Civil Rights Museum reminds of where we have been, but what is left to do

Yesterday, I had some free time in the Greensboro, North Carolina area and decided to revisit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Why Greensboro? For those of you are old enough to remember or know your history, the museum incorporates and builds off the actual Woolworth’s lunch counter where four African-Americans started a movement of non-violent sit-ins. The story of this daily sit-in helped bring about change along with many other efforts. Our tour guide whose mother used to bring her to Woolworth’s to shop, said the operative word they had to overcome was “separatism.”

In an attempt to protect the whites from the significant misconceptions about African-American citizens, “separate, but equal” laws were passed to allow discrimination to continue under the guise of the law. These Jim Crow laws, as they were called, came about to show that society need not have to integrate to give rights to its African-American citizens. The ugly truth is separatism was not very equal and continued to put down and discriminate against African-Americans in perceived legal and moral ways. There were some whites who spoke out before the overt discrimination became more apparent, but we had far too many leaders in business, government and faith communities who perpetuated this maltreatment.

The list of examples in the museum of discrimination and the fight to alleviate it are significant in number and impact. It makes you feel ashamed, disillusioned and angry that our fellow citizens were treated this way. The bombings, the lynchings, and the beatings are well documented and illustrated. The separate, but very unequal, train station terminals where whites had bigger waiting rooms, restrooms and easements are eye-opening. The separate, but unequal restrooms in stores, where our guide said her mother would tell her to go at home before they went to the store, are indicative. Sitting in the back of the bus, yielding your seat to white person and even the leather straps for standers in the back of the bus versus cushioned straps in the front showed the lack of equality. The Coke machine with two sides, one for whites at 5 cents with the opposite side for African-Americans at 10 cents is separate and very unequal. The voter laws that made it so very difficult for an African-American to register and vote were definitely not equal. And, so on and so on.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) pushed through the Civil Rights Act in the United States. The next year he followed up with the Voters Rights Act. These key pieces of legislation changed the long term and horrible course of inequality America was on. Forced busing to allow for fair and equal education was passed in 1970 sixteen years following the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. LBJ helped change the future in response to the efforts of many from Martin Luther King to John Lewis to Rosa Parks. It was critical that LBJ, a white southerner working with a coalition across political parties was able to shame leaders into doing something for America.

We are much further along than before, but our work is not done. We each need to be mindful of our biases and prejudices we have to various groups of people. We need to be active to voice our concerns over recent state actions by conservatively led states (ironically and sadly like the one in NC) to limit the voting rights of people who are primarily African-American, under the disguise of doing something against voter fraud. Rampant voter fraud has been proven not to exist, even as recently as last week with touted data in an attempt to show it does. Some of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional and others are being sued for such as of the time of this post. Make no mistake, these laws are designed to suppress voters who tend not to vote with the conservative side of the ledger. This is masked cheating, which is straight out of Jim Crow book.

What makes this further disturbing is our Supreme Court ruled that parts of the Voters Rights Act are no longer needed. This is one of several decisions made by this court which puzzle and frustrate me. What country do they live in? I see or hear examples of discrimination almost every day. It often is masked with code words or followed by words like “but, I am not a racist.” It would surprise these folks to learn most food stamp recipients are white. Even Senator Paul Ryan parlayed that misconception in some of recent speeches and interviews. The bottom line is it should not matter, as poverty knows no color. I use this as an example of unstated racism in America. It is those people who are in need of aid, so it is OK to cut benefits.

There are Civil Rights museums in several cities. Please frequent them with your children and friends. If you’re near Greensboro, please stop by and tour this well crafted museum. I was pleased to see two bus loads of school children of all stripes leaving the museum when I arrived. This stuff really did happen and discrimination still exists today. Use these occasions as opportunities to discuss what is happening today with others. Per the play and movie “South Pacific” bigotry has to be carefully taught. The converse of this is also true. Let’s carefully teach that discrimination is not right.

Here is a link to the Greensboro Civil Rights Museum.



17 thoughts on “Civil Rights Museum reminds of where we have been, but what is left to do

  1. We saw Carl Bernstein speak today. One issue he touched on was the anniversary of the civil rights laws, and that we still had a ways to go. He also spoke against the Supremes voting down the voter protection laws last year, and obviously attacked Citizens United and McCutcheon (SP?). It was a great speech of how separate but unequal is coming back into favor, not only racially, but economically. (The setting is a 2000 seat auditorium, and these presentations are held mid-day, and usually attended by older people and retirees.) Lastly, and I liked this the best, he spoke of how our generation has taken so much more than we’ve given back, and that we’ve failed our country, our future, and the future generations.

    • Thanks for sharing. I think Bernstein’s comments, while general, have some merit with respect to our generation. I feel like we are on the side of the Angels if Bernstein is against some of the things we are. I truly believe we must continually focus on the issues supported by data and reputable sources to call people on the carpet. It is hard, but we need to be diplomatically and passionately relentless. When my mother was giving me her church’s opinion on LGBT in the military, I said mom I understand, but that is discriminatory. And, she finally concurred.

  2. By pushing the focus onto the poor, and the assistance that they receive, it allows them to plant this idea that they aren’t as worthy as those who don’t ever need assistance. Most people would be surprised at how little income tax actually goes to Food Stamps compared to how much goes to the military, or to subsidize big business and the wealthy. Well done post. We do have a long way to go.

    • Roseylinn, you are so correct on the lack of realization of how little goes to food stamps. Further, there is very little fraud, much beneath the perceived amount in some circles. When I speak to church groups about helping homeless families, I tend to surprise them when I say our families work. It is hard for some people to fathom trying to get by on low wage jobs.
      Thanks for your comments, BTG

  3. A couple of weeks ago, I accompanied my son to Atlanta on a field trip to visit several places of worship. I’ve been meaning to write about the experience. Along the way, we visited Martin Luther King Jr.’s grave, Ebenezer Baptist Church (where he, his father, and grandfather pastored), and the King Center. While at the King Center we watched videos of various key moments in the civil rights movement. One showed a young black man sitting on a stool in a diner, stoically enduring as white men yelled at him, put their cigarette ashes in his hair, and dumped things onto his head. Their goal, I am sure, was humiliation, but he was the picture of dignity. Those angry men embodied the depravity and injustice of racism.

    The ugliness makes us want to forget, and turn away from our history. But as you say, it is important for our young people to bear witness and remember. Many of the kids, my son included, were horrified and moved by the things they saw and heard at the exhibit. We still have a long way to go to achieve true equality for all. Gay people, the poor, and people of color know this truth. My kids have friends of many races and of different sexual orientation. They judge others based on the content of their characters, as many young people these days do. So I am very hopeful for the future, despite this current crop of losers in government. Great post.

    • Amaya, well said. Showing our children that this atrocious behavior did happen (and still does), is very important. And, as you note, discrimination extends into other perceived lesser groups. The parenthetical comment about it still happening shows up in maltreatment of LGBTs and African Americans on one end, to the extreme hate that is evidenced in the White Supremacist who had to leave NC, who just murdered people of the Jewish faith in Kansas. As you know, we have a Baptist minister running for US Senate here in NC. He led the movement to deny LGBTs the right to marry here in the Amendment One vote, and is adamant in his stance against Obamacare which is helping and could help more people in need. So much for taking care of the “least of these” per Jesus’ words. Thanks for your note, BTG

    • Dennis, thanks for your comments. They do here as well. I saw a cool exhibit when in Montreal at one of their museums. It was about the faces of the native population women who were trying to make ends meet. Very fascinating. All the best, BTG

    • Thanks. No surprise here. I think you can find things in the law that can make anything defensible, which is sad. We should focus on the truth and the law should support that search. I was remembering the movie “The Verdict” with Paul Newman, who as a recovering alcoholic was defending a family against a big hospital and surgeon who killed their daughter due to an error that came out in trial. Yet, the evidence of the error had to be disallowed. He said to the jury “Today, you are the law. Not some books. Or some attorney. You are the law.” That was very telling. Sometimes we forget that. The NC Voter ID legislators bristle when I use the term “Jim Crow” but when you draft a law to purposefully carve out and make it more difficult for opposing views to vote, that is Jim Crow-like.

  4. I remember a time when Crosby Stills Nash and Young reminded us of such a thing…
    Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
    And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
    Really good post, BTG.

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