On the Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Today marks the 49th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (known as "public accommodations").

I guess the media is waiting for the 50th anniversary to take note of this historic achievement. The media may not want to wait after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively gutted the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 last week, and interpreted provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in such a way as to make claims for workplace discrimination under the act harder to enforce. The Roberts Court is hostile to the civil rights acts.

I am in agreement with Ed Kilgore at the Political Animal blog, “Getting Over” Jim Crow:

[Chief Justice] John Roberts and so many others try to argue that discrimination
against black folks in the Deep South is some sort of ancient scandal
with no relevance today, you can’t much get around the fact that just 49
years ago Jim Crow was very much alive and as pervasive a feature of
southern life for both races as fried food or hot weather or going to
church on Sunday.

Is 49 years ago ancient history? Well, I haven’t headed off to the
nursing home just yet, and I can certainly remember Jim Crow quite
vividly. And I have a feeling that the millions of southern
African-Americans still alive today who can remember experiencing Jim
Crow from the less advantageous side of the racial barrier don’t
consider it ancient history either.

What makes this “oh, get over it” attitude especially maddening is
that the extraordinary effort that culminated in the enactment of the
Civil Rights Act (and then the Voting Rights Act the next year) was
necessitated by the refusal of the South to accept defeat in a war a
century earlier and its successful resistance to the Civil Rights
Amendments enacted to ensure the region didn’t just revert to its
antebellum racial practices. The entire history of race relations in
the South has been a story of racists taking the long view and
outlasting the wandering attention span of those demanding change—who
out of fatigue or competing priorities or their own prejudices “got over
it” and left the South to its own devices.

As a southern expat who still spends a lot of time in the region, I
am aware of the progress made and the forced but still genuine
integration that has occurred and of the basic decency and good will
that often saves southerners of both races from taking up the old
hatreds. But I also know that behind the veneer of civility a
significant percentage of white southerners, particularly but not
exclusively those born before the civil rights revolution was
consummated, don’t and probably never will think of black folks as equal
to them in anything other than original sin, and still consider black
folks the basic “problem” that politics exists to “solve.” Can I prove
beyond a doubt that such contemporary phenomena as the refusal to accept
an almost completely federally financed expansion of Medicaid by all
but one state of the former Confederacy is mainly about race? No, but
anyone who claims it’s not at all about race is either willfully
ignorant or has succumbed to the anti-racism-is-the-real-racism brain
fever that is today’s version of “separate but equal.”

The ultimate point is that the “discriminatory” special rules
governing the South that conservatives find so offensive is actually
pretty light penance for centuries of systematic denial of human rights
to (depending on the particular time and place) nearly half or more than
half the local population—which from the perspective of history just
ended the day before yesterday, over the violent resistance of the
perpetrators, who more or less continued their political and economic
hegemony over the South without serious interruption.

How long should the South have to put up with the terrible indignity
of being treated differently? Well, at least until most of the last
victims of full-fledged, unapologetic Jim Crow persecution are laid to
rest: maybe until 2031, the date when the last congressional extension
of the Voting Rights Act (the extension casually pushed aside by Shelby County v. Holder) expires.

Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury cartoon strip is rerunning the "Jim Crow" series from last year in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Here is today's strip.

Db130702

Ed Kilgore drives home the point that the Roberts Court largely ignored the Civil War and the purpose and intent of the post-Civil War constitutional amendments that reordered the nature of federalism, by concocting a state sovereignty argument bordering on "states' rights" Tentherism.

Civil Rights Amendment “Originalism”:

While we are talking about the relationship of the struggle for civil
rights with contemporary politics and jurisprudence, I’d like to call
your attention to Eric Schnurer’s fine essay
at Ten Miles Square on the strange amnesia among conservatives about
the radical intent of the Civil Rights Amendments to the Constitution:

Those who claim to believe in following the Constitution’s
letter and the Framers’ intent reject the idea, as Roberts put it, that
history ended in 1965 – rather, they believe it ended in 1789. The
rallying cry of “original intent” seemingly has taken “original” to mean
the document’s 1789 version only. The post-Civil War Amendments hardly
ever get the “originalist” recognition they deserve.
There’s a reason
for that: Self-styled originalists wouldn’t like the results.

That’s because, in the first several years after the Civil
War, the Constitution was amended dramatically to alter the role of
states from what the Framers of the original document envisioned. As a
result of the war, federal authority had been forcibly imposed over a
few specific states
. The 13th (abolishing slavery), 14th (discussed
further here) and 15th (voting rights) Amendments championed by the
Radical Republicans “constitutionalized” this new relationship. The new,
revised constitutional structure – which we still live under today –
was specifically intended to subject states of the former Confederacy to
federal control
. This renders it transparently disingenuous for the
Supreme Court to find itself shocked, shocked that Congress, in
enforcing the VRA, would target states of the former Confederacy, and
uncharacteristically to insist that we hurry on from the constitutional
past.

As Schnurer observes, the 14th Amendment in particular was intended
to create, and was in fact used to create, a very different relationship
between the federal government and the states, precisely because the
Founders’ design had shown its flaws in dealing with slavery.

The written Constitution under which we live today
represents the emergence of a vastly different conception of the need
for centralized, national power in the 19th Century from that of the
revolutionaries of the 18th. Unwise departure from founding principles
or not, relevant or irrelevant to today’s world, this
reconceptualization of the federal role and federal/state relations was
adopted and written into the Constitution, supplanting that of the
founding generation
. So, if one truly believes (as I do) that fidelity
to our nation’s heritage, laws, and values requires giving force to
what’s actually in the Constitution and what the framers of those
provisions intended, then it’s inconsistent (to be charitable) to
continue to cling to, say, Patrick Henry’s vision rather than, say,
Thaddeus Stevens’. Or Abraham Lincolns’.

This is an argument that “constitutional conservatives” rarely if
ever address, but is perhaps why they feel the need to endow the 1789
document (absent the specific sanction for slavery) with such
supernatural trappings. It is richly ironic that people who claim to
have such a reverence for American’s unique history and traditions can’t
quite seem to come to grips with our country’s most traumatic and
transformative event, the Civil War, and its aftermath
. But it can’t
just be wished away.

Unless of course you are John Roberts and the conservative activist justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Comments are closed.