Rep. John Lewis Commemorates 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act
"Today this nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon Johnson. Over the years it, along with the Voting Rights Act, has been hailed by many legal historians as one of the most transformative pieces of legislation ever passed by the U.S. Congress.
"This Civil Rights Act-- the result of a bi-partisan effort by members of Congress and the actions of two presidents-- ended legalized racial discrimination in public places and in the workplace based on race, gender, and religion and has been extended to include the disabled, seniors and other classes of Americans. This bi-partisan effort set the stage for the kind of America we live in today, a more fair and inclusive democracy than it has ever been before.
"But it took more than legislative power to get this act passed. It did not happen before hundreds and thousands of people were arrested during non-violent protests, beaten, jailed, and many were even killed before this moral injustice was addressed by our society. Four little girls died after a church was bombed in Birmingham, churches across the South were burned to the ground, synagogues were bombed, Medgar Evers was gunned down in his driveway in Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer was beaten, three civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi, hundreds were jailed during the Freedom Rides and thousands were jailed during the sit-ins in Nashville, Greensboro and all across the country.
"We are still battling forces that want to turn back the clock--that want to nullify the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. They want to make it harder and more difficult for people to participate in our democracy and reserve those privileges for a wealthy few. We still live in a society where the problems of separation and division, of hate, violence and hostility still exist. We must make it plain through our activism today that we as a people will not go back; we want to move forward to make this a democracy based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.
"On this day, we can reflect on the lives and the sacrifice of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and the bi-partisan leadership that made the passage of this act possible. The story of their action helps reveal the work we still must do and how we must do it. We all need to do our part, to push and pull together, to make a difference in our society. Democracy is not a state; it is an act. We must all stay in the continuing struggle to create a Beloved Community, a nation and a world society at peace with itself."