Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

50 Years of Progress in Civil Rights, but More to Be Done

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

50 Years of Progress in Civil Rights, but More to Be Done

Article excerpt

There is nothing that makes one feel old like anniversaries of important historical events that happened 50 or more years ago -- well within that person's lifetime.

Just such an event was observed Monday. It has been 50 years since Alabama Gov. George Wallace uttered his now-infamous inaugural address in which he proudly declared, "Segregation now, segregation tamarrah, segregation forevah."

At the time, I was a naive 14-year-old living outside the South and hardly aware of the struggle that was beginning to boil over in another part of the country. I have no memory of Wallace's address, which interestingly included much of the anti-government, anti- Washington rhetoric so prevalent today -- minus the overtly racist statements, of course. But as my life progressed, I was to come face to face with the Wallace legacy, to experience -- at least as an interested bystander -- the struggles for racial equality.

The Alabama governor's inauguration began a tumultuous year for this nation, perhaps one of the most angst-filled in my lifetime.

Before it was done, the Civil Rights movement reached a crescendo with Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety "Bull" Connor's assault on demonstrators in that city, the assassination of NAACP leader Medgar Evers in Mississippi, the death of four young girls in a Birmingham church bombing and the March on Washington at which the Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

But that was hardly all that happened that year. Pope John XXIIV died and was succeeded by Pope Paul VI, who continued the Vatican II process that modernized the Roman Catholic Church.

And, perhaps most memorable, President John F. Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet in Dallas, his accused killer Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby while the nation watched on television, and Texan Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency.

It would be hard to say which of these monumental events was the most significant, but history has shown that the Wallace speech had implications far beyond the crowd gathered on the spot where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as president of the Confederacy in 1861. Some have said it gave cover to the most radical and unstable people in the segregation movement. And most certainly, his leadership of the states' rights platform gave voice to the changing political landscape in the South.

No more would white Democrats dominate elected office holders, and no longer would African-Americans be closed out of the political process. …

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