen a speaker treated with such disrespect. "I'm very, very disappointed," Freimann said of the protestors.

-Michael Terrazas

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