I can vividly remember the moment, 50 years ago today, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.
His speech that day was a call to action at a time when our nation was deeply divided – and his words resonate even today.
“I urge every public official, every religious leader, every business and professional man, every workingman, every housewife – I urge every American – to join in this effort to bring justice and hope to all our people – and to bring peace to our land,” Johnson said.
On this day, let us remember that the march for justice is not over.
Our nation is again deeply divided. And there are many who continue to suffer because of deeply embedded bigotry and hate.
In our work, we see discrimination every day.
We see it in schools that are starved of the resources they need to educate impoverished children.
We see it in jails filled with young African Americans.
We see it in laws designed to chill minority voting.
We see ongoing discrimination against LGBT people, immigrants, women, children with disabilities, and others.
And we’re seeing a disturbing backlash to our nation’s changing demographics. It’s evident not only in the extreme elements of the Tea Party but in the dramatic rise of hate groups and antigovernment militias that have surged since President Obama was elected.
Seven years after it was enacted, we formed the Southern Poverty Law Center to pursue cases that would translate the spirit and intent of the Civil Rights Act into action, to ensure its promise of equality becomes a reality for all.
Since that time, we’ve won many landmark cases, including those that helped dismantle Jim Crow segregation. But, as I look around today, I’m alarmed to see the many ways our country is backtracking.
On this special day, let’s honor the many people whose courage and sacrifice made the Civil Rights Act possible. But let’s also recommit ourselves to the challenges of today – and tomorrow.
We’re in another time of testing. We must pull together to continue the march for justice in the face of those who want to turn back the clock. We must all do our part to “bring justice and hope to all our people.”
Together, we can make a difference.