Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Civil Rights: Local Government Must Lead, Says Minnesota Governor

Gov. Karl Rolvaag speaks at the 1963 AC.

It was June of 1963. The League of Minnesota Municipalities was in the midst of its golden anniversary, and the country at large was in the flux of social change.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. had recently penned his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and Birmingham, Alabama’s Commissioner of Public Safety had responded to peaceful protests by authorizing the use of fire hoses and dogs on African-American demonstrators.

At the League’s Annual Convention in Mankato, Gov. Karl Rolvaag delivered a passionate speech addressing the role of local government in fighting discrimination.

He explained that while Minnesota’s race relations had not been splashed across national headlines, that was “no reason for us to become complacent.”

“There is a little bit of Birmingham, Alabama, in every city and town throughout America,” he said.

 Rolvaag made a call for local government to become a leader in protecting civil liberties of citizens, regardless of skin color, and noted that 1963 was coincidentally also the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
 “I sincerely believe that what we, at the state level, can contribute to the cause of equality, is meager compared to what can be accomplished when local governments resolve to maintain and uphold the law.
“For as local government is closest to the people, so also is it the most promising vehicle for achieving sorely needed social adjustments with a minimum of conflict.”
One example Rolvaag provided: Minnesota had a law requiring a non-discriminatory hiring clause in all public contracts dating back to 1941, but only recently had Rolvaag signed an executive order to enforce the neglected statute at the state level.

He said it was the duty of all public officials to ensure this non-discriminatory hiring clause was included in all public contracts and enforced.

In closing remarks, Rolvaag reminded the audience of city officials that meeting the challenge before them would fulfill their public trust and lead to better local government in the years and decades to follow.

“I am genuinely optimistic concerning that future and of the judgment our descendants will make of us and of our times,” he concluded.

Did Rolvaag get it right? How does his message resonate today? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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