Opposition to the Civil Rights Movement
Written by James M. Russell
“James, get the hell back on the bus! There’s a bunch of white guys with clubs comin’ after us”, My visit to Soperton, Georgia, 1966 – Two years after the Civil Rights Act passed
“I believe in white supremacy, until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” John Wayne, May 1971 – Seven years after Civil Rights Act passed
“Black People More Likely to Be Stopped by Cops, Study Finds” NBC News, July 2016 – Fifty-two years after the Civil Rights Act passed
It would be an understatement to point out that the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s was widely unpopular, and not just amongst white people but many black folks as well. But it was big business, the banks, and industry that especially railed against the idea of civil rights as their well-being and profits relied on black people being denied access to public facilities, voting, jobs, and social services. The good side won when the Civil Rights Act was passed on July 2, 1964 but we would be naive to believe that the opposition disappeared. Regrettably, the well-funded, and deeply entrenched anti-civil rights behemoth simply became less obvious and more efficient.
Of course, since the first slave set foot on the native territory we call America, the most vocal opponents of civil rights for black folks resided in Dixie – South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee - largely agrarian states that would have gone bankrupt if not for the free labour provided by slaves.
Yet, as early as the late 1800s, Dixie, as well as the North began to feel the winds of change and attempted to prevent the civil right movement’s very conception. The opposition consisted of not just whites, but many prominent ‘Negro Leaders’ like W. E. Dubois and Booker T. Washington who once said,
“The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing.”, September 18, 1895.
Still, the movement grew over the next half-century and burst into the front pages of America’s consciousness in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus and in 1961 when the first Freedom Riders challenged long-entrenched segregation laws.
When the lawmakers in Washington could no longer block out the sight and sound of the protestors, the Civil Rights Act was born. Yet, so unpopular was the Act, even among those guardians of democracy that on vote day, Senator Robert C. Byrd, a repentant former member of the Klu Klux Klan, spoke continuously for 14 hours and 13 minutes in an effort to kill the Act.
The Act passed with a vote of 290 for and 130 against. And what exactly did those 130 Senators object to? Well the Civil Rights Act simply made it illegal to discriminate against racial minorities and women and prevented unfair vote registration rules and prohibited racial segregation in public facilities, workplaces and schools. Not exactly rocket science eh? Anyone who wasn’t a product of their cousin’s intercourse, had a smidgeon of electrical activity north of their shoulders, and didn’t wear white sheets and pointy hats would have realized that the Civil Rights Act was a no-brainer “In the land of the free and home of the brave.”
A poll taken by television network CBS in 2014 found that 80 percent of Americans believed that the half-century old Civil Rights Act had a positive effect on race relations in America. Progress? I doubt that the folks in Ferguson, or the suddenly deceased Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin would agree. It’s not progress when black people, previously murdered by white cops, are now murdered by black cops as well. It’s not progress when the black middle class continues to subsist on far less than their white counterparts. It’s not progress when government continues to strangle the public school system’s funding. And it’s not progress when America imprisons even larger numbers of black women and men, disenfranchising millions of voters.
I thank those brave souls who fought and succeeded in ushering in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but no matter how many times you paint America with thick coats of legislation the rust will eventually show through. America began corroding from the time Columbus docked on the shores of the New America’s with larceny in his heart and a cargo bay full of Small Pox infected blankets for the natives.
The solution to America’s ongoing civil and human rights stupidity? Well, firstly – Time - We earthlings – of all colours - are a relatively young race of still-evolving creatures. Secondly, and more immediately, Education - knowledge about one’s neighbour, one’s neighbourhood and one’s scientific, philosophical, and historical world tends to be a great antidote to bigotry and intolerance. In the words of that ancient Athenian philosopher Forest Gump, “Stupid is what stupid does.”
It’s way past time for Americans, and we Earthlings in general, to stop ‘the stupid’.