She never bent in drive for justice

Dan Rodricks
February 24, 2008
Published in The Baltimore Sun

Martin Luther King Jr. often said, "The arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice," and these words came to mind the other day as we learned the story of Lorraine Johnson, one of the original plaintiffs in Thompson v. HUD, the 13-year-old lawsuit brought by tenants of Baltimore's public housing ghettos against the federal agency that kept them there for so long.

Johnson and other tenants had asked a federal judge to remedy decades of segregationist policies that left thousands of poor, black families stuck in the worst of living conditions.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis ruled that federal officials violated fair-housing laws by not taking a regional approach to give black families opportunities to live outside poverty-stricken, segregated neighborhoods. We're still waiting for Garbis' final opinion and proposed remedy.

More than a decade ago, under a consent decree, Baltimore's public high-rises - such as Murphy Homes, where Lorraine Johnson and her baby once lived - were demolished and redeveloped as mixed-income communities. The city and federal government agreed to provide hundreds of units for public housing residents in mostly white, middle-class areas of the city and the suburbs.

Lorraine Johnson did not live long enough to reap such benefits. The arc of the moral universe did not bend fast enough for her.

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