Five days after plans to host the first desegregated prom in Wilcox County, Georgia gained traction, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul delivered a speech to students at Howard University. Howard University was founded in 1886 to serve as a “normal and theological school” for black students, and today has a student body made up of about 87% African American and African students.
Paul’s speech included numerous historical facts about the Civil Rights movement. This left many commentators expressing annoyance at Paul’s choice of topic in a venue known for its involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Some offered points of view as to how Paul might be planning to use the trip to his advantage regardless of audience reception.
After Paul’s initial remarks, the floor was left open to questions. During this time, back and forth comments were made regarding Paul’s record on the Civil Rights Act. In 2010, Paul publicly announced that he did not support the 1964 law insofar as it could affect private businesses.
Paul’s answers to questions posed by Howard students have been seen by many initial commentators as not directly addressing issues. In rebuttal to Paul’s assertion that he had never opposed the Civil Rights Act, one student responded “It’s on tape.” Paul stated his opposition of some aspects of the Act on the “Rachel Maddow Show” in 2010.
The comments Paul has made to defend his stance have historically made it clear that he is glad that the Civil Rights Act was put into law when it was. However, some aspects of his stance are not made lucid in public remarks. In some cases, Paul has forayed into unrelated laws when asked about his record regarding civil and voting rights. The following remark was made by Paul in the aforementioned episode of the “Rachel Maddow Show,” which he appeared in on behalf of the Tea Party:
“I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form…I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody [due to their] race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But I think what’s important about this debate is not written into any specific ‘gotcha’ on this, but asking the question: What about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking? . . . I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things freedom requires.”
Paul followed up his comments by mentioning that the law would change menus and affect smoking in privately-owned facilities.
Numerous students and faculty of the illustrious institution were present for the event. At least one Political Science doctoral student posed a question for Paul. Paul appeared to struggle to adjust to the intellectual capacity of his audience, even responding to the remark “We know our history” by saying “I don’t know how much you know.”