Former Mayor Johnson on the Status of "The Dream"

Aug 28, 2013

Former Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson
Credit www.rit.edu

Bill Johnson was headed into his junior year of college at Howard University in August of 1963.  He was working as an orderly in a whites-only hospital in Lynchburg, Virginia, and couldn't get time off work to attend the march in Washington.

But he did commemorate the day in his own way by waiting until August 28 to register to vote, 6 days after his 21st  birthday. "It was still very difficult for blacks to register to vote. Not only did you have to pay a poll tax and take a literacy exam to vote. But you actually had to be bold enough to show up at the city clerk's office, as a black person in those days, to register to vote."     

Johnson says America has made a "healthy down payment" on the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, with more equality not just for African Americans, but for women, gays, and the handicapped.  But he says more needs to be done to address the inequities caused by poverty.  "It's great to have these commemorations, but we need to get down to work to close these gaps.  We shouldn't have to wait another 50 years to close these gaps that exist between people who have and people who have not in this country." 

Johnson is disturbed by the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act.  He says the most offensive thing of all is that Justice Clarence Thomas--an African American from one of the poorest communities in Georgia--cast the deciding vote. "While Clarence Thomas has graduated and he is now a multi-millionaire and eat caviar and drink champagne, there are many people, including members of his family, who are trying to just scratch out a living.  For him to cast the deciding vote is what I find the most offensive thing of all."

Supporters of the Voting Rights Act say laws that restrict voter registration disproportionately impact African Americans and poor people.