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Dennis W. Archer, President,
American Bar Association

A confident, assured high school student was nearly reduced to tears last month while she play-acted the part of African-American Linda Brown walking through the door of a schoolhouse populated by white children.

She knew the white students and adults around her also were play-acting as they shouted abuse at her. She understood as clearly as she knew her own name that this was simply an exercise, an attempt to build understanding of the historic Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.

Still, the pain she experienced was so sharp that she was barely able to continue.

How much more must it have hurt the real Linda Brown of 1954, when she was not only threatened, but spat upon by adults.

This was the scene during a Dialogue on Brown v. Board of Education last month in which groups of white and black high school students and I acknowledged the coming anniversary of the 1954 ruling that ended legalized segregation in American schools. It was a powerful and rewarding experience, one I hope other lawyers, community leaders and public figures will share in the months ahead.

I can think of nothing more fitting as we mark the 216th anniversary of the signing of our Constitution than to reflect on protections enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights and how the brave heroes of the civil rights movement changed our national understanding of them. This, more than anything else, demonstrates that our Constitution is very much a living document, one that embodies the goal of justice and equality.

But the promise of the Constitution has yet to be realized.

As we continue to struggle to move closer to that goal, the coming months amount to a season of monuments to those who have worked so tirelessly to do just that: the 40th anniversary in January of the 24th Amendment, which ended use of the poll tax to prevent blacks from voting; the 50th anniversary in May of Brown v. Board; the 40th anniversary in July of adoption of the Civil Rights Act; and the 40th anniversary one year later of approval of the Voting Rights Act.

Each of these monumental victories was born out of enormous sacrifice and pain. We shudder at the anniversary just two days ago (Sept. 15) of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, slaughtering four little girls.

In fact this Constitution Day falls just three weeks after the 40-year anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington, which itself came 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation-a poignant reminder that the path to justice is long, that the dream of equality remains unfulfilled.

Our Constitution provides the structure and fabric to bring that dream to life. The 39 delegates who signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787, laid the first cobblestones on the road to equality and dignity for all Americans. The pioneers of the civil rights movement, through their leadership and sacrifice, brought the goal within reach. Now, with the events of our past providing guidance for a better future, it is time to celebrate a new generation of leaders.

I hope this Constitution Day and the season of anniversaries with which it coincides will provide an opportunity to do just that.