We Shall Overcome

July 02, 2008

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, James Farmer

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Most people today can go wherever they want, work wherever they want, shop and eat wherever they like, or date and marry whomever they choose. Struggles to attain these and other basic rights are thought by some to be stories for a U.S. history class or old films. Even while I was growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I experienced only the remnants of this kind of overt discrimination in my daily life. But it is because of groundbreaking legislation that so many of these rights are protected and can now be taken for granted.

During his signing of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson shook hands with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (United Press International/ File 1964)

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the legislation outlawing discrimination in public accommodations, public schools, health care facilities, government, and employment. Originally introduced by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 as a means to combat racial injustice and indignity, the legislation was amended to include protections for women. One of its best-known features, Title VII, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, and national origin and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce this law.

Rather than being a historical footnote, the Civil Rights Act is at the core of civil rights legislation and judicial decisions to this day. AAUW supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 2831), an attempt to correct the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company that severely limits the ability of victims of pay discrimination to exercise their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legislation passed the House but failed to pass a test vote in the Senate earlier this year. And just last week, the Supreme Court agreed to review a case involving pregnancy leave taken before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII, was enacted.

I realize that discrimination in pay, disparities in educational achievement for minorities and low-income children, and other inequities were not eradicated with the passage of this law. There is still much to be done, but it gives me hope that my child will always know a world where he can go wherever he wants, work wherever he wants, shop and eat wherever he likes, or date and marry whomever he chooses.

By:   |   July 02, 2008

1 Comment

  1. Great post- thank you. We owe a debt to those who came before us as defenders of inclusion in society and education regardless of race, gender, religion, and national origin. The rights and privileges that those of us in the academy enjoy as a result of their committment provides us with a chance to create the stepping stones that young academics and students need to reach the ideal world that we hope for for our children. As you mention, this is a world with salary and achievement equity, equal rates of tenure and promotion for faculty, university faculties, students, and adminstrations with numbers of women, lesbians, gays, races, ethnic groups, different physical abilities, and nationalities that represent our population. As a Mom, I, too have hope that my kids will be part of this world, and as a Professor, I have a chance to work in and beyond my U to to develop a culture, in and out fo the classroom, of broad and deep inclusion. Thanks again for a thoughtful piece.

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