Wednesday, July 2, 2014 marks the 50th Anniversary signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which - simply put - is the grandfather of voting rights, women's rights, GLBT rights, and immigration reform. The CRA outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities and women, and ended unequal application of voter registration requirements as well as racial segregation in schools and in accommodations.
Congressman Cedric Richmond will join city leaders and the summer camp children of Tambourine and Fan Wednesday, July 2 at noon on the steps of the Louisiana Supreme Court to ring the freedom bells. A reception will follow in the LSC's Museum.
President John Kennedy's call for civil rights legislation was a direct result of a series of boycotts, protests, beatings, pickets, and sit-ins in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama, across Mississippi, in New Orleans and in other Southern cities. It was President Lyndon Johnson who made the legislation's passage an early priority for his administration. After changing public opinion outside the Deep South paved the way for passage in the House of Representatives, Senators Everett Dirksen, Thomas Kuchel, Mike Mansfield and Hubert Humphrey led the charge in the U.S. Senate.
Some historians say that the inhumane treatment of thousands of African-descended people who came to America and New Orleans as slaves three hundred or more years ago set the stage for all future civil rights actions. After the Emancipation Proclamation created a greater economic role for African-Americans in U.S. society, the drum beat for civil rights became stronger.
Local African-American church leaders (Rev. A.L. Davis, Rev. Avery Alexander, Rev. Skip Alexander, Rev. Uptown, Rev. Morris Burrell, Rev. Lawrence Landrum), and the formation of the NAACP and the Urban League with their leadership Dr. Hank Braden, Arthur Chapital, and A.P. Tureaud also drove the message. Such white liberals as Rosa Keller, Helen Mervis, Ben Smith and Jim Pate, or those religious individuals with strong convictions such as Father Louis J. Twomey and his student Moon Landrieu whose training ran counter to segregation, also joined in. But it was the young people, the protest generation - black and white - who really drove the freedom train.
In New Orleans they number too many to remember all but include Rudy Lombard, Jerome Smith, Matt Suarez, Dodie Smith-Simmons, Claude Reese, Dave Dennis, Joyce Taylor, Lois Dejean, Doris Castle and her sister Oretha Castle- Haley, Richard Haley, Corinne Barnwell, and Don Hubbard, Young smart fiesty lawyers such as Dutch Morial, Lolis Elie, and Revius Ortique played a vital role. Some people like Diana Bajoie and Henry Julien were too young to ride the Freedom buses but watched from the sidelines.
Tomorrow's anniversary is also important for America's youth who often take today's freedoms and liberty for granted. Whether citizens attend Wednesday's bell-ringing or remember the 50th Anniversary in their own way, it is a day that should be remembered by all.
Other civil rights activities for consideration include "Through the Civil Rights Lens" photo and video exhibit at the National Park Service's Visitor Information Center, 916 N. Peters, now through August 28th, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; "Music of the Movement" performance and panel discussion, Saturday, July 5, 2 p.m. at the U.S. Mint; and "Songs of the Struggle" Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues, Sunday, July 6, 1 p.m. A Civil Rights Guided Tour is available through Judy Bajoie at Toursbyjudy.com. Civil Rights panel discussions will also be available for viewing online and through the Orleans Parish School Board on Cox Channel 8. For more historical or other information visit Liberty'64.com.
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