When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed the United States Congress, no doubt many who voted in favor of the bill never envisioned the consequences of its passage. Never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined the advancements the bill would afford women, immigrants (illegal or otherwise), gays, and most certainly blacks. Surely, very few if any foresaw that fifty years later America would have its first black President and first black US Attorney General. Hence, the significance of the above referenced scripture. Because if we examine the recent assaults on several of the protections afforded by the legislation, we see a section of the country gradually brought into bondage by that which it is overcome, power.
You see, the very thing The Civil Rights Act of 1964 promised those of muted voice, power, is now the very thing many are in fear of losing and are therefore making every attempt to render moot the most crucial protections of the legislation. History if nothing else shows that man is more willing to share power when it poses no serious threat to his own. However, when the sharing of power becomes a threat man is not always as eager to share or relinquish his power. Think about it, the Civil War epitomized both sides of the power issue. For confederates, emancipation of slaves meant they (confederates) would no longer enjoy the power and life of leisure that slavery afforded and therefore were willing to defend to the death the right to hold on to that power. For those in the north however, whose power had no correlation to slavery and therefore felt no threat, defending its (slavery) abolition was a moral issue.
In order to achieve passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Johnson not unlike President Lincoln with the 13th Amendment relied heavily on the votes of the rival party for passage of the bill. Although there exist no empirical evidence to support this theory, there were no doubt some of the opposing party who voted in favor of the bill because of some quid pro quo with President Johnson more so than out of any fervent belief in the bill itself. The point being again that no threat to power arose to impede the sharing of power. Fast-forward to present day America and we find those in power operating from the Monday morning armchair of the survivalist…brought into bondage by that which he is overcome, power.
At its core, the Civil Rights Act by law eliminated discrimination based on color, religion, sex, national origin and race. In addition, and most importantly for purposes of this discussion the law did away with discriminatory voter registration requirements. With more than thirty states passing restrictive voter ID laws over the past few years in addition to last year’s SCOTUS 5-4 decision to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one does not have to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure out what is going on. The rules for sharing power have changed particularly since those rules now threaten to render moot the power of those accustomed to welding said power for their own advancement. As a result, as previously mentioned, many statehouses across the country have passed restrictive voter ID laws which target in large part the voting rights of the very people the Civil Rights Act targeted for protection, blacks.
Not surprisingly, these voter suppression efforts are concentrated in republican lead statehouses and intensified with the election of President Obama. Furthermore, attacks on women’s rights to control their own bodies relative to reproductive issues, stand your ground laws, the failure of Congress to pass sensible gun legislation, denial of livable wages and efforts to deny healthcare to Americans, again are indicative of an emerging pattern. Each of the aforementioned issues effect as a majority low income Americans, mainly blacks. Stand your ground laws result in a disproportionate number of black victims and, exonerated white defendants. Denial of affordable healthcare, access to birth control, abortions, and livable wages disproportionately affect minority/lower income women thereby increasing economic hardships and the odds against realizing the American Dream…another threat to power.
Finally, the light shines on the portion of the bill that symbolizes its role within society and that is the word ‘Civil’. The word civil indicates that regardless of personal beliefs citizens display a tolerance (civility) toward fairness in society and recognize that all men have equal protection under the law. Unfortunately, civility cannot be legislated. Respect for the humanity of others does not exist as a subsection of a House Resolution or within the bylaws of a charter. The election of President Obama revealed that when threatened with extinction a species will use any arrow in its survivalist quiver to hold on to power and ensure its survival. Comments never uttered to or about a president from the floor of Congress to the floors of town hall meetings, cable news shows, and right wing radio permeate the airwaves as the ‘new normal’ of incivility without so much as a whisper of reprimand from so-called republican leaders. To the contrary, the most incendiary comments spew from elected representatives who tell the President, “You lie,” or insinuate that Attorney General Holder be in jail, others even going so far as to say they can’t stand to be near the President or to even look at him.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 fifty years later, and were it not for the bill’s existence one would never know from our behavior that America ever attempted to address societal fairness and equality. Quite frankly, “There is nothing civil about it.”
~~~ Jay Arrington, Featured Writer
Maryland Daily Examiner
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