By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — Wow, nearly 50 years have flown by since that game changing, Aug. 28 1963 March on Washington triggered a series of decisions and actions that would change everything.
Barely 14 years old, I so desperately wanted to be there that it physically hurt when my parents decided that I could not go.
Looking back over the years it is easy to see that a lot of good things have happened since then including, for example:
• The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed by Congress and signed into law by President Johnson implementing the most sweeping action since post slavery Reconstruction after the Civil War. The law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin and it gave the federal government the power to enforce it.
• The Voting Rights Act of 1965 authorized by Congress and signed into law by President Johnson on August 10, 1965, the law addressed registration and voting in Southern states where literacy tests, poll taxes and all manner of devices were being used to suppress voting by black Americans solely on the basis of race.
• Executive Order 11246, signed six weeks later by Johnson required government contractors to “take affirmative action” toward the hiring and employment of black Americans who were being systematically excluded and over looked by the process.
• The Civil Rights Act of 1968 approved by Congress and signed into law by Johnson on April 11, 1968 just four days after 39 year old Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, prohibited racial discrimination in the rental, sale and financing of housing.
• The Civil Rights Restoration Act, passed by Congress on March 22, 1988 over President Ronald Reagan’s veto extended non-discrimination laws into private institutions receiving federal money.
• The University Of Michigan Law School’s pro affirmative action admissions policy was upheld (5-4) by the Supreme Court almost exactly ten years ago on June 23, 2003 holding that race can be one of the factors considered by colleges.
Current political and legal attacks on, and the potential reversals of some of the most fundamental advancements of the past fifty years is now beginning to resemble a game of Whack-A-Mole, the popular carnival arcade game from the 1970s.
The object of the game is to force the cute little moles back into their holes by hitting them directly on the head with a rubber mallet; the faster the player hits them, the higher the final score will be.
The term “Whack-A-Mole” has entered our colloquial vocabulary to describe “a repetitious and futile task: every time an adversary is “whacked” it just pops up again somewhere else.”
Use your own imagination to ascribe roles to the moles and the whackers ...
The announcement yesterday that the Supreme Court had effectively cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act by punting the issue back to today’s much maligned and beleaguered Congress slammed me back into August 1963 and the day I excitedly begged my parents to “Please let me go to the March on Washington, please?”
Dad never talked much about the mess going on Down South, maybe because the hard reality of it was still under his fingernails. Maybe he was just trying to protect us from it. But he sure could not hide it.
“It” was all over television.
Not all that long ago, he had walked away from it, joining the greatest human migration in this young country’s history. He had already done all the marching he intended to do. Now he was all about building, “making something out of nothing,” as he’d say sometimes.
When I gathered the nerve to ask for his and my mother’s permission to go to the March on Washington, he just shook his head. Almost imperceptibly, he blew out a little air and sighed.
The answer was, “No!”
It rang loud and long in my ears.
I was going to have to watch the march on television while I helped repaint the new living room he had made by knocking down the wall that separated two bedrooms. With his own hands and a little help from his friends, he had turned our little house into a huge, two-story, six-bedroom behemoth with an attached garage and a finished basement. He was not about to send his son off to battle in Washington.
“No!” We had work to do right here at home, plenty of work.
I was not happy about my father’s decision, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I tried to get in the best position possible to watch the grainy black-and-white images on the big Zenith television.
So I never got to go to the big March on Washington. Like millions of others, I watched it all unfold on national television, but I was moved. The entire world was moved, and now, fifty years later the question today is, whether we can muster the strength to assure that everyone who has a right to vote may cast it, that voter suppression will end?
Plans are already under way for another March on Washington with activities and events scheduled to take place on the same day in the same place where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
That event launched fifty years of slow, but steady progress, eliminating many of the tools of racism, bias and discrimination, some of which is now in danger of being wiped out by what many consider to be the least effective, least popular Congress ever; so paralyzed by gridlock that they cannot seem to get anything done any more.
Watching the Supreme Court cook the Voters Rights Act while the Food Channel’s Paula Deen stews in her own sordid recipe as George Zimmerman broils in the sizzle of the Sanford sun while Congress stirs the immigration melting pot, seasoned with scandal sauce, I can’t help but notice, the more things change the more they stay the same.
Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org