“… I have lived out the promise of L.B.J.’s efforts, because Michelle has lived out the legacy of those efforts,because my daughters have lived out the legacy of those efforts.”
–President Barack Obama
Look in the mirror. What do you see? You see a woman of substance, character and brilliance… a woman able to pursue her dreams, passions and rise to challenge… a woman with the freedom to choose her life path, to create her own goals, to become a true success! Today we reflect on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. watches.
Unbeknownst to me as a precocious two year old, my life, along with every other woman’s life, especially those of Black women, would be forever changed. Due to the steadfast belief of President Lyndon Baines Johnson that justice and hope were meant for all people, he placed civil rights and social justice into the framework of a moral issue. Through the signing of one piece of bi-partisan legislation, the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion or national origin; also providing the federal government the powers to enforce desegregation. Included in this and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on color, race, sex, religion and national origin in workplaces having more than 15 employees, and prohibiting employment decisions based on stereotypes and other discriminatory practices.
Little known and greatly ignored, according to lbjlibrary.org, was President Johnson’s similar campaign to place women in top government positions. White House telephone tapes reveal him hectoring cabinet officers to place women in top jobs. According to feminist researcher, Patricia G. Zelman in her book, Women, Work and National Policy: The Kennedy-Johnson Years, “Johnson created an affirmative action reporting system for women, surely the first of its kind…in the White House…” And, L.B.J. proposed and signed legislation, for the first time, to provide equal opportunity in promotions for women of the Armed Forces. Signing the bill in 1967, Johnson said, “The bill does not create any female generals or female admirals, but it does make that possible.” And, what better day to announce that the US Navy has promoted Vice Admiral Michelle Howard to Admiral, making her the first woman four-star officer in the Navy’s 236 year history! Prior to this distinguished honor, Admiral Howard was the first Black woman to command a Navy ship.
Admiral Michelle Howard
Due to President Johnson’s ability to stand firm and rouse legislators to act in unison for the greater good of society, those “possibilities” have become realities far surpassing the Armed Forces. One of the most profound examples is Carol Moseley Braun, who became the first and only (so far) Black woman elected to the US Senate, the first Black woman US Senator for the Democratic Party, the first woman to defeat an incumbent US Senator in an election and the first and only woman Senator from Illinois. Yes, that says it all! And, speaks volumes about why we must never take our civil rights for granted.
Senator Carol Moseley Braun
When you think about it and place it into perspective, 50 years is a very short period of time. The Civil Rights Act is an evolution still taking place today. And, proof that we must continue working together to solve our differences, affect social change for the better and stand together, stronger than ever, as we continue creating opportunities for women in education, government and the workforce. We’ve come a long way, a way paved by “regular folk” and social activists unafraid to speak up and make the ultimate sacrifice — their lives — so that we can live the dreams they never were allowed to.
Now look in the mirror again. What do you see? You see a powerful reflection of the promise of L.B.J.’s efforts, living the legacy of civil rights!
What do you feel has been the biggest impact on your life due to the Civil Rights Act? Share your comments below.