As I turned back the clocks for daylight saving time today, I listened to voters on NPR talking about the election. As we have so often heard before in this election from Trump supporters, one of the white women interviewed said she was voting for Donald Trump because she wanted to return to “the America we enjoyed when we were younger.” Challenged on this point by another white woman, a Hillary Clinton supporter who brought up poor treatment of women and minorities during that time, the Trump supporter responded that life was good back then, like on “Leave it to Beaver.” That’s what she wanted to see America return to.
Pressed again on the issue that America was not so great for women and non-whites, another Trump supporter responded that eight years of President Obama had not helped black Americans and the racial divide was worse – that Democrats hadn’t done anything to help minorities and that Trump was right on that point. She didn’t mention Republican obstructionists, white backlash toward immigration, or white fear of growing minority power that is fueling that racial divide.
The idea of “turning back the clock” to a fantasy-land, “Leave it to Beaver” America (that never actually existed) seems to me an amazing act of denial and self-delusion. Not only were civil rights and equal rights for minorities and women denied when I was growing up, when I was in high school and college the country had a murder rate much higher than it is today. More people lived in poverty and we know that millions – before President Obama – were unable to access healthcare whether because of pre-existing conditions, access or affordability. (Right – I know healthcare is a huge issue right now. Mine went way up too, people. But 20 MILLION MORE PEOPLE have healthcare. That is a positive I don’t care how you want to spin it. And we need to keep helping to insure people – and make the system work better – not return to denying people healthcare.)
Anyway – back to turning back the clocks. Below is a timeline of events that took place when I was a child that I do not want to see repeated by “turning back the clock” to “make America great again.” Witness recent uprisings over police brutality and shootings and it’s obvious we need to keep moving forward, not marching backward
As one of the Clinton supporters said in that interview on NPR this morning, “I don’t want to go back there. I want to go forward.”
So do I.
Below are some highlights and lowlights in America’s Civil Rights struggle that show the level of civil demonstrations that influenced federal will and lawmaking that was necessary to help to begin to reverse entrenched, institutional discrimination. I’ve bolded the lowlights. These events occurred from the time I was 2 until I was 10, in 1968. I do not want to go back to the America of my childhood, to see America have to re-fight these struggles that were won with blood spilled and people killed – blacks and whites who died trying to better our country. The timeline is from the International Civil Rights Center & Museum website:
FEB. 1, 1960
Four black university students from N.C. A&T University began a sit-in at a segregated F.W. Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. Although they were refused service, they were allowed to stay at the counter. The event triggered similar nonviolent protests throughout the South. Six months later, the original four protesters are served lunch at the same Woolworth’s counter. Student sit-ins would be an effective tactic throughout the South in integrating parks, swimming pools, theaters, libraries and other public facilities.
MARCH 6, 1960
President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, prohibiting discrimination in federal government hiring on the basis of race, religion or national origin and establishing The President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, the EEOC. They were immediately directed to scrutinize and study employment practices of the United States government and to consider and recommend additional affirmative steps for executive departments and agencies.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., providing young blacks with a more prominent place in the civil rights movement. The SNCC later grew into a more radical organization under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael (1966-1967) and H. Rap Brown (1967-1998). The organization changed its name to the Student National Coordinating Committee.
OCT. 1, 1962
James Meredith became the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. President Kennedy sent 5,000 federal troops to contain the violence and riots surrounding the incident.
JUNE 12, 1963
Mississippi’s NAACP field secretary, 37-year-old Medgar Evers, was murdered outside his home in Jackson, Miss. Byron De La Beckwith was tried twice in 1964, both trials resulting in hung juries. Thirty years later, he was convicted of murdering Evers.
AUG. 28, 1963
More than 250,000 people join in the March on Washington. Congregating at the Lincoln Memorial, participants listened as Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
SEPT. 15, 1963
Four young girls, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, attending Sunday school were killed when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a popular location for civil rights meetings. Riots erupted in Birmingham, Ala., leading to the deaths of two more black youth.
JAN. 23, 1964
The 24th Amendment abolished the poll tax, which had originally been instituted in 11 southern states. The poll tax made it difficult for blacks to vote.
MAY 4, 1964 (FREEDOM SUMMER)
The Mississippi Freedom Summer Project was organized in 1964 by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of four civil rights organizations: the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The project was to carry out a unified voter registration program in the state of Mississippi. Both COFO and the Summer Project were the result of the “Sit-In” and “Freedom Ride” movements of 1960 and 1961, and of SNCC’s earlier efforts to organize voter registration drives throughout Mississippi.
The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) launched a massive effort to register black voters during what becomes known as the Freedom Summer. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began sending student volunteers on bus trips to test the implementation of new laws prohibiting segregation in interstate travel facilities. One of the first two groups of “Freedom Riders,” as they are called, encountered its first problem two weeks later when a mob in Alabama sets the riders’ bus on fire. The program continued and by the end of the summer, more than 1,000 volunteers, black and white, participated.
CORE also sent delegates to the Democratic National Convention as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to protest – and attempt to unseat – the official all-white Mississippi contingent.
JULY 2, 1964
President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion or national origin and transform American society. The law allowed the federal government to enforce desegregation and prohibits discrimination in public facilities, in government and in employment. The “Jim Crow” laws in the South were abolished, and it became illegal to compel segregation of the races in schools, housing or hiring. Enforcement powers were initially weak, but they grew over the years, and later programs, such as affirmative action, were made possible by the Act. Title VII of the Act established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
AUG. 4, 1964
The bodies of three civil-rights workers – two white, one black – were found in an earthen dam. James E. Chaney, 21; Andrew Goodman, 21; and Michael Schwerner, 24, had been working to register black voters in Mississippi, and on June 21, went to investigate the burning of a black church. They were arrested by the police on speeding charges, incarcerated for several hours, and released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, who murdered them.
FEB. 21, 1965 – MALCOLM X Assassinated
Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Neb., on May 19, 1925, this world-renowned black nationalist leader was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan on the first day of National Brotherhood Week. A Black Muslim Minister, revolutionary black freedom fighter, civil rights activist and for a time the national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, he famously spoke of the need for black freedom “by any means necessary.” Disillusioned with Elijah Muhammad’s teachings, Malcolm formed his own organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity and the Muslim Mosque Inc. In 1964, he made a pilgrimage to Islam’s holy city, Mecca, and adopted the name El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz.
Selma to Montgomery Marches
The Selma to Montgomery marches, which included Bloody Sunday, were actually three marches that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement.
MARCH 7, 1965
Blacks began a march to Montgomery in support of voting rights, but were stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge by a police blockade in Selma, Ala. State troopers and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, some mounted on horseback, awaited them. In the presence of the news media, the lawmen attacked the peaceful demonstrators with billy clubs, tear gas and bull whips, driving them back into Selma.
The incident was dubbed “Bloody Sunday” by the national media, with each of the three networks interrupting telecasts to broadcast footage from the horrific incident. The march was considered the catalyst for pushing through the Voting Rights Act five months later.
MARCH 9, 1965
Ceremonial Action within 48 hours, demonstrations in support of the marchers, were held in 80 cities and thousands of religious and lay leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, flew to Selma. He called for people across the country to join him. Hundreds responded to his call, shocked by what they had seen on television.
However, to prevent another outbreak of violence, marchers attempted to gain a court order that would prohibit the police from interfering. Instead of issuing the court order, Federal District Court Judge Frank Minis Johnson issued a restraining order, preventing the march from taking place until he could hold additional hearings later in the week. On March 9, Dr. King led a group again to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where they knelt, prayed and to the consternation of some, returned to Brown Chapel. That night, a Northern minister who was in Selma to march, was killed by white vigilantes.
MARCH 21-25 1965 (Selma to Montgomery March)
Under protection of a federalized National Guard, voting rights advocates left Selma on March 21, and stood 25,000 strong on March 25 before the state capitol in Montgomery. As a direct consequence of these events, the U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, guaranteeing every American 21 years old and over the right to register to vote.
AUG. 10, 1965
Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for Southern blacks to register to vote. Literacy tests, poll taxes and other such requirements that were used to restrict black voting were made illegal.
SEPT. 24, 1965
President Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 to enforce affirmative action for the first time because he believed asserting civil rights laws were not enough to remedy discrimination. It required government contractors to “take affirmative action” toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment. This represented the first time “affirmative action” entered the federal contracting lexicon and sought to ensure equality of employment. (Presidential Executive Order 11375 extends this language to include women on October 13, 1968.)
JUNE 12, 1967
In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting interracial marriage was unconstitutional. Sixteen states that still banned interracial marriage at the time were forced to revise their laws.
AUG. 30, 1967
Senate confirmed President Lyndon Johnson’s appointment of Thurgood Marshall as the first African American Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after he served for two years as a Solicitor General of the United States.
APRIL 4, 1968
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., at age 39, was shot as he was standing on the balcony outside his hotel room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. Escaped convict and committed racist James Earl Ray was convicted of the crime. The networks then broadcast President Johnson’s statement in which he called for Americans to “reject the blind violence,” yet cities were ignited from coast to coast.