Saturday, July 3, 2004

Holiday coincides with civil rights milestone

This Friday, July 2, 2004, marked the 40th anniversary of the signing by President Lyndon Johnson, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s hard for me to imagine a time when women were denied employment on the basis of their sex, but writer Ellen Goodman does. “Fresh out of college in 1963, I got my first job at Newsweek magazine,” she wrote in a recent syndicated column. “In those days, women were hired as researchers and men were hired as writers … and that was that.”

The column tells the story of how “sex” became added to a list of protected categories guaranteed nondiscrimination by the Civil Rights Act’s Title VIII. It also informs readers that discrimination in the workplace was legal prior to this landmark legislation’s passage.

It was also legal to deny people access to public accommodations, solely on the basis of race. But Title II put an end to that, or at least to its sanction under law.

Title II, § 201. (a) states that “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”

We have clearly come a long way. Today, it’s accepted by the majority of society that race and sex are no barriers to advancement.

Does prejudice still exist? Clearly it still does, as witnessed in the circulation of anonymous hate mail earlier this year, which targeted members of the Clearlake community. It was witnessed in flyers promoting a belief in racial supremacy – again, circulated anonymously.

Groups promoting bigotry exist in our midst, but their actions are furtive and secret. Could it be that they fear the brilliant light of disclosure because they know how untenable their beliefs truly are? No sane person can believe that he or she is superior by virtue of race or gender. These differences are truly minor from a genetic standpoint, and we are all a lot more similar than these people would like to believe.

The continued strong existence of the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP attests to our desire to protect our civil liberties. It bespeaks, too, our ability to express opposition to those in power – a liberty that is something to be celebrated and cherished.

The upsurges of patriotism that accompany federal holidays reveal an abiding love for our country and its traditions. But the Independence Day holiday will be a little more special this year, given its proximity to this milestone anniversary. Let’s all give a thought to the protections our nation has guaranteed, and reflect on how we can best preserve those strengths.

Published July 3, 2004 in the Clear Lake Observer American