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Exercising Power

The Dallas Examiner | 7/7/2014, 1:34 p.m.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – a moment that impacted ...
The Dallas Examiner Logo Photo by Robyn H. Jimenez

The Dallas Examiner

This week marks the 50th anniversary of passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – a moment that impacted every corner of America. Yet, many Americans do not know the history of the passage of this legislation that significantly changed our country and the lives of African Americans.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson was considered by many to be a political genius. He was able to use his political power and persuasiveness to get Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the book Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro, he describes in detail how Johnson was able to get Congress to pass this legislation. In 1964, we had a very conservative Congress and President John F. Kennedy had not been able to make progress in passing civil rights legislation.

When Johnson was sworn in as president of the United States, advisors to Johnson told him not to make civil rights a priority in his speech to the Joint Session. In fact they advised him not to mention civil rights at all in his speech to Congress on Nov. 27, 1963 – just five days after the assassination of Kennedy.

Johnson’s reply to his advisors was, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

In his speech he did identify civil rights as his top priority. He told the senators and representatives what his first task was, and had not accepted the advice given him.

In his speech he said:

“First, no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long. We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for 100 years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.”

Johnson had a political history of opposing civil rights when he was a senator. However, once he was president he exercised his power to pass strong legislation.

He worked tirelessly and on July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was enacted. It is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation in the United States that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The act ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public.

It has been 50 years since passage of the Civil Rights Act and there still are vestiges of discrimination.

We encourage our elected officials in Texas to exercise their power as Johnson did and do the right thing. The Civil Rights Act has not eliminated all forms of discrimination. Institutional racism prevents equal opportunities for minorities. Policies, practices and procedures keep minority businesses from growing.

Schools in minority areas of town are failing more than other schools. Black children graduate without being college-ready, leaving them less likely to thrive in the career of their choice.

Many predominantly minority neighborhoods go without proper street maintenance, wooden utility poles lean dangerously over homes and streets, pedestrians have no sidewalks or sidewalks end causing students, mothers with baby strollers, and disabled individuals on scooters to have to walk/ride in the street.

Some areas of town still have limited quality grocery stores. African Americans are being incarcerated at a higher rate than White Americans committing the same crimes.

In many instances, the clock is going back and advances made in the area of civil rights are being lost. The reality is much like an ocean; on the surface, progress keeps marching forward. But if you look deep, many minorities are still being pulled down by the current – and while some are blessed enough to find their way to the surface, others are still drowning or lost at sea.

The Civil Rights Act was enacted for all Americans – not just to prevent overt discrimination, but to allow everyone the same opportunities, regardless of nationality, race, skin color or the side of town they live, work or operate their business. We depend on our political officials to enforce and act upon this legislation. But it is up to us, the citizens, to hold them accountable for doing so, through our votes that put them in office and our voices after they are seated.

Be part of the conversation. Send your emails to mbelt@dallasexaminer.com.