The Golden Jubilee of the Civil Rights Act

In February 2014—Black History Month—we celebrate The Golden Jubilee of the Civil Rights Act. Individuals, groups and organizations throughout the country will host a variety of activities to celebrate the continuing significance of the Act passed 50 years ago and the significant contributions African Americans have made throughout the history of the United States.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was landmark legislation created to improve quality of life for African Americans and other minority groups in the United States. Specifically, the legislation outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, national, ethnic and religious minorities, and women, in public accommodations, employment, and federally funded programs.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill on July 2, 1964, saying:

"We believe that all men are created equal—yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain inalienable rights. We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty—yet millions are being deprived of those blessings, not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skins.

The reasons are deeply embedded in history and tradition and the nature of man. We can understand without rancor or hatred how all this happens. But it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic, forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And the law I sign tonight forbids it."

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson (Washington State), second from right, looked on. Magnuson was instrumental in passing Title II of the Act, which outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations such as hotels, restaurants, transportation facilities, and theaters.

Significance of the past, hope for the future
Progress has been made to improve the quality of life for African Americans and other minority groups in the United States. The fact that Barack Obama is serving his second term as President of the United States says a lot about changing attitudes. But we still have a long, long way to go. Three friends offered these remarks:

The Race and Social Justice Initiative is a citywide effort to eliminate racial disparities and achieve racial equity in Seattle.

"I turned 60 years old in 2013 and recognize how much different my life has been from my father's because of the leadership and action that lead to the Civil Rights Act. As a result of opportunity it created, I now work at the City in a job where I stand on those shoulders and build on that life changing event. In this powerful moment of reflection, I realize that to undo the sticky institutionalized residue of U.S. Apartheid that perpetuates racial inequity to this day, I must also envision and create space for those who will come after me to finish this work."—Darlene Flynn

"Our country has made real progress since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964; however, I have been dismayed by the Supreme Court's recent decisions on Citizens United and the Voting Rights Act. I am distressed to see that the cost of a university education has left thousands of students with crippling debt, in a depressed economy. And the poisonous intrusion of money into our political process is threatening to undermine the foundation of our democracy. We must secure the knowledge, training and commitment to re-engage our citizens and expand the progress that so many black people, and their allies, fought so hard to achieve."—Georgiana Arnold

"I remember the effort that the Southern Senators waged to defeat the passage of the proposed Civil Rights Act by mounting the longest filibuster in U.S. history—534 hours! So, after 50 years, we have the Tea Party and Fox News, which despise and disrespect President Obama every day; the tragedy of the murder of Trayvon Martin; double-digit unemployment in the ‘hood; still more blacks in prison than in college; and the "n" word as a term of endearment. The crime remains racism and ignorance, and apparently there is no law for that!"—Garry Owens

The process toward racial equity and social justice must continue to evolve and involve each and every one of us. My hope is that evidence of disparities, of every kind, and on any level, will be eliminated. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently stated in his 1968 "I Have a Dream" speech:

"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

I believe racial equity is possible. Join me in learning more:

Be sure to check Seattle-area event calendars for Black History Month activities that highlight the Civil Rights Act Jubilee. Also, enjoy this month’s Black History Month word scramble.

Contributor Karen Winston discusses the origin of  the African American Elders Program and why it's important to help vulnerable older adults maintain independence in their homes for as long as possible.

Karen Winston is a planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County. Among many responsibilities, she led development of the agency's Area Plan on Aging. Karen worked with Seattle Mayor Norman B. Rice to develop the African American Elders Program and the Mayor's Council on African American Elders. In 2012, she created Hope for the Heart of the Community, a digital story about that work.