The 1964 Civil Rights Act was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment. Conceived to help African Americans, members of Congress amended the bill to protect women, and explicitly included white people. It also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
President John F. Kennedy introduced the bill in his civil rights speech of June 11, 1963, in which he asked for legislation “giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities that are open to the public – hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments” and “greater protection for the right to vote.”
President Kennedy was assassinated before he could get this legislation passed. President Lyndon Johnson, a democrat from Texas, urged Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act as a memorial to the late President. Both houses of Congress passed the conference bill, and President Johnson sign it into law on July 2, 1964.
When President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act striking down the Jim Crow Laws, he remarked to his young press secretary, Bill Moyers, “We have lost the South for a generation.”
The “we” he was talking about was the Democratic Party. Looking back, he should have said, “We have lost the South for at least two generations.” Before the Civil Rights Act was approved, most southern states voted Democratic.
In this last election like most of the elections since 1964, most southerners voted Republican. How much did racial prejudice play a part in this last election?
Nationally, 43 percent of the white voting population voted for President-elect Obama. In Louisiana he received only 14 percent. I have also heard people talk and I received many mean spirited e-mails judging Obama unfit because of his race. I believe we still have a long way to go before we can achieve racial harmony and justice in our state and in the south.
What is racial prejudice? Racial prejudice is a prideful moral and social disease affecting peoples and populations all over the world. The manifestations of this prejudice are fear, intolerance, separation, segregation, discrimination, and hatred. While all these symptoms of racial prejudice may be manifest, the single underlying cause of racial prejudice is ignorance. The French author and philosopher, Voltaire, said it best, “Prejudices are what fools use for reason.”
When we do not know an individual well, we can consciously or unconsciously begin to characterize him or her based on what we see. Again, this is due to our ignorance of the person’s real character and personality. We form opinions, often based along stereotypes: “all persons of such and such race are …”
Mother Teresa had some practical advice for us, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Prejudice also says something about us. If we do not have a positive concept of ourselves, we will have a tendency to want to feel “superior” by putting others down. This is not a healthy way of overcoming our own weaknesses. Saint Francis de Sales tells us, “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them. Every day begin the task anew.”
The best answer for racial prejudice can be found in the Bible: “Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40).
May we always judge people, not by the color of their skin, but by their character!