Justice

Civil Rights is not a Simple March to Progress. Here's Where We're Losing Ground

February 8th 2015

By:
Ashley Nicole Black

It's February! Black History Month! 

The time when we all look back fondly on elementary school memories of coloring one picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and then... learning nothing else about Black history. Seriously, most Americans' knowledge of Black history goes like: that one tiny picture of a slave boat I saw in a text book...then Dr. King had a dream...then Michael Jordan and the Bulls three-peated.

The reason we celebrate Black History Month, is because Black history is the story of America's most abused and mistreated residents (if you forget about Native Americans, which as a country, we tend to), doing the most American thing imaginable -- rebelling against their mistreatment, protesting, and demanding to be treated as equals under the law. And a country that doesn't know its history is doomed to repeat it. The enslavement of an entire race of people will forever be America's greatest shame, but Black Americans' ability to protest and fight and emerge as full citizens should be our greatest pride. 

Black History Month is a time to remind ourselves of our achievements in civil rights, to celebrate the people who fought for them, and to ensure that we never go back to being a country where all of our citizens are not treated equally. 

This year, Black History Month takes on a special significance as once again Black Americans have taken to the streets in protest to demand equal treatment under the law. In the past year, we have become painfully aware as a nation that Black Americans are still far more likely to be abused or killed by law enforcement. This is just one example of the many ways that the civil rights advancements that we celebrate during Black History Month has been quietly dialed back in recent years. Many of the civil rights that we now celebrate and take for granted are beginning to be eroded.

This Black History Month, let's take on the spirit of the leaders we celebrate. And refuse to accept the erosion of the fundamental rights for which they fought.

Voting Rights

January 23, 1964

The 24th Amendment abolishes the poll tax. The poll tax was passed in 11 states after Reconstruction to deny Blacks the right to vote by requiring a fee be paid by anyone who wanted to vote. It was a way to disenfranchise someone without the means to pay the tax.

March 7, 1965

Bloody Sunday. A march in support of voting rights in Alabama ends with 50 marchers being hospitalized after police use tear gas, whips, and clubs. These marches helped galvanize popular opinion in favor of the Voting Rights Act, which passed that year.

August 10, 1965

Congress passes the Voting Rights Act. The act makes literacy tests, poll taxes, and other restrictions that block voters illegal.

Today

In July 2013, the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act by striking down the portion of the law that required states with a history of voter discrimination to get clearance from Congress before changing their voting laws. Since that decision, 30 states have passed "voter fraud" laws that disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters (as well as the old, and the poor) without having any demonstrable effect on voter fraud (which is already incredibly rare).

Desegregation

May 17, 1954

The Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education bans segregation in public schools, leading the way to widespread desegregation.

December 1, 1955

Rosa Parks refuses to sit in the "colored section" of a bus in Montgomery, Ala. The Montgomery bus boycott lasts a year and leads to the desegregation of the buses on December 21, 1956.

February 1, 1960

Students stage a sit-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. The strategy leads to the desegregation of public facilities.

May 4, 1961

Freedom Riders begin taking bus trips throughout the South to test desegregation laws and register Black voters. They are attacked by angry mobs along the way.

July 2, 1964

The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in schools, workplaces, and anywhere that is accessible to the general public. The law also provides the government the powers to enforce desegregation.

Today

America is still largely segregated. Seventy-five percent of White people do not have any non-White friends. Schools are becoming re-segregated as people of color are still more likely to be poor and unable to "escape" poorly funded public schools. Forty-two percent of Black children go to all high-poverty schools (as compared to six percent of White children).

Slavery

April 12, 1865

The Civil War begins. It lasts until April 9, 1865. Tens of thousands of slaves escape to freedom. Over 180,000 Black Americans fight in the Union Army and Navy.

December 18, 1865

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution makes slavery illegal. Except as punishment for a crime.

Today

People of color are over represented in the prison population. People of color, and particularly Black people, receive harsher sentences for the same crimes. Prisons are overpopulated with non-violent drug offenders. People of color are disproportionately represented in this population because they receive more scrutiny from law enforcement despite being no more likely to abuse drugs. Prisoners are forced to work for slave wageswhile incarcerated, and incarceration makes private companies billions of dollars every year, while costing tax payers billions.

The Right to Protest

April 16, 1963

Martin Luther King, Jr. writes Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which he argues that people have a moral duty to disobey unjust laws.

May 1963

Images of Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor using fire hoses and police dogs on black demonstrators are televised and published widely, leading to rising sympathy for the civil rights movement.

August 28, 1963

200,000 people join the March on Washington. Martin Luther King delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech. 

March 7, 1965

Images of protesters being attacked by police on "Bloody Sunday" are widely disseminated, leading to national sympathy for black protesters and their cause. The practice of attacking protesters abates.

Today

New laws have been passed (including HR 347, signed by President Obama) to limit the areas where protesting is allowed. Protesters have been attacked with pepper spray, smoke bombs, flash grenades, and batons. The brave Americans protesting today to ensure that our country continues to making equal rights a priority are our new civil rights leaders. This Black History Month, lets celebrate them alongside the historical leaders who fought in hopes that we wouldn't have to.