Sunday, June 29, 2014

Don’t take privileges bestowed by Civil Rights Act for granted


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was one of the strongest civil rights bills in U.S. history. We celebrate this landmark decision made 50 years ago. Civil rights for blacks became a major national political issue in the 1950s.

The first federal civil rights law was enacted in 1957.

During the 1960s, civil unrest climaxed and President John F. Kennedy was compelled to address the issues. He threatened to use federal force and managed to win a partial desegregation of public accommodations and public schools in Alabama.

President Kennedy, prior to his assassination in 1963, asked Congress for legislation to desegregate public facilities and to give the Justice Department authority to enforce the Supreme Court ruling on school desegregation.

After President Kennedy’s death, Lyndon B. Johnson used his political capital to breathe new life into civil rights legislation, and on July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.

It translated into law most of the goals of the early civil rights movement. It banned discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex by employers. The bill allowed federal agencies to adopt guidelines banning discrimination in programs receiving federal funds and stopping the flow of federal dollars when school districts failed to comply.

Congress also prohibited discrimination by restaurants, hotels, motels, gas stations, theatres, stadiums, concert halls, and other places of entertainment.

To enforce the law, Congress created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Women benefited from its passage because the court held that sexual harassment was sexual discrimination and was prohibited under the act. The civil rights movement had achieved its greatest victory. During the Johnson tenure in the White House, he supported racial integration and signed into law the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

As I reflect on this significant piece of legislation, I think about how it is applicable to me in the 21st century and generations to come. We must remain vigilant, as many of the rights we enjoy are in peril.

President Obama said it best in his “A More Perfect Union” speech, which challenges us “to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.”

This is not intended to evoke guilt or play on dark times in our history but rather to pause, reflect, and vow not to take the privileges granted by the Civil Rights Act for granted; nor should we forget the blood, sweat, and tears shed to make it possible.

Too, let us remember those who died so valiantly for the cause, also to express gratitude to the 36th president of the United States, Lyndon B Johnson for his fortitude.

Ms. Kincaid is a Kingsport resident and lives in Riverview