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Clinton Heads Home To Honor Civil Rights Anniversary

By John King/CNN

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Sep. 24) -- Bill Clinton was 11 years old when Gov. Orval Faubus gave Arkansas a dubious place in history: calling out the National Guard to defy a federal order to integrate Little Rock's Central High School.

It was a signature event in the Civil Rights movement, and for a man whose life and politics have been shaped time and again by America's often painful soul searching over race.

Forty years later, the boy whose grandparents told him Faubus was wrong is president of the United States. Today he is going home to pay tribute to the nine black students who walked through the Central High doors into Civil Rights history.

In his speech to the AFL-CIO convention Wednesday, Clinton said, "I will try to focus our nation on a haunting but hopeful moment in our country's struggle to make America the nation live up to America the idea." (160K wav sound)

This 40th anniversary comes three months into Clinton's year-long dialogue on race relations -- an effort he began by recalling his Arkansas roots.

"Back home, I went to segregated schools, swam in segregated public pools, sat in all white sections at the movies and traveled through small towns in my state that still marked restrooms and water fountains 'white' and 'colored,'" the president related in his June 14, 1997 commencement address at the University of California-San Diego. (320K wav sound)

"By the grace of God, I had a grandfather with just a grade school education but the heart of a true American, who taught me that it was wrong," Clinton said.

The Central High event offers Clinton a powerful platform at a time many Civil Rights activists worry the race initiative lacks a clear mission.

Civil Rights activist Roger Wilkins said, "It is going to take a lot more time and attention from the president than he has so far given to it."

And so far, Wilkins is among those who say talking about better race relations won't erase actions that angered many black leaders. "[Clinton] has done some bad things. He signed the welfare bill, which is really bad for kids, and he has not really focused on any civil rights issue aside from affirmative actions, where he did stand up."

It is expected to be an emotion event for the president, as he holds open the doors of Central High and watches the Little Rock 9 pass through -- hoping it sends a powerful message of how far Arkansas, and America, have come. But he will also acknowledge that a giant racial divide remains, and try to reinvigorate his effort to bridge it.

In Other News:

Wednesday Sept. 24, 1997

IRS Nightmares Get Senate Hearing
Clinton Heads Home To Honor Civil Rights Anniversary
House Panel OKs Witness Immunity Requests
Clinton Makes The Case For 'Fast Track'
Deal Struck On Senate Campaign Reform Debate

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