We Americans are embarking on a week of great history, and great honor.
On Friday, we celebrate the Fourth of July, the birth of our nation 238 years ago. That is the better-known event in the days before us.
But on Wednesday, a few days before we break out the grills, the sparklers and the John Philip Sousa, we should also observe the 50th anniversary of the re-birth of our nation — the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The founding of a country dedicated to the ideal that all men are created equal wasn’t enough to accomplish that lofty principle.
The fighting of a Civil War four score and seven years later, which split the nation and took the lives of more than 618,000 men, didn’t deliver it either.
One hundred years after that carnage, the weight of law, intention and spirit endeavored to achieve success in the realm of human equality in the United States, where heroic and herculean efforts before it had fallen short.
And 50 years after the remarkable accomplishment that was — and is — the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are closer to a more perfect union but it remains on the horizon.
Inequalities still demand to be addressed through law, intention and spirit and we must not rest until equality, or achieving equality, is a reality for all of us.
What is particularly poignant on this anniversary is what history shows us about the people who delivered this landmark achievement.
Women, children and men of color, along with their white allies, had worked for years in courts, in schools, in churches, on the streets, to galvanize the public and their elected officials to do the right thing by them.
By the 1960s, there was no turning back on civil rights. Nor is there today. The very definition of who we are as a people should guarantee that.
Likewise, officials of different parties and ideologies came together in the 1960s on this great issue of the day. It’s worth asking if they would — or could — today.
The words spoken by Sen. Everett Dirksen before the passage of the bill bear repeating. The Illinois Republican worked mightily with Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota as well as President Lyndon Johnson, both Democrats, to enact the law.
“We dare not temporize with the issue which is before us. It is essentially moral in character. It must be resolved. It will not go away. It’s time has come,” Sen. Dirksen said.
Invoking Victor Hugo, he continued, “Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come. The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied. It is here!”
The time is still here for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, in employment. It still must not be stayed or denied. But we’re not there yet.
As we embark on a week of great history and great honor, let us reflect on how we can work together again to get closer to that goal.