July 2, 1964


On July 2, 1964 American president Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin and gender were outlawed – America officially recognized the rights of all citizens. In August, three black civil rights workers working in Mississippi to register African American voters, were found murdered by the KKK. That October, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The following year Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – literacy tests and poll taxes aimed at southern blacks became illegal.  Legislation sparked by a tumultuous year that witnessed Malcolm X’s assassination and “bloody Sunday” – Alabama State Troopers using tear gas, whips and clubs to send 50 peaceful protesters to hospital as they crossed a bridge.

1966 – Huey Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther Movement, the term “black power” immortalized in 1967 by Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Seattle. President Johnson appoints Thurgood Marshall as the first black Supreme Court Justice. The court rules in Loving v. Virginia that prohibiting interracial marriage is unconstitutional.

April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. A few days later President Johnson amends the Civil Rights Act to include racial discrimination in housing sales, rentals and financing. Democrat Shirley Chisholm of New York becomes the first black female Representative elected.

It would take pages to properly document the American civil rights movement.  Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama refusing to sit at the back of the bus in 1955 would shudder at the 1972 Tuskagee Syphilis Experiment (a 40 year U.S. Health Dept. program, from 1932 intentionally infecting black men with Syphilis) or Rex 84 (a plan penned by Oliver North in 1984 laying out plans to inter 21 million African Americans in the event of civil unrest),  to the abysmal behavior of pin headed “patriots” (terrified, petulant children quaking in their boots because Obama tried to drive the bus).

Pondering 50 years since signing of America’s first Civil Rights Act is depressing. Narrow minded nincompoops may be wise to the illusion of equality, becoming adept at politically correct facades is second nature. Don’t kid yourselves – inclusion, equality, education, housing, fair wages – they all impact the bottom line, civil rights are bad for business. Racial equality screams foul from every courtroom, prison, ghetto, housing project, and school in America.

A few days from now, the 50th anniversary of a momentous civil rights act coincides with Fourth of July flag waving hoopla. At some point between all the fireworks, BBQ’s and marching bands – I propose a moment of silence for courageous Americans forced to suffer the stigma and inequality of race.

A thank you to the inspiration for this ponder….

http://larryjben.wordpress.com/

civilrights.uga.edu

Olympic Power


 

Fresh off  closing ceremonies at Sochi, still smiling from the exhilaration of Canadian men and women’s hockey taking gold, I find myself pondering another Olympic moment.

The courage of Tommie Smith and John Carlos exemplifies the civil rights movement. I’m not going to explain why – take 5 minutes out of your life to watch a snapshot in time, a moment in history when  Olympics’ sacred line was crossed, when damn the consequences ruled over “tow the line”. Smith and Carlos managed to define injustice without uttering a word.

I often write of protest; specifically my dismay at society’s screwed up priorities – our spoon fed, cult of celebrity, gun toting, fundamentalist, reality television, someone else’s problem world. For those too young to understand the optimism, hope and determination of people who believed they could make a difference, I wish I could roll back time. When coffee shops and campuses burst under the weight of collective purpose rather than suffocating taps of MacBook keyboards in an otherwise silent Starbucks.

This ponder isn’t about “world peace”, I’m talking about our back yards and dark alleys. Poverty, education, injustice taking place in front of our eyes – corporate greed, “stand your ground” nonsense, environmental atrocities, civil rights violations – reduced to a Tweet or cooked into poppycock by Fox News wingnuts.

This Olympic moment reminds me of a time when purpose out weighed lucrative endorsements, a time when we believed change was a matter of determination, a time when seizing  Olympic glory for peaceful exclamation of injustice was not only thinkable, it was possible.