Civil rights

  • July 23, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Veronica JoiceFried Frank Fellow, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

    *This piece was originally published at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    Veronica Joice wrote a special introduction for ACSBlog:

    This year, we honor the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  As we take time to recognize the work that went into getting the Act passed, and the important precedents set by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and others who litigated Title VII cases in the years immediately following the Act’s passage, we also must look to the future, and recognize the continuing need for Title VII litigation to challenge a plethora of discriminatory employment practices.

    Title VII, one of the key components of the Civil Rights Act, outlawed employment discrimination for nearly all employers and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Today, unfortunately, Title VII is just as important a tool for combatting discrimination as it was 50 years ago.  Many black employees continue to face explicit race- and color-based discrimination, as in the case of Nicole Cogdell, a top-performing manager at a national retail chain who was fired after company executives expressed concern that, as an African American, Nicole did not fit the company’s “brand image.”  In other cases, African Americans never even have the opportunity to become managers at their jobs—the EEOC African American Workgroup, created in 2010, found that African-American employees were less likely to be offered supervisory opportunities than white males, which hindered their ability to later receive promotions to management-level positions.  And, perhaps most tellingly, the unemployment rate for African Americans is consistently no less than double that of whites—10.7 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, as of June 2014.

    These examples leave no doubt that, from cases involving blatant racism to those where seemingly neutral policies effectively close many African Americans out of the job market, racial discrimination persists in the workplace today.  For every case like Nicole Cogdell’s, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are excluded from employment opportunities due to poor performance on a test that has no bearing on the applicant’s ability to perform the required work or by an employer’s review of credit history before making a job offer. LDF helped set the precedent that states that such facially neutral policies are discriminatory and unlawful if they disproportionately exclude African American job applicants. Today, LDF continues to challenge both overt and hidden forms of discrimination, including recently testifying in support of legislation to limit the use of credit checks in hiring. During this year of reflection, we must remember that Title VII’s work is not done—employment discrimination lives on, and there are still precedents to be set.

  • July 22, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Remington A. Gregg, Legislative Counsel, Human Rights Campaign

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    As we pause to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed into law, it is a perfect time to look at the many ways it paved the way for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.  Not only did passage pave the way for additional pieces of civil rights legislation, including Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, but it marked a sizeable shift in the use of the commerce clause.  To LGBT movement, however, the Civil Rights Act marked the beginning of the LGBT community’s own fight for equality. 

    The long march toward LGBT equality gained momentum with Romer v. Evans in 1996, where the Supreme Court held that an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would forbid the state or its subdivisions from extending legal protections to LGB people violated the Equal Protection Clause.  In 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled affirmatively for the first time on a due process claim brought by gay claimants that LGBT people “are entitled to respect for their private lives.  The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.  Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.”  And last year’s critical decision in United States v. Windsor changed the whole landscape in the LGBT community’s access to important federal benefits.   The Court held that Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” which defined marriage as a “union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” for federal purposes, was an unconstitutional infringement on equal protection as applied to the federal government under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  Now, LGBT couples have access to more than 1,100 rights, benefits, and obligations previously denied to them.

    Each of these cases has served as a vital building block in the fight for equality. These successes have been paralleled with incredible legislative and administrative victories, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and an LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women’s Act re-authorization. And yesterday, President Barack Obama signed an important executive order.  First, it prohibits federal contractors from discriminating in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  Second, it protects federal employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  (President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that provided protections with regard to sexual orientation.)

  • July 17, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Jin Hee Lee, LDF Senior Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

    *This piece was originally published in The Courier-Journal

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    Jin Hee Lee wrote a special introduction for ACSBlog:

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a remarkable legislative achievement during a period of time in our Nation’s history when brave men and women literally risked their lives in pursuit of justice.  In the face of violence from white supremacists and segregationist mobs, civil rights heroes like Medger Evers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., demanded that the United States fulfill its constitutional promise of equality for all Americans.  Yet, despite tremendous progress over the past 50 years, we still have a long road ahead in order to achieve the Civil Rights Act’s vision of equality.  Racially segregated schools continue to plague our public school system, and mass incarceration has wreaked havoc in the lives of too many African American families.  The catastrophic effects of the Great Recession have been felt all across the country, but have been particularly devastating to African Americans, who encounter even more barriers to gainful employment.  And, just last year, a deeply divided Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had been instrumental in protecting minorities’ right to vote.  As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we must also honor its legacy by continuing the struggle for freedom and equality so that, one day, racial justice can truly be achieved.  

    The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 years ago was a monumental feat of bipartisan legislation during a crucial phase of American history. Only 10 years earlier, the United States Supreme Court denounced state-sanctioned racial segregation in the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education. In the following years, untold numbers of American heroes risked their lives to end Jim Crow laws, with the moral conviction that "equality" is not a mere abstract term, but must necessarily be a lived experience. The Freedom Riders, the bus boycotters, the sitters in lunch counters — black and white, young and old — all were bonded by a common vision of an America that could, despite its flawed origins, embrace the equality and humanity of all its citizens.

    The implementation of this vision came at a heavy cost, especially in the years leading up to the Civil Rights Act.

  • July 14, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    John Seigenthaler, a champion of a free speech, human rights and a courageous journalist, died July 11 at the age of 86. Seigenthaler, The New York Times in noting his death said he pursued a “muscular approach to journalism as a crusading newspaper editor and publisher and as the founding editorial director of USA Today.”

    Seigenthaler was also a close friend to Robert F. Kennedy. According to The Tennessean, the newspaper Seigenthaler reported for and eventually became editor, RFK met Seigenthaler “because the young reporter had written a number of news stories about growing corruption in the organized labor movements, particularly involving Jimmy Hoffa and his Teamsters union.” The Times also noted that as reporter for The Tennessean Seigenthaler was dogged in exposing the corruption of Hoffa’s Teamsters and “hounded the union boss.” It was some of Seigenthaler’s reporting that would help revive a federal grand jury that indicted Hoffa for jury tampering.

    When RFK became attorney general during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, Seigenthaler (pictured) was tapped to help the Kennedys work with a growing civil rights movement. In spring 1961, Seigenthaler was dispatched by RFK to help some of the first Freedom Riders; waves of youngsters in buses headed to the Deep South in what would be become a deadly and high-profile attempt to draw attention to ongoing segregation in public places. Seigenthaler was injured trying to help some of the Freedom Riders who were being beaten by a mob of rabid racists in Montgomery, Ala.

    After RFK’s assassination in 1968 during a run for the presidency, it would not be long before Seigenthaler returned to journalism, eventually leading the editorial pages of the USA Today and much later founding the First Amendment Center, part of the Freedom Forum.

    U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the young student Freedom Riders who was beaten and jailed, told The Tennessean Seigenthaler “was a newspaper man at heart who represented the highest tradition of journalist integrity and reporting. He used the power of the pen to help make this country a better place. He was a skillful negotiator, the consummate professional, yet he was a humble, down-to-earth gentleman who was dedicated and committed to his family and friends.”

    [image via Curtis Palmer]

  • July 2, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Today we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, it was and remains a landmark step forward. But we must not also forget that 50 years on, African American communities and other minorities still face many of the same onerous, often deadly, obstacles to equality that generations of African Americans before them suffered. 

    The Civil Rights Act sought to fight discrimination against African Americans and others and to desegregate public schools.

    The Civil Rights Act would not have made it to the president’s desk, were it not for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other African American leaders' bold courage and great suffering to win steps toward civil rights. But the suffering continues. Morris Dees at the Southern Poverty Law Center remembers the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 50 years ago and notes where we stand today.

    Let's be honest about the state of African-American lives in this country. As Peniel E. Joseph points out in The Root, "the glass is not only half-empty, but it’s losing water fast." Joseph notes that assaults on affirmative action, lax enforcement of civil rights and anti-discrimination laws by federal and state governments and the white public’s general fatigue over race matters has created the perfect storm of political retrenchment we are seeing today. African Americans are still disproportionately imprisoned, put on death row and face racial-profiling from coast to coast. They still face vast discrimination at the polling place. Lawmakers pass discriminatory and unjust laws to keep black men and women from exercising their right to vote. That's why you are seeing stringent voter ID laws and the slashing of early voting. And our country relies on an oppressive system of mass incarceration that is disproportionately destroying African American families and communities. (See this ACSblog Book Talk by Michelle Alexander, associate professor of law at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, about this system in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.)

    The African-American community and others who care for genuine equality and a more just and gentler society are continuing to fight. They have seen a conservative supreme court hobble the Voting Rights Act, but are working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers for passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act. As The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel notes in a Washington Post editorial, ongoing action is needed, as Martin Luther King III recently said, we need "not just this moment of reflection, but also a year of action." 

    Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This month also marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. During July, ACSblog will host a symposium commemorating the two anniversaries featuring some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights leaders.