The last few months have been a big year for remembering the Civil Rights Movement. After all, 50 years ago last August, Martin Luther King Jr. made his historic “I have a dream” speech, a new amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in February ending the poll tax and Thursday, President Obama honored the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act into law.
Obama paid tribute to the law that changed 300 years of American history, ended segregation in the United States forever and completely transformed the political demographics of the U.S. that had been set in place since the country’s inception.
On this historic landmark, I’m reminded that there was a lot of talk not that long ago about abolishing the law because it had become obsolete and further pushed punishment on Southern states that was longer valid.
Yes, things are a little different now. Racial tensions are nothing like they were in 1964, even in the South, but discrimination is far from being eliminated in American society today.
The more I think about it, the more I believe how silly a motion like that would be. Things are definitely not like they were once before, but that’s never a good enough reason to abolish such a law. Millions of Americans count on many laws, including the Civil Rights Act, so that the government can forever ensure their safety to exercise their natural-born rights.
The same can be said for many such laws. How about the U.S. Constitution itself? What if we just got up one day and said, “You know, this has been around for over 200 years, it’s outdated, everyone knows how to follow the rules, let’s just get rid of it?”
How well would that go over? Do you think you would still be entitled to the Bill of Rights? Would you count on the government to protect you and your right to speak freely, bear arms and receive a speedy trial solely on its good intentions?
To know the answer to that, you only have to look back a few years. In the height of the Great Depression, New Deal legislation created the Glass-Steagall Act, a law that forbade banks from engaging their funds for commercial purposes, in essence, from gambling with money they received from depositors. For 60 years, the law held tact, until in 1996 when the Clinton administration deemed the law was no longer appropriate.
Just 12 short years later, the government had to bail out the banking system to prevent a financial collapse that could’ve been worse than the Great Depression. There is a lot of speculation that the Glass-Steagall Act’s repeal was largely responsible for the banking crisis in 2008. There are a thousand variables of course, but it’s something I think about.
The founding fathers of this country knew that rights were important to people and wanted them on paper and not assumed. This is why a majority of the original states refused to ratify the Constitution unless a Bill of Rights was added.
Things like this are just like a contract. If it isn’t on paper, it doesn’t mean anything, no matter how obvious or obsolete it might be. And we all know that rights like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are important. We wouldn’t be celebrating its passing if it wasn’t.