Civil Rights Act Turns 50: The Ongoing Work for Racial Justice in 2015

by January 2, 2015 0 comments

By Wade Henderson President and CEO The Leadership, Conference Education Fund and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act is an important milestone that measures the progress we have made and the distance we still have to travel on freedom’s road. Half a century ago, civil rights activists fought to fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation from a century before. Fifty years later, as this report shows, we still struggle to turn the language of the landmark legislation of the 1960s into living realities for all of our people.

America’s track record of creating opportunities for people of color and ending racial discrimination is decidedly mixed. On nearly every indicator that we use in the United States to measure progress, people of color are falling further behind. And it starts early.

A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation called Race for Results looked at how we are providing opportunities for children of color along 12 indicators, such as percentage of children enrolled in preschool, percentage of 4th graders proficient in reading, and percentage of children who live in low-poverty areas. The report found that African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and some Asian American communities are falling behind White children. Even middle-class families of color have a very tenuous hold on their economic status.

The data aren’t just revealing; they are a call to action. What the data tell us is that, as we learn from the past, we will need to fight for the future.

We must reform our racially and ethnically discriminatory criminal justice system. We need to build a truly equitable, diverse, high-quality education system that educates each and every single child, regardless of race, ethnicity or zip code. We need safe and affordable housing for all individuals living in the U.S. We need to fix our voting system so no voter has to wait in long lines, and we must eradicate any and all racial discrimination in voting. We need to ensure that every person in the U.S. has an equal opportunity to access quality health care, achieve positive health outcomes, and lead a healthy life. We need vigorous enforcement of hate crime protections and expanded, coordinated police-community efforts to track and respond to hate violence and improve hate crime data collection efforts. We need to transform the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights into an independent human rights commission. And we need to address new, 21st century risks, such as those posed by big data technologies, which may be outside our existing legal and policy frameworks. These are big challenges. But historic anniversaries remind us that our journey toward justice is like an Olympic relay. We take the torch from those who came before and pass it along to those who will follow. This year, as we recall the generation of giants whose sacrifices came before us, we are inspired to make the less risky but still righteous commitment to carry their work forward in protecting and promoting justice throughout the United States. •

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