Is it just me, or is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passing by without the appropriate amount of attention?
I’m surprised I’m not seeing more on this landmark legislation. 50 years ago to the day, President Johnson inked the bill that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, as well as ending racial segregation in schools, work and in the public.
I know the World Cup has grabbed our attention like never before. I watched the thriller yesterday, too. But there’s room for both, you know?
I’m doing some research and reading right now that has opened my eyes on the events that took place in between the end of the Civil War and the signing of this important piece of legislation. African Americans made wonderful gains post-Reconstruction. Two Senators and 20 Congressmen made history this way. In the first go round of Civil Rights, the 13th, 14th, 15 Amendment gave black Americans the rights the Constitution said every man deserved. A black middle class emerged. Vibrant neighborhoods such as “Uptown” in Alexandria pulsed with economic and social activity.
Then came the backlash. Anti-black legislation in some of the States and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson paved the way for discrimination and halted those gains made in the second half of the 19th-century. If that wasn’t evil enough, intimidation and violence erupted. You don’t want to know just how many souls were taken away by mobs between 1880 and 1940. And who could ever forget the six million black faces who were so scared they fled for, as Isabel Wilkerson so eloquently put it, “the warmth of other suns?”
By the time I came into the world in 1956, the situation for a disenfranchised race was still a life dictated by Jim Crow and its ridiculous - “separate but equal.” Growing up, I was shielded from a lot, but in the last several years I’ve caught up a bit by reading and listening.
I couldn’t begin to tell you what all the 1964 Civil Rights Act did in terms of its legislative power. But I can tell you that I believe our country sure did need it.
So as we celebrate our Independence this Friday, let us stop for a moment today and think about all the obstacles peoples of color faced when they wanted to picnic, parade and watch the bombs bursting in air. And if we don’t continue to do the work, the erosion will spoil all the lands.