By James Wright, Special to the

The former leader of one of the nation’s foremost civil and human rights organizations recently said that progressive Americans need to prepare to strongly fight for their principles.

“We as a progressive community are in tough times,” Wade Henderson, who served as the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights from 1996-2017, said as the guest speaker for the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law’s “The Civil and Human Rights in the 21st Century” seminar at its final lecture on July 30 at the law school.

Wade Henderson, a law professor at the UDC School of Law, has a tough message for the progressive movement. (Courtesy Photo)

“The world has changed drastically and many young millennials are confused about what is going on. I would remind them that we have seen tough times before.”

Henderson is a graduate of Howard University and received his juris doctorate from Rutgers University. He is presently the Joseph L. Rauh Jr., Chair of Public Interest Law at UDC.

The topic of his speech was “Pathway to Civil and Human Rights at the End of the Second Reconstruction.”

Henderson noted the year 1968, which was transformative in America.

“There were a number of watershed moments in 1968,” he said. “There was the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the tumultuous Democratic Convention in Chicago, the riots after the King assassination and the election of Richard Nixon as president. Nixon’s election was the result of a Southern strategy that was designed to play into the fears of Southern and conservative Whites.”

Henderson said that 2018 “is 50 years after 1968 and 150 years after the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

“The 14th Amendment gave Blacks the right to American citizenship and the benefits and obligations thereof,” he said. “Without the 14th Amendment, there would have been no Brown vs. Board of Education, no Roe v. Wade and no Supreme Court decision that legalizes same-sex marriage.”

Henderson said that the 14th Amendment is being tested by the Trump administration in its now abandoned policy of separating families at the Mexican border even when the children are U.S. citizens.

Henderson said it is time for progressives to step up and fight for the American people. He used the case of Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, as an example of why Democrats in particular must fight.

“Merrick Garland was denied a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court because he was appointed by a Black president,” Henderson said. “Senate Republicans didn’t want to give a Black president a third pick on the Supreme Court that could change the political balance of the court for years. It was the Democrats that allowed that to happen, though.”

He encouraged progressives to have a long term and short term view of changing the system and urged becoming a “student of the system they are seeking to reform.”

Henderson said that progressives need to get work.

“We need to get tough, get organized, stop whining and get resources to do what we need to do,” he said.