Black leaders commemorate 60th anniversary of Civil Rights Act

Leading Black voices commemorated the 60th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act on Tuesday by highlighting the ongoing fight to achieve equality and urging Black Americans to vote in the upcoming election.

“History is a relay race. The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement carried the baton, and through their organizing, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law 60 years ago,” Vice President Harris posted on the social platform X. “Now, they have passed the baton to us, and we will continue the fight for the promise of America.”

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964. The law prohibited discrimination in public places, called for school integration and outlawed employment discrimination. The act also dismantled Jim Crow laws, including the “separate but equal” doctrine that had been upheld in the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.

“Americans of every race and color have died in battle to protect our freedom. Americans of every race and color have worked to build a nation of widening opportunities. Now our generation of Americans has been called on to continue the unending search for justice within our own borders,” Johnson said in his address, just moments before he signed the historic legislation into law.

The lead-up to the passage of the Act included the assassination of Medgar Evers, a field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi, by white supremacists; the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the largest demonstration for civil rights at that time; and the white supremacist-led bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which killed four young Black girls.

As he signed the legislation, Johnson was surrounded by major figures of the Civil Rights Movement including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., NAACP leaders Roy Wilkins and Clarence Maurice Mitchell Jr., and the Urban League president Whitney M. Young Jr.

Black politicians and advocates of today are warning that 60 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, civil rights are still being stripped away.

“As we commemorate this milestone achievement, we are faced with the unfortunate reality that many of our gains and hard-won civil rights are under threat once again,” Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network, said in a statement.

“Whether it’s voting rights, access to quality education, reproductive rights, equal opportunity in the workforce, LGBTQ+ rights, or simply put – equality across the board – everything is on the line at this pivotal moment including Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) as illustrated by the case of Fearless Fund – the first case where a company was sued for exercising DEI by giving grants to women of color,” he added.

Dozens of states have enacted legislation eliminating DEI initiatives, as have certain parts of the federal government, and many are still reeling from the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action last year.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed 60 years ago today. Since then, it has come under attack from a radical Supreme Court,” Martin Luther King III posted on X. “What we do this year will determine decades of voting and civil rights. Those are the stakes. Act accordingly.”

Ben Crump, who Sharpton has nicknamed Black America’s attorney, said that though the act was a “historic step toward equality,” more still needs to be done.

“Yet our fight for justice continues. We must address ongoing discrimination & disparities and work tirelessly to achieve true equality for all,” Crump wrote on X.

Bernice King echoed a similar sentiment in Tuesday comments, reflecting on the words of her mother, Coretta Scott King.

“Our work for civil rights is not done,” Bernice King wrote on X.

“We must be focused, as some legislators persist in enacting policies and laws that reflect digression instead of progress,” she added. “We must remain diligent, due to efforts to negate history and even omit lessons on why the Act was needed. These unjust efforts demonstrate a refusal to learn from history and curtail injustice.”

Sharpton added that Tuesday’s anniversary should be a call to action from all to recommit to achieving equality for all.

“Today’s anniversary of signage of the Civil Rights Act must serve as a clarion call to protect the sacrifices of the past and continue fighting for the future we wish to achieve,” Sharpton said. “Our children and their children cannot inherit a country with fewer rights than we had. We stand at an inflection point, and what we do here today will determine what kind of society we leave for generations to come.”

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