Guest column/Civil Rights Act of 1964 remains important

One of the most significant, prestigious and major pieces of legislation passed by Congress during the 20th century was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President John F. Kennedy proposed the legislation. He was assassinated before the bill could be enacted, but President Lyndon Johnson pushed it through Congress and signed it into law on July 2, 1964.

The legislation was passed by Congress and outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, handicap or national origin in public accommodations, including restaurants, motels, hotels and theaters.

The civil rights movement was the social, legal and political movement that took place in the 1950s and 1960s, with the intent of ending discrimination against African-Americans across the United States. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision was an enormous victory for the old-line civil rights organizations like the NAACP, and had a critical psychological impact on millions of Americans.

In 1955, a year later, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, and triggered the Montgomery bus boycott, which thrust Martin Luther King Jr. into a leadership role and made him a national figure.

In 1957, the Little Rock Nine captured the national spotlight in their effort to integrate Central High School in Arkansas, and the Freedom Riders and sit-in movement gained attention in 1960 and 1961. Thousands of Americans, white and black, were demonstrating across the south in an effort to end segregation in stores, restaurants, hotels, libraries and all public places.

Fair housing and equal employment opportunities also were major concerns. Voter registration drives gained traction throughout the south, particularly in Mississippi.

Tactics ranged from legal and judicial action to picketing, marches, demonstrations, voter registration drives and various forms of civil disobedience. Thousands of civil rights demonstrators were arrested, and hundreds were beaten. Scores of churches and homes were dynamited, and a number of activists were murdered, among them King, Medger Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, the Rev. George Lee, Lamar Smith, Herbert Lee, Jimmie Lee Jackson and Vernon Dahmer.

The televised brutality infuriated millions of Americans, who put tremendous pressure on Congress and the White House to pass civil rights legislation.

Johnson’s presidency was of critical importance. A Texan who grew up in poverty and who was well aware of the cruelty of discrimination, Johnson used his considerable political skills to push through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also appointed a number of judges, including Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

Other factors in the success of the movement included a strong belief in the integrity and ability of the leaders.

While thousands of whites supported civil rights, the movement grew out of and was solidly anchored in, black institutions and organizations, particularly the black churches, black colleges and the black civil rights organizations.

Despite the great turmoil of grief, mistreatment and sadness, and being ostracized, criticized, separated from our families and burned and killed, we still rise. Thousands of us have died and were murdered for the cause.

African-Americans are strong, intelligent people, who have endured hardness as good soldiers, and to the present are continuing to mount up like wings of an eagle. We are holding fast where liberty and Christ have made us free. And, we will not be tangled again with the yoke of bondage. It is through God that we live, move and have our being.

We must leave a trail for others. There are a lot of miles that we must go before we sleep — and keeping the faith is everything, because the struggle is far from over.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, keep us forever in thy path, we pray.

(Wiggins is the president of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus.)

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