Thursday, July 03, 2014

Fifty years and one day ago

I am about to sign into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I want to take this occasion to talk to you about what that law means to every American.

One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom - not only for political independence, but for personal liberty - not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men.

That struggle was a turning point in our history. Today in far corners of distant continents, the ideals of those American patriots still shape the struggles of men who hunger for freedom.

This is a proud triumph. Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning. From the minutemen at Concord to the soldiers in Vietnam, each generation has been equal to that trust.

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.

We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment.

We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those 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 skin.

The reasons are deeply embedded in history and tradition and the nature of man. We can understand - without rancor or hatred - how this all happened.

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 will sign tonight forbids it.

-- President Lyndon Baines Johnson (7.2.1964).  And how we have progressed in the decades since.

Every time the federal government tried to solve the problem of minority voter disenfranchisement, Southern jurisdictions found new ways to resist. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 attempted to put some new protections in place, but these too were ineffective. The following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, which included Section 5. It was widely regarded as the most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever.

It made jurisdictions with a history of discriminating against minority voters demonstrate to the federal government that they weren’t undermining the voting rights of blacks with any new voting changes — anything from changing polling locations, to the ways jurisdictions were drawn, changing election dates, etc. However, in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Section 5, and some of the jurisdictions previously under Section 5 (such as Texas) immediately announced that they intended to implement voting restrictions (like voter ID laws) that had been blocked up until that point.

-- Nicholas Espiritu, staff attorney, National Immigration Law Center

Much more here.

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