Wednesday, July 02, 2014

I Say a Little Prayer

This is the 50th anniversary of the day President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This bill made it illegal to discriminate based "on race, color, religion, sex or national origin." It outlawed institutional segregation. It was a glorious moment for LBJ. A President whose legacy is often thought of as sad because of the tragedy of Vietnam, he deserves all the praise he's receiving posthumously for making this happen.

He made it happen, in large part, by relentlessly and shamelessly invoking President Kennedy's memory. It was JFK who introduced the bill, who wanted the bill, and who faced an uphill battle in Congress at the time of his death. But in 1964, America was still reeling with grief and shame over Kennedy's assassination, and Johnson was savvy enough to tap into that. He used to say, "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy."

In addition to the nightmare in Dallas, America had endured the horror of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham. An act of almost incomprehensible ugliness, white supremacists bombed a black church and killed four little girls in the fall of 1963. This domestic terrorism had a huge impact on the Kennedy brothers. I haven't read extensively about Johnson but, as sitting Vice President at the time it occurred and as a Southerner, I'm sure it touched him deeply, as well.

So today, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the law that shows our government at its best, I'm going to remember LBJ, JFK, Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole and Denise in my prayers. This bill was, literally, drenched in blood, sweat and tears.

1 comment:

  1. I have a powerful documentary film that I show my students when we get to the civil rights movement--the segment about the church bombing and the ages of the girls always makes my students gasp. Just because it happened well before my students were born, when they can identify with the ages of those involved, it makes it more real to them. Which says a lot in this day and age.


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