A half-century ago, American society used any number of excuses to justify the bias that was institutionalized in this nation’s history. Some made Bible-based arguments that it was somehow in God’s will or in Heaven’s divine law that people of different races in the United States deserved to be treated differently. Others said that racial discrimination was necessary to “protect” our society, while there were those who just didn’t think it was right to treat blacks and whites equally.
For a sizeable part of American society, it was OK to spit on a black man, to call him demeaning and humiliating names, to suppress his rights, to keep him uneducated and to look the other way when horrendous acts of violence were committed against him. “Separate but equal,” one of the most flawed arguments ever put forward by the American justice system, was the law of the land a mere 52 years ago.
And had it not been for a brave force of civil rights pioneers, including the late Coretta Scott King, things might not have changed nearly as soon as they did.
As the lives of King and her husband are celebrated at her funeral in Atlanta, I am reminded that many of those same arguments made 50 years ago – some based on hate, others on ignorance – are being renewed today. Only now, society wants to judge a man, not for the color of his skin, but for the gender of the person he chooses to love. Across the country, legislatures have moved to embed the same hate, ignorance and arrogance seen in the 1950s into their state constitutions. The same effort has taken place at the national level – to put discrimination in a document that is supposed to enshrine the virtues of freedom and democracy
Some think it’s God’s will. Others say they need to “protect” American society, while many say it just isn’t right for a man to love another man. It all sounds too familiar.
How long has it been since a law was passed in the United States that took away the rights of law-abiding Americans instead of protecting them? And what will it take to spur the same type of grassroots movement for change that we saw in the 1950s and 1960s?
For that matter, are the civil rights struggles of a half-century ago even over? It’s too bad we don’t have more people today like Coretta Scott King and her husband – people who were willing to lead a movement and, if necessary, sacrifice their lives for it. But then again, I’m glad we had the ones we did. What an ugly place this might be otherwise.