Editorial: A half century later
“50 years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this law.”
—Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia
Last week’s anniversary of the Civil Rights Act was marked with due ceremony. The act outlawed measures that discriminated by race—de jure discrimination—and in doing so, went a long way toward changing Americans attitudes about race. Such attitudes shaped and promoted de facto segregation, the assumption that white people may do one thing, and black people must do something different and less. Or else.
All was not made perfect by this act. It combined with other powerful entities, especially Brown v. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act, to help in leveling the playing field for people of all races. Some racist attitudes lingered and lurked in the dark corners, and still do. Many others, however, dissipated as people of varying pigmentations were brought together in school, at work, and in politics, and found that they had more in common than they had in difference. They discovered that they were people first.
Today affirmative action is partially dismantled, key provisions of the voting rights act have been taken down, and some say the election and re-election of a black president prove that racism is dead. Most people don’t believe that, although they do take satisfaction in living to witness a huge change for the better in race relations.
But a long way remains until all pass under the rainbow of equal treatment for all, and many “others” still struggle for full acceptance in the American way of life. Differences in skin color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin and gender divide us still, and many demagogues seize upon those differences to whip up various antagonisms. Local brush fires sometimes burn out, but sometimes get whipped up and eat up large areas of progress. As a nation, we must keep them under control, even if we cannot extinguish them altogether.
Rep. Scott, a respected and senior Congressman who happens to be an African-American, was a direct beneficiary of civil rights laws. Reflecting on the Civil Rights Act, he continued that it was “a monumental achievement reflecting the best values of our nation: equality, fairness and respect for the dignity of all people. While the implementation of the Civil Rights Act did not end the struggle, today we celebrate its role as an important milestone in the fight against discrimination.”