By Dr. John E. Warren
This Fourth of July holds double meaning as we celebrate America’s Independence and the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The great tragedy is that the people who have come through slavery, segregation and servitude appear to be the least concerned about what the occasion represents. Too few African Americans remember or seem to want to be reminded that prior to the enactment of Title II of the Civil Rights Act dealing with the right to use hotels, restaurants and public facilities without discrimination was not permitted in those states with laws banning such equality. Today such rights have long been taken for granted, but the memories should not be forgotten for without knowledge of the past, history will repeat itself.
As we celebrate this Fourth of July, there are battles underway in more than 17 states to restrict voter access through identification cards that many seniors and those with criminal records in many cases will not be able to acquire; today we live in the shadow of a U.S. Supreme Court that has already weakened the Voting Rights Act in ways that will surely reduce the number of African American voters in the South if not corrected by the U.S. Congress. Today we have fewer African Americans even bothering to register to vote, in spite of the heavy price paid with lives and in blood, to obtain that right; today it appears that for too many, apathy is greater than the desire to safeguard our freedoms which many would take away if given the chance in this post Civil Rights America which no longer has a moral consciousness. Today the immigrants and new arrivals in this country know more about our laws and history than many of us who could care less because we have become creatures of the moment: no past, no future.
Elsewhere in this paper is the Fourth of July Speech given by Frederick Douglas at Rochester New York in the 1850’s speaking as an Abolitionist against slavery. It is ironic that over 100 years later, we as a people have some of the same problems of exclusion and discrimination in spite of the U.S. Constitution and both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. It appears that our problems today stem more from what we permit with indifference rather than what others force upon us under the color of laws.
Yes, this Fourth of July we have much to think about as well as to be thankful for. What we do with those thoughts might well determine our future Fourth of Julys and what they bring with them for many of us.