I admit I am not a fan of professional golf. So it came as a huge shock to me when I learned that at the 2012 Master’s Tournament the CEO of IBM would not be invited to join. The main corporate sponsors of the Master’s are always invited to join the club, unless there is something horrible in their past that would make them undesirable.
In this case, there was. The CEO is Virginia Rometty. A woman. She was not offered membership, simply because of her gender.
And here, in the 21st century, at this tournament that receives a national audience and is considered important by advertisers and golf fans alike, a vestige of a way of life built on discrimination still stands.
I thought all that ended on this date in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made segregation against the law.
A bill cannot change people’s hearts overnight, but our government must sometimes lead people to accept change that is good for our nation. If we simply raised the banner of tradition to guide all our actions, women could not vote, native Americans would be exterminated, and African-Americans would still be held as slaves. Not all traditions are worth keeping.
Until that landmark bill was passed, racism was officially legal in the United States. Businesses had the right to discriminate against customers, employees, and vendors on the basis of race. What is extraordinary in the passage of the bill was that it was bipartisan. There were southern Democrats and ultra conservative Republicans who fought against it. But it was a Republican, Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois, who worked to bring the bill to passage. This is a proud moment in the history of not only the Republican party, but of Congress as a whole.
This bill’s sole purpose was to support the vision of the founding fathers who declared “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” After the Civil War, Congress passed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law to all citizens. Yet a variety of “Jim Crow” laws made huge numbers of Americans live under vicious apartheid rule. The “Mississippi Burning” murders were conducted to protect racist rule in Mississippi – and the police helped carry them out!
If we count the beginning of the modern civil rights era as starting with the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, it took legions of brave people, black and white, Jew and Christian, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal 9 years to fundamentally change the law.
The Declaration of Independence has no weight of law. However, it is our foundational mission statement as a nation. It states our ideals and challenges us to live up to them.
In 1964, LBJ, Congress, and millions of Americans took a giant step toward fulfilling those ideals.