Continuing to Make Strides: 50 Years Post the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Imagine walking into a nice, clean, and new public bathroom or public school; imagine being treated superior to other races and ethnicities, having exclusive seating on public buses and trains.  Now imagine walking into a “colored only” dilapidated public bathroom or segregated public school, or even imagine being treated inferior because of the color of your skin, being forced to sit at the back of the bus because of the color of your skin.  For almost a century, White Americans used the nice public bathrooms, had the new textbooks in their public schools, and were treated superior to African Americans and other underrepresented minorities.  African Americans were treated like second class citizens, denied basic civil rights.  They were denied equal access to public accommodations and forced to attend inferior segregated schools. 

When the stakes became too high, Congress attempted to place African Americans on an equal playing field with their White counterparts. The reconstruction era would, among other things, afford African Americans the right to vote and attempted to prevent racial segregation in public accommodations.  However, those efforts towards equality were undermined by the Jim Crow laws of the south and the “Separate but Equal” doctrine that was legitimized in the nationally known Plessy v. Ferguson decision.  By the early 1900s, there were poll taxes, property qualifications and violence going on throughout the country to not only disenfranchise African American voters but to discourage them from joining political organizations and attending school. 

It took numerous protests, landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, the deaths of people such as Emmett Till and Medgar Wiley Evers, for citizens across the nation to realize no person, no matter their race should be inferior to another.  After hundreds of African Americans were arrested, beaten, and even killed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA of ’64) was passed.  The CRA of ‘64 gave African Americans and other underrepresented minorities a newfound view of equality and justice.  The CRA of ’64 outlawed segregation in public accommodations and the Jim Crow laws that once ruled the south and even some northern states were also outlawed. 

As we commemorate the 50th year since the passing of the CRA of ’64, not only people of color but women as well have gained unprecedented access to politics, corporate America, higher education, housing, and more.  While unparalleled strides have been made since the passing of the CRA of ’64, African Americans are still not on an equal playing field with their White counterparts.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, African Americans incomes have risen and poverty rates have declined, however, we still fall ten, twenty, fifty percent below Whites average family income, employment rate, and college graduation passage.  

50 years ago, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stood alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., Congressman John Lewis, and other civil rights icons to redefine equality and economic justice for African Americans and other underrepresented minorities.  Today, as we look at the great strides that have been made in the last five decades, the statistics are a constant reminder that there is still great work to be done.  As a nation, we have come a long way from the Jim Crow era and segregated schools.  However, we must continue fighting for the rights of African Americans and other underrepresented minorities until we are not statistically below Whites, but statistically equivalent.

 

Algernon Austin, The Unfinished March, an Overview, Economic Policy Institute (June 18, 2013).