It’s been fifty years since the Civil Right Act was signed and in many ways it was another illusion like the end of slavery that promised Colored’s some semblance of inclusion or the illusion of equality. Today we live in a nation still challenged with issues of race and they continue to repeat the same lie – “everything is alright”. America’s horrible racial legacy can be brought into remembrance with three different events. I lived through that period, the so-called Civil Rights era and regardless as to what they say today that “those were the good old days”. I beg to differ and disagree!
The entire era of the 1960s was turbulent with many assignations of our leader, protest for equal rights, and the Vietnam War. I would argue that it was a pivotal time in history unmatched since the Civil War. The most devastating event of the period, in my view, was the murder of Dr. King. Frankly, it is a disgrace that we have to live through the memory of his murder and all of the other civil rights leaders brutally murdered.
In remembering this event, still runs chills down my spine when I think about that chilling day, nearly a half century later. I can remember exactly where I was the very moment I heard the news of Dr. Kings murder. Today, the murder scene, the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, is the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. I wonder how many of you will visit it instead of going to Disney World. It might be a good idea to empower our young people of how one act changed the trajectory of this nation. It’s a moment in time when you could say it was the day the movement died and maybe so did black people.
The second event was the 40th Anniversary of the fall of a once thought to be “unbreakable” record set by a mythic white baseball icon Babe Ruth. Let me say here that if black people were playing against him, he would never have hit that many home runs. Nonetheless, I can also remember witnessing the rise of a new American icon, Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron. It was a monumental accomplishment, and the nation should have celebrated Hank and 715 home runs. But this was not the case.
The great Hank Aaron, a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, to this day, is still scarred by the way he was treated. He received thousands of pieces of hate mail and hundreds of death threats. Aaron had the highest balloting percentage in the Hall’s history (97.83%), two percent of the MLB Hall voters, nine voters (406 out of 415), actually left Aaron off their ballots in “protest” of him breaking Babe Ruth’s once thought to be “untouchable” mythical 714 record. Still today, Hank Aaron is not mentioned in the same breath as Babe Ruth.
Mr. Aaron said recently about race relations using the Republicans treatment of President Barack Obama’s accomplishments as an example that not much has changed. In other words, if you think it has, you are fooling yourself. He used as his prime example of how race still permeates the culture, comparing them to the KKK and stating that instead of hoods, they wear “neckties and starched shirts.”
The last and more significant event celebrated an event fifty years ago that changed America forever. Called the greatest and most defining legislation of the 20th Century, the Civil Rights Act signed into law on July 2, 1964, by President Lyndon Johnson who was the first Southern President in America since the racist Andrew Johnson following Abraham Lincoln in 1965. Last week a civil rights summit was held at the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library in Texas.
The keynote speaker for the summit was our current President of the United States, Barack H. Obama. It seems that America had truly overcome its racial barriers with the election of the first black president. But, no it has not – in fact, today things are worse than the days of state-sponsored terror. Former President Jimmy Carter recently and honestly spoke about the obstruction of Obama’s Presidency and publicly assessed as purely racial. Race discussion in America is still distained, at worse and avoided, at best. However, the mere fact that Obama was elected and twice is evidence of some level of progress.
How ironic that a black President, America’s first and only African American to serve as President (that we can verify), would note the significance of the time, as a prime beneficiary of the Johnson’s defining legislation. Although it caused the “Dixiecrats” to leave the party and became the Republicans, we now know after electing Nixon in 1968 (and Reagan in 1980).
Let’s be real and recognize that race and racism is real and a danger to the American culture. With that said, ask yourself the following questions. Can race ever be discussed beyond the realms of academia and irreverent popular culture? Is America’s racial history ever going to be taken seriously as part of the nation’s policy debate? Can social policy, such as President Johnson’s War On Poverty and it’s “Great Society” programs, be integrated into the 21st Century anti-social, anti-debate debate?
America resistance to these policies is direct vestiges of a time long since passed. A time that America suggests we’ve gotten over and refuses to rehash (relive) by saying it is irrelevant. There’s only one problem with that suggestion. America hasn’t gotten over its race realities; just look at poverty, police brutality and killings, health and wealth disparities. So it begs the question will we overcome? And that’s my thought provoking perspective…