ABOVE: U.S. Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others look on, Washington, D.C., July 2, 1964.
Our laws are created to keep us from injustice. I spent many of my formative years in segregation, so I know first-hand what injustice was.
The Civil Rights Act was signed into law on July 2, 1964, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. That signing occurred a long time ago, but sometimes it seems like only yesterday.
The law was established to abolish all legal segregation. Prior to this ruling, segregation was running rampant, with no end in sight. For example, my friends and I went to the movies, but we had to sit upstairs. We stayed on our side of town and had very few interactions with White people. Our Black community had its own schools and businesses. The truth is, we were not missing out on life. Our schools were tops and our teachers were great. The consistent factor growing up in our neighborhood was that we were loved and given lots of encouragement. We were motivated to do our best each day.
While we were not treated fairly in Winston-Salem NC, we were encouraged by our parents and love providers to treat everyone fairly. We did not just talk about The Golden Rule, we practiced it.
Segregation taught us to be resilient and prideful. We, as Black kids, thought we could do anything we wanted to do and be anything we wanted to be.
Why? Because we had role models in all professions and walks of life. Yes! We had men and women in our community who were successful and were trailblazers. We were mentored and nurtured by the best.
Now if we skip to 2020 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, where do we stand?
That is a complicated question with many answers. Yes, we as African Americans are positioned better than we were, although some would argue this point; but the devil is in the details.
Certainly, we do not have to go through as many iterations as in the past. And yes, we can go to the other side of town now. Our schools are made up racially, much different than they were during my childhood. There are significant opportunities for men and women, who are Black like me. Many of the roadblocks and detours have been removed. We are not as shackled by our skin color. We can vote without paying a poll tax, even though we pay a daily skin tax because of our color.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 will always be a defining moment in our nation’s history. Yet, we know as African Americans that we live in some dangerous times now.
We have not arrived. In fact, we are still evolving. I believe our best days are in front of us. The recent racial unrest has made us realize we can do better, and we must do better.
The disparities we confront now must improve. We can no longer spend billions of dollars in America’s economy and only receive a small percentage of its goods and services. There are almost 50 million Black people in this country.
Nielsen, a company that provides insights and information about the habits of consumers did a study regarding Black buying power. Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s senior vice president of community alliances and consumer engagement said: “At 47.8 million strong and a buying power that’s on par with many countries’ gross domestic products, African Americans continue to outpace spending nationally.”
With this type of spending, we must have a better quality of life. Second class citizenship can not be an option or accepted.
Our civil rights should not be compromised or marginalized. When they are, our laws become meaningless.
That cannot be.