Guest Author - Lorraine E. Chavis
The civil rights laws that gave US citizens the right to vote, to go to school and to work in safe conditions were created, developed and worked into the constitution by the government. Constitutional rights are one aspect of a law. The people are the other aspect of a law. If the people donít rally behind the law and work to enforce it then the law is not worth the paper it is written on. There is more to passing a law then the decree. It takes the blood, sweat and tears of implementation and that is the civil rightsí movement in a nutshell.
Blacks thought that The Civil Rights Act of 1957 would make it easier, but the intimidation tactics continued. Then they though that The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would help blacks to vote but neither law could do anything by itself. The problem wasnít in the laws it was in the proper enforcement of the laws. That was a different story. So once the laws were passed they needed to be enforced properly, but since the local municipalities wouldnít enforce the laws, regular citizens had to.
Both acts were a synergy of sorts. The 1957 act gave all the right to vote regardless of race, religionÖ and the 1964 act made it illegal for public institutions to discriminate based on race... Many risked their lives to go register people to vote, to go sit in segregated restaurants, even to get library cards because this is what it took to get people to follow the law.
Many leaders in the civil rightsí movement recognized the need to go out and not only rally support for the movement, but also to organize and to mobilize blacks who were intimidated to go out and vote, sit-in and do whatever it took to implement the civil rights laws. They did this through meetings, protests and sit-ins. They helped US citizens to realize that if a law is passed then they need to be concerned enough about their rights to ensure the law is implemented. There is a scripture passage that reads God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind. With unity and strength of will many US citizens stood together to fight the injustice of segregation and immoral cultural traditions.
Law enforcement in certain areas, mainly in the south werenít very much help to enforcing the civil rights laws. They turned their backs on assaults on blacks and freedom riders. Sometimes law enforcement officers even participated in assaults on blacks seeking the right to vote or to sit at a lunch counter. Unfortunately, some people in law enforcement didnít believe black US citizens had the right to the same protection white US citizens were entitled to.
The government passed the laws, but the government couldnít legislate the integrity of those required to enforce the laws, or those required to implement the laws either. The people, US citizens, of various shades and hues needed to let those around them know that they expected integrity from them. The people, US citizens, of various shades and hues let them know in the form of freedom rides, protests and sit-ins.
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was passed after a more then 24 hour filibuster by Strom Thurman, a pro-segregation senator. However, only about 20% of blacks were registered to vote mainly because of fear tactics, unfair treatment at the polls and lack of organization and backup.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed after the assassination of Kennedy and signed into law by a southerner, Lyndon Johnson. It was fitting that Johnson would be the one to sign the bill, but bittersweet because the struggle was just beginning for everyone. Armed with both Civil Rights Acts, organizations and regular people began the fight to end segregation and descimination through voter registration, sit-ins and marches.
In order to understand why it is important to ensure that laws are enforced properly you must understand that before these acts blacks didnít have the right to vote, to sit at a lunch counter, to even check into a certain hotel, or to use a restroom at a public facility. This wasnít an oversight on the part of the founding fathers. Technically all US citizens had the right to do these things, but blacks were intimidated physically and threatened when they tried to exercise their rights. This was a common practice in the south and it was just tolerated. But many, blacks and whites and everything in between didnít like it. They sought to pass laws in order to help blacks have a chance to vote. It almost seems like a weird vicious cycle, but it was and that is why so many struggled to end it.
Many lost their lives in this struggle, here are but a few:
Viola Gregg Liuzzo
James Earl Chaney
Michael Henry Schwerner
Rev. James Reeb
Itís more than just a vote, a drink from the water fountain or a swim in the local pool. Itís a life. Itís a quality of life that many, young, old, black, white, men, women, clergymen and laypeople, gave their lives for. Make it count.