I wrote this about 1990. The Philadelphia Inquirer published an edited version as an Op-Ed piece in "Community Voices" on Sunday, February 8 1998.

What happened to the civil rights movement?

That's a question that often preoccupies me these days when I have time to think about politics. I remember, many years ago, being thrilled at the story of Rosa Parks, the brave black woman who decided she wasn't going to be shuffled to the back of the bus anymore. I was too young to hear or understand Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech when it happened, but I heard the recordings, after he'd died at an assassin's hand, and knew I was hearing a voice of moral force nearly without equal in our century.

I'm white. My parents scrupulously taught me to judge people as King exhorted us to — not by the color of their skins, but by the character of their souls. But I never had any black playmates. I was nearly adult before I lived in an American city, saw black people every day, began to understand in my gut the terrible wrongs that had been done them and the anger that back-lit Rosa Parks's stubbornness and Dr. King's ringing calls for justice.

It's been nearly thirty years now since the Freedom Riders. For me, personally, fifteen years since "the race problem" became real to me in the streets of West Philadelphia. I wish I could have kept my anger and my convictions as pure as they were then. But something ugly and sad happened as I grew older, something that leached the nobility out of black America's cause and squandered most of the moral capital it had won fighting the Ku Klux Klan and the Jim Crow laws and the lynching rope.

I think Dr. King's heirs forgot their fight was for freedom. I think they forgot his vision of a world in which color wouldn't matter. I don't know how or why it happened. I know the symptoms. I remember the Bakke case. I remember when I first heard the phrase "affirmative action". I couldn't believe that a people who'd suffered so much from laws that used the color of a man's skin to keep him down would press for laws that required the government to act like a racist.

I still don't believe what we've come to. The second age of the racial double standard, a sick parody of the bad old days when a black man was presumed guilty. Marion Barry abuses the D.C. mayor's office and snorts crack on video and `movement' blacks march in the streets to get him acquitted. `Afro-centrists' agitate for their own (segregated) schools and curricula that would consciously try to write the white man out of the black child's version of history. Race-norming. Quotas. `Diversity' enforcers coercing students and academics throughout America's universities to avoid any action or speech or even thought that might be `racially offensive', while never doubting their own entitlement to treat anyone with a white skin as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Plot to Oppress Blacks — guilty until proven innocent. When did the fight for freedom decay into this obscene scramble for handouts and privileges and discrimination for our color this week, please?

And the band plays on, while our black inner cities rot away and one out of every four of young black males graduates from a maelstrom of drugs, violence, and broken families to do time in our jails. Yes, I'm still angry. I hate racism as passionately as I ever did, and I still stand for any black man's right to be judged equally with me. But now I'm as incensed with black politicians as I ever was with white segregationists. It wasn't just a black man's dream they betrayed; it was mine, too. I believed.

I wish I could believe again. Where is the leadership that will tell blacks that they can't end racism by supporting laws that institutionalize it? Where is the man or woman who can give the black underclass a positive vision that goes beyond resentment, dependence on government largesse, and the victim syndrome? Who will wake up the poor blacks in our cities to the fact that they've become their own worst enemies, slaughtering each other in numbers the Klan could only dream of, yearly racking up casualty figures reminiscent of a medium-sized war? Who will speak the hard truth: that, against this hideous backdrop, continued attempts at the moral blackmail of innocent whites with reminders of past racism will only drive them into the arms of hatemongers like David "Sieg-Heil" Duke and his scummy gang of knock-off Nazis?

I am not now nor have I ever been a conservative. But the last thirty years have made it clear that the conservatives have at least one thing right; only responsibility works. Only hard work and courage and Rosa Parks's stubborn refusal to accept the limits of habit and custom broke the chains that white racism once forged on black people; and only those qualities can break the new chains that, through all these years of welfarism and finger-pointing and guilt-mongering and gimme-gimme politics, much of black America has been busily forging on itself.

I spent a good chunk of last Memorial Day weekend playing conga drums with a multiracial group. I wore a dashiki under my blue eyes and the black woman playing across from me sported a polo shirt right out of some preppie catalog and no one there thought either the least bit odd. Black, white, yellow...didn't matter. Africa's wild thundering rhythms beat through all of us and the people around clapped and danced and yelled for joy. I think Dr. King would have approved. That's the world I want to live in. I hope we can all find our way to it someday.