This letter to the editor was a bit long for this week's print edition, so we decided to run it in full here on Pith due to its timeliness. — S.C.
To the editor,
It goes without saying that I am 100 percent grateful to be able to celebrate one of the top three pieces of legislation to be passed in the history of the United States, that being the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Without this piece of important policy, lord knows where I and countless others would be. How our lives would be drastically changed.
I must also recognize how inherently insane and humanly disrespectful it was to have to have a policy passed in this “free” country to allow African Americans our God-given and humane rights of freedom as men and women. It is true that the Civil Rights Act was not a policy to let African Americans come to realize the freedoms we have in the sovereign country, but more to legislate to white Americans — mainly depicted as Southerners, but all over the country — that the law of the land protects African Americans and affords them "God-given" rights and freedoms. Think about that. Let that soak in. Our country had to legislate the innate freedoms that the Founding Fathers built this republic on. (Don’t overthink it — I love the country I live in, and wouldn't want to live anywhere else.)
I salute those congresspeople brave enough to vote yes. I tip my hat even to those in the federal government that had to be strong-armed by President Johnson to vote yes or else. I will even give a nod of appreciation to President Lyndon Johnson, who (according to the history books, the taped conversations and through other verified sources) begrudgingly moved this Bill forward, strong-armed the votes and got the vote passed by any means necessary. I say that because HISTORY shows us that throughout his tenure as President LBJ did NOT have an open ear to Dr. King Jr. and the plight of the Civil Rights Movement. But this legislation needed to be passed because during his Presidency the world was seeing the internal damnation of the "free" American society. The world was watching the American South and it was too much too bear.
I am grateful to be standing here on the shoulders of those who fought to see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. Not only was it Dr. King Jr., the NAACP and SNCC, but also the Black Panther Party for Freedom, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, John Seigenthaler, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, James Baldwin, the Labor (Union) Movement and many others. (Let me reiterate: the LABOR MOVEMENT, who funded and put boots on the ground for the movement and for the community's empowerment.)
This single piece of legislation opened many new doors for communities of color that had been shut previously.
Yet I say we have a long way to go. In my opinion the sole tragedy around the Civil Rights Act of 1964, like other policies that are to be GREAT equalizers or incubators for social and economic change, is that if there are no SERIOUS and SUSTAINABLE monetary resources behind them they tend to fizzle, stagnate and fall short of the intended achievement. Such was the problem with the Civil Rights Act and many other social-justice pieces of legislation that have been passed. There has been set forth little-to-marginal funding to make certain these programs are successful. Research the funding of the 1964 Act, and you will see that these programs never received adequate funding. Programs of this magnitude need money. LONG money. Money that will keep these programs more than just sustainable but thriving for decades. If instead of funding a 10+-year war in Vietnam, President LBJ had allocated that money from Congress to better assist African American owned businesses, better fund programs for education in the black community, better fund housing programs (not Section 8), better fund economic incentives that deal with workforce development in communities of color, we would have a different shaping of this country. We would have a different shaping of the community the Bill was intended to assist.
Policies that aid in social and economic justice ARE WANTED and NEEDED. Yet they do little than to serve as appeasement tactics if there is no allocation and implementation of real money behind them. To put it in a local Nashville prospective, the Barnes Housing Trust is a GREAT fund that has been set up to help those who have housing needs. But the trust only has been given $3 million dollars. This is barely a drop in the bucket to battle the growing concerns and issues facing housing in Nashville. The city of Austin, Texas, has a housing trust with $60 Million! Yes — $60 million. From city bonds that the city council voted YES on. They are a city with just about the same functional makeup as Nashville. This is the type of money Rev. Barnes' Housing Trust needs to be EFFECTIVE and SUSTAINABLE.
In closing, we all need to take a 10-minute debrief and reflect on the legacy, the history and the effects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a great piece of policy that has shaped our society in one form or another. We also must dig deep to understand that we have yet a long way to go. The way we view policy needs to be more about nuts, bolts and adequate funding, rather than the emotions of a feel-good policy. We all should be working to make our country, our state, our city, our immediate community better for ALL Americans, despite race, class or gender. It’s up to us to not just depend on government to willfully do the right things, but to organize and demand they do.
We cannot go back to willfully segregating our communities, schools, businesses through new-age political progressivism or conservatism. We must not go backwards in a battle of ideological tug of war. We must be braver as Americans than that. We must be braver as human family than to sink back to the levels of segregation in these institutions. Let’s have true courage and desegregate our physical church institutions. Let the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 serve as a gauge of what was before, what came after and what we must achieve in the future. A free, just and equitable America for all.
Peace and Blessings.