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Civil Rights Leaders Debate Missouri Affirmative Action Amendment

By Sylvia Maria Gross and Alex Smith


Kansas City, MO – Civil rights activists in Missouri are gearing up for a possible battle over affirmative action in next year's November election. Affirmative action typically refers to hiring or school admissions programs designed to give extra consideration to those who have been discriminated against or disadvantaged, because of their race, gender or their family income. KCUR's Alex Smith walked around Grandview, to hear what people are thinking about the issue.

The proposed Missouri constitutional amendment would ban racial and gender preferences in state-sponsored programs. For example, it would eliminate race-based recruitment and admissions programs at state colleges and universities, scholarships designated for women or people of color and ban state requirements to hire or contract with minority and women-owned businesses.

California activist Ward Connerly, who founded the American Civil Rights Institute, is the catalyst behind initiatives like this around the country, which have passed in three states, California, Michigan and Washington. Next year, Connerly's planning campaigns in five more states, including Missouri. He's calling it Super Tuesday for Equal Rights. After an evening lecture last week at UMKC, Connerly explained why he chose Missouri.

Earlier that same day, at Liberty Memorial, the former chair of the US Civil Rights Commission spoke at another forum on affirmative action, this one organized by the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. Mary Frances Berry, who's now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says she also supports income-based affirmative action, but it's not a substitute for programs which are race or gender-based.

Connerly says if his lawsuit to change the wording back to his original proposal fails, he may reconsider whether to invest in Missouri's campaign. He's holding off from collecting petition signatures until it's resolved. Supporters of affirmative action filed a different suit to make the language in the ballot even more specific. In the next month, a Cole County judge will hear both cases at the same time. This story was produced for KC Currents. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents Podcast.

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