Toward racial equality

As Black History Month draws to a close, and we celebrate the 89th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP, we pause to celebrate progress made, and to rededicate ourselves to challenges remaining.

Sadly, in the wake of our first African American president, America is now backsliding at a shocking rate.

We now have a president who is absolutely tone deaf about race – who attacks the patriotism of football players protesting racial injustice; who sees no difference between neo nazis and the people protesting against them; who pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s felony conviction for blatant racial profiling; and who invents a “commission” to feed the lie about widespread voter fraud in order to justify voter-suppression laws designed to target minority voters “with almost surgical precision” (as the North Carolina Supreme Court said in throwing out the laws rammed through by Republicans).

And we have a Republican Congress which couldn’t care less. Not a peep of protest against the president’s hate-mongering and intolerance. Not a whiff of concern – to say nothing of action – about restoring the Voting Rights Act to protect against racial vote-suppression in states with a clear history of it. Not one inch of movement to rein in mass incarceration with real programs to break the cycle of crime and recidivism.

We shouldn’t be moving backward. We should be following the lead of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and John Lewis, and moving forward.

I’ll tell you a little story that has always inspired me. When my grandfather was six, his dad taught at Iowa State Agricultural College, and he had an African American student named George Washington Carver. Carver wasn’t allowed to stay in the dorms because of his race, so the Wallaces invited him to stay with them. In gratitude, Carver took little Henry under his wing and shared his incredible knowledge of plants and botany.

Yes, that George Washington Carver, of peanuts and Tuskegee Institute fame.


Years later, after my grandfather had become one of the leading plant breeders in the world, then U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and then U.S. Vice President under Franklin Roosevelt, he persuaded the Rockefeller Foundation to set up a plant breeding station in Latin America, and urged them to hire a young Iowa agronomist named Norman Borlaug to run it. The amount of food that farmers could grow on an acre of land multiplied five-fold, and Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for saving two billion lives in what became known as the “Green Revolution.”

All because of one simple act of kindness across society’s racial divides.

Let’s get back to simple decency, and inclusion, and resume our resolute march toward real equality.


Scott tutoring Harlem students in math, in 1967.