While talking with my kids about Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, I ended up looking up the Wikipedia pages about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Movement in general. This is only a Wikipedia article, but the bare reciting of the facts alone is inspirational:
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was a decades-long struggle by African Americans and their like-minded allies to end institutionalized racial discrimination, disenfranchisement and racial segregation in the United States. The movement has its origins in the Reconstruction era during the late 19th century, although the movement achieved its largest legislative gains in the mid-1960s after years of direct actions and grassroots protests. The social movement’s major nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience campaigns eventually secured new protections in federal law for the human rights of all Americans.
After the American Civil War and the subsequent abolition of slavery in the 1860s, the Reconstruction Amendments to the United States Constitution granted emancipation and constitutional rights of citizenship to all African Americans, most of whom had recently been enslaved. For a short period of time, African American men voted and held political office, but they were increasingly deprived of civil rights, often under the so-called Jim Crow laws, and African Americans were subjected to discrimination and sustained violence by white supremacists in the South. Over the following century, various efforts were made by African Americans to secure their legal and civil rights. In 1954, the separate but equal policy, which aided the enforcement of Jim Crow laws, was substantially weakened and eventually dismantled with the United States Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling and other subsequent rulings which followed. Between 1955 and 1968, nonviolent mass protests and civil disobedience produced crisis situations and productive dialogues between activists and government authorities. Federal, state, and local governments, businesses, and communities often had to immediately respond to these situations, which highlighted the inequities faced by African Americans across the country. The lynching of Chicago teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi, and the outrage generated by seeing how he had been abused when his mother decided to have an open-casket funeral, galvanized the African-American community nationwide. Forms of protest and/or civil disobedience included boycotts, such as the successful Montgomery bus boycott (1955–56) in Alabama, “sit-ins” such as the Greensboro sit-ins (1960) in North Carolina and successful Nashville sit-ins in Tennessee, mass marches, such as the 1963 Children’s Crusade in Birmingham and 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches (1965) in Alabama, and a wide range of other nonviolent activities and resistance.
At the culmination of a legal strategy pursued by African Americans, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 under the leadership of Earl Warren struck down many of the laws that had allowed racial segregation and discrimination to be legal in the United States as unconstitutional. The Warren Court made a series of landmark rulings against racist discrimination, such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964), and Loving v. Virginia (1967) which banned segregation in public schools and public accommodations, and struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage. The rulings also played a crucial role in bringing an end to the segregationist Jim Crow laws prevalent in the Southern states. In the 1960s, moderates in the movement worked with the United States Congress to achieve the passage of several significant pieces of federal legislation that overturned discriminatory laws and practices and authorized oversight and enforcement by the federal government. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964), explicitly banned all discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in employment practices, ended unequal application of voter registration requirements, and prohibited racial segregation in schools, at the workplace, and in public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 restored and protected voting rights for minorities by authorizing federal oversight of registration and elections in areas with historic under-representation of minorities as voters. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.
There’s much more of course. But I don’t think you can read even this overview without being impressed by the years-long struggle carried on with strength, endurance, and the kind of powerful humility and single-minded purpose that moves mountains. We all have much to learn from Martin Luther King’s unwavering commitment to pursuing these powerful paths of peace and justice in a uniquely Christian way, especially in the days in which we find ourselves. Happy MLK Day, everyone.