Civil Rights: A 50-year Perspective

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage and signing of the Civil Rights Act. It was an important legislative step that— on paper, at least – ended the economic, social and educational disadvantages expressly allowed under Jim Crow laws.

We have long recognized the affinity between Jews who fled Germany because of the increasingly worrisome restrictions under Hitler’s rule and African Americans who were kept in second-class citizenship by a patchwork of Jim Crow laws.

Strikingly similar to the Nuremberg Laws passed in Nazi Germany in 1935, Jim Crow laws touched every aspect of everyday life. The laws of both Germany and the United States allowed the banning of certain customers from stores. There were strictly enforced rules against “mixed” marriages and banned co-education between groups. Both Nazis and U.S. segregationists created detailed ways to classify one’s race and, by doing so, arbitrarily restricted the level of that person’s civic rights. While those discriminatory laws have changed, there is still a great need to transform the hearts and minds of people who truly believed in the necessity of those restrictions.

We know that anti-Semitism still exists, sometimes in violent form. We know that racism still blights every community and afflicts every institution. We know that prejudice and bigotry put innocent people at risk every moment of their days.

In this, the fiftieth year since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we continue to ask what more must be done. How can we, as an organization and as individuals deeply committed to creating a more just, more welcoming community, best use the opportunities this anniversary affords us?

The Holocaust Center will be presenting programming, beginning in September 2014, that will provide opportunities to remember the history of our struggles for equality. We hope to educate and inspire our visitors to consider how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. An extraordinary exhibit, THEM: Images of Separation from the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State College in Michigan will be the starting point. Films, drama and community presentations will encourage important conversations about marginalization and otherness. Programs will be a call to action, helping each of us find the path to move our community forward in the quest for justice.

Please join us for the Orlando Kick-off event on Monday June 30, 10 to noon, at the steps of City Hall, followed by a reception and entertainment in the rotunda. Co-sponsored by the Office of Community Affairs and Human Relations for the City of Orlando

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Under the Civil Rights Act, segregation on the grounds of race, religion or national origin is banned at all places of public accommodation, including courthouses, parks, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas and hotels. No longer could blacks and other minorities be denied service simply based on the color of their skin. The act also barred race, religious, national origin and gender discrimination by employers and labor unions, and created an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the power to file lawsuits on behalf of aggrieved workers.
Additionally, the act forbids the use of federal funds for any discriminatory program, authorized the Office of Education (now the Department of Education) to assist with school desegregation, gave extra clout to the Commission on Civil Rights and prohibited the unequal application of voting requirements.

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