SALT LAKE CITY — Speaking Monday at a memorial luncheon in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham said America has come a long way in overcoming its history of racism and intolerance, but the work is not yet finished.
"I know Martin Luther King Jr., who talked about getting to the promised land, would know we don’t live in the promised land yet," she said. "That's a work under construction."
Durham was the guest speaker at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Luncheon of the Salt Lake chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In her remarks, Durham drew frequently from King's addresses, particularly his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, saying to conclude that the problems of racism, sexism, poverty and lack of access to education have been solved is both naive and risky.
"We honor Dr. King because he offered his followers and the entire nation an alternate vision of ourselves," she said, "a vision of people more true to our professed values and more dedicated to the notion that every human being deserves economic, social and political rights and equality because those things are part of what it means to be human."
The luncheon, in its 29th year, was also notable in that it coincided with the second term inauguration of Barack Obama, the country's first black president. Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake NAACP branch, said the inauguration made the luncheon a fitting occasion and added, like Durham, that the life and legacy of King is a battle for equal rights that has not yet been won.
"We continue to fight the struggle, and so we ask you to join our fight every day," Williams said during the luncheon at the Little America Hotel.
On the subject of ongoing racism and intolerance, Durham shared a personal experience about the biases people hold toward one another. During some research into unconscious biases, Durham said she took an implicit attitudinal test about gender and was surprised when the results suggested she was moderately biased in favor of associating women with housework and men with the professional labor market.
"I've been a feminist all my life," she said. "After I got over the shock, I started thinking about the hiring decisions I’d made in my life, the political decisions I’d made in my life, the leaders I’m willing to support and vote for. Notwithstanding the fact that so much of my personal and professional life has been devoted to the concept of equality and equality of opportunity, I am caring around completely unknown, unexamined, unconscious assumptions about the way people are."
Durham compared the experience to the earliest days of the civil rights movements, when pro-equality groups, including King and his followers, excluded women from participating.
"The room might have been full of African-Americans, but they were African-American men," she said. "It's a reminder that we struggle to get it right, and that we see part of the vision but we miss part of the vision, and we have to be constantly educating ourselves and our children to be capable of greater vision."
Also at the luncheon, the organization's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks awards were given to M. Donald Thomas and Debra Daniels, respectively. Thomas is a former superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District, and Daniels is the director of the Women's Resource Center at the University of Utah.
The awards are given each year to Utahns who honor the legacy of King and Parks by contributing to the advancement of civil rights in the state.
In accepting his award, Thomas also spoke of the ongoing need for civil rights advancement in the state and nation, and he called on those in attendance to do their part.
"You and I have an obligation not to let Martin Luther King's dream dry up like a raisin in the sun," he said.
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