By Clifford F. Buttram Jr.
Special to Frost Illustrated
On July 2, 1964, the U.S. government passed a landmark piece of legislation that continues to impact our society. The Civil Rights Act signed into law that day was designed to provide a base and basis for equal opportunity, the elimination of employment, housing, and education discrimination, and the assurance of fair and equitable treatment for all American citizens.
On July 2, 2014, the University of Saint Francis and Fort Wayne’s Martin Luther King Jr. Club will host an interactive community panel discussion to illuminate the impact of the Act 50 years ago, today, and converse about the next 50 years. The panel (John Aden, Crystal Bush, Ruby Cain, John Dortch, Maye Johnson, Larry Lee, Geoff Paddock, and Jonathan Ray) will be co-moderated and focused on eight questions surrounding the political and social background and impact of the Act. The program goal is to ensure that the audience and community have the opportunity to interact through questions and discussion with the panel and moderators. A healthy discussion about the Act and its continual impact leads to further understanding and education.
The passage of 1964 Civil Rights Act was the culmination of Dr. King’s Civil Rights Movement. The period between 1955-1964 was arguably the most socially important time in American history. Within this timeframe, African Americans demonstrated peaceably for their rights as full American citizens through bus boycotts, sit-ins, marches, and climaxing toward the Freedom Summer of 1964. Dr. King argued and spoke about the constitutionality of preventing and legally denying an entire portion of people their basic rights as humans. In essence, the movement was a constitutional, legal, moral, and ethical dilemma for the country and at a time when America was at the pinnacle of leading the democratic free world. How could America serve as the democratic beacon for the world, but deny millions of its own citizens their basic rights? How could America justify a separate but so-called equal society based on skin color, social status, and a myriad of other fabricated reasons for discrimination? How could America practice separatism within nearly half its states, but espouse unity among fledgling democracies across the globe?
These questions and many more were contemplated, discussed, reasoned, and arguably answered as wholly wrong by Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. In some aspects, the country in 1964, one hundred odd years after the Emancipation Proclamation, was headed for another type of civil and social war based on the creation and sustainment of two societies within a federation. The legislation can be argued to be America’s most important law(s), but how far have we really traveled since 1964? How effective has the Act been in reducing discrimination or repairing the practice of separatism of races since America’s founding? And what does the next 50 years hold for further adjustments to the Act and its role in American society?
These questions will be addressed in the forum and will provide a starting point for discussion. The University of Saint Francis and the MLK, Jr. Club invite the community to this unique experience and hope that the discussion leads to further enlightenment on this critical piece of American legislation. Join us and the eight panel members at the USF Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center (Old Scottish Rite Building) from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on July 2, 2014—50 years to the day of signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Clifford F. Buttram Jr. is a member of the Fort Wayne Martin Luther King Jr. Club board of directors.