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Race Takes Center Stage

Whether it's Bob Jones University, South Carolina's Confederate flag, or the furor over the acquittal of four white New York City cops who shot and killed African immigrant Amadou Diallo, suddenly America is talking about race again.

Yet as CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman reports, the conversation is complicated.

Friday, Bob Jones University, the Christian fundamentalist school that became a household name when George W. Bush appeared there last month, suddenly -- if reluctantly -- dropped its ban on inter-racial dating.

According to Bob Jones III, the school's president, "Our concern for the school's broader usefulness is greater to us than a rule that we never talk about and it is meaningless to us. The principle upon which it's based is very, very important but the rule itself is not."

But to critics of Bob Jones University like the Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, the change isn't cause for rejoicing, it is simply overdue.

"I don't think Bob Jones has had a change of heart," Butts said. "I think that perhaps Bob Jones has had a change of mind."

"I'm suspicious when a change comes under this kind of pressure," said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. "I wouldn't rush too fast to believe that we have reached a new milestone here."

Indeed, signs of real progress on race are few. President Clinton this weekend made it clear he believes the shooting of Diallo, an unarmed, innocent black man by New York police was all about race.

"If it had been in a young, white man in a young, all-white neighborhood, it probably wouldn't have happened," the president said.

Several dozen people upset with the acquittals the four officers protested outside the Justice Department in Washington Saturday.

Mostly American Muslims, they want the department to file a federal lawsuit against the New York Police Department.

In Montgomery, Ala., Saturday, several thousand self-described southern secessionists jeered the American flag and called for a return to the old days and the Old South.

The rally occurred a day before President Clinton was to lead marchers across a Selma bridge to mark the 35th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday,'' the day scores of black voting rights demonstrators were beaten by state troopers and sheriff's officers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on a march to Montgomery.

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley made race a central theme of his campaign this year. It has not resonated. Despite a willingness to discuss things like "white skin privilege," Bradley has failed to earn the support of many African-American leaders.

And while President Clinton tried to make a national conversation on race the hallmark of his second term, the idea never really took off. is commission on race issued its report in 1998 to little fanfare.

Asked if there has been progress in the nation's dialogue on race, Butts told CBS News he doesn't think so.

"Not about race. America is not getting any better talking about race."

Still, on the campus of Bob Jones University at least, changes are taking place. The end of the dating ban was a seismic shift for students at institution that has resisted change for all its 73 years.

Said one male student, "I think he was a little bit pressured to but I think he made the right decision."

"It was a relief, now that the media no longer has a tool to work at to try to undermine the testimony of Bob Jones anymore," said one female undergraduate.

At the Montgomery rally, Confederate flags and rebel yells rose from the steps of Alabama's Capitol at the Old South rally. Kilt-wearing bagpipers playing "Dixie" joined Civil War re-enactors dressed in gray and butterscotch uniforms to lead a parade to the building, where Jefferson Davis took the oath as president of the Confederacy in 1861.

Afterward, members of the Southern nationalist organization that staged the rally signed a "Declaration of Southern Cultural Independence,'' described as the first step in what they hope is a second secession by the South.

"The South was right! Say it loud enough that they can hear you in Selma with Mr. Clinton!'' screamed Walter Kennedy, drawing cheers.

The NAACP, which claims the rebel banner is a symbol of racism and oppression, is trying to pressure South Carolina into removing the Confederate flag from its Capitol dome through a tourism boycott.

At the memorial march Sunday, the president gave a speech to "honor the (civil rights) struggle and to celebrate the progress that we've made, but also to remind Americans that we still have a lot of work to do,'' White House spokesman Jake Siewert said. ''It'll be a very personal speech.''

Meanwhile, a coalition of black law enforcement groups in New York is calling for a review of the Diallo case.

The Justice Department says it's already doing a review.

Lawyers for the policemen plan to visit the Justice Department Monday to argue against the possibility of bringing civil rights charges against the officers.

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