Goal IX Newsletter

Winter 2000, Volume 6, Number 2

A Personal Note - ABA Leaders Speak on Diversity by: Alfred P. Carlton, Jr.

CarltonThere are many unique features of the Great American Experiment, and the second half of the 20th century witnessed a real revolution in the country’s social life and values. The theme underlying this revolution is our fundamental belief that "all men are created equal, with certain inalienable rights," and is focused on the challenges we continue to face with respect to racial and ethnic diversity. As a son of the South, a child of the ’50s and ’60s, and a Vietnam-era veteran, I have borne witness to and been a part of this revolution. It has been an integral part of my personal and professional life. I was fortunate enough to have socially conscious parents, and the combination of lessons learned and experiences that teach have brought me to this conclusion: the diversity of American society is not only a unique American experience, it is the defining American experience.

In the last 25 years, we have witnessed an accelerated recognition throughout American society of past injustices inflicted on racial and ethnic minorities. The evidence is overwhelming that the great Civil Rights crusades and social movements of the ’60s and ’70s continue to deeply affect our society and have resulted in a true "paradigm shift." The question is not whether sufficient progress has been made in shifting the paradigm—there has not been. The question is: how do we continue the accelerated momentum toward our objective of true equality in a racially and ethnically diverse society?

Each individual member of our profession must face this question. My socially aware but genteel southern parents taught me that deeds were far more important than words, and that to tout one’s accomplishments proudly would distract from the statements made by deeds. Thus, when I began the practice of law, I followed a credo of acting but not speaking with respect to my personal belief that American society owes equal justice and opportunity to all. Along the way, however, I have learned that doing is not enough.

Fortunately, in my life, I have been exposed to leaders of all creeds, colors, and persuasions. They have taught me the important distinction between personal anecdotes and unhesitating affirmative statements of belief and mission. Among these leaders are my former law partner, the late Senator Terry Sanford; my successor as Chair of the ABA House of Delegates, Robert Grey; and former ABA President Roberta Cooper Ramo. In addition to friendship, they provided me with examples of effective role models and how to communicate our Goal IX objective and larger social goals.

As to our legal profession, I believe that we are uniquely obligated to pursue equal justice and opportunities for all Americans. We have an obligation to society to see that it makes good on its constitutional guarantees of equality to all. We must practice what we preach and dedicate ourselves to the principle that our profession should be reflective of the multi-cultural society it serves, lest it lose touch with fundamental American principles.

In the end, I believe the distinction between deeds and words is the crucial element in continuing the momentum of our society toward the goal of equality. I believe that each of us should recognize that distinction; and, while doing good deeds a la Atticus Finch, we must affirmatively speak and act for the attainment of Goal IX.

Alfred P. Carlton, Jr., is a managing partner in the Sanford Holshouser Law Firm in Raleigh, NC.

Editor's Note: The Commission invited the three President-Elect candidates to write a personal account of their view on diversity and how they arrived at those viewpoints.

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