By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the White House. Standing right behind him was Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK), whose peaceful protests and positive words had inspired a national movement for equality. By outlawing unfair discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, or color, America was forever changed.
The Civil Rights Act legally ended inequality when it came to voter registration requirements and racial segregation (separation based on race) in schools, the workplace, and public facilities. However, there was still much work to be done after its passage, because the law didn’t grant the government enough power to enforce the changes at the beginning.
Over the years, Congress used their lawmaking authority under the Constitution, the highest law in the land, to give the Civil Rights Act more influence. In particular, they used the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees all American citizens equal protection of the laws, and the Fifteenth Amendment that protects voting rights.
As for the battle to make cultural changes across the nation, MLK was instrumental in leading massive non-violent protests. After organizing his March on Washington in August, 1963, he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, preaching love, compassion, and tolerance for all races. In October, 1964, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, and his efforts to promote positive change expanded to include poverty and protesting the Vietnam War. Sadly, as he was planning a national occupation of Washington D.C. called the Poor People’s Campaign, he was assassinated on April 4, 1964. Now, every mid-January, we celebrate Martin Luther King Day.
So, let us reflect on all the positive changes that have taken place in the fifty years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and not forget the sacrifices of great men like MLK. While there’s still a ways to go to make sure people of all races, beliefs, and genders are treated equally, there’s reason to be hopeful.