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Celebrate Civil Rights Act signing

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COMMENTARY

By CATRINA FRANCIS
Gold Standard Senior Staff Writer
catrina.s.francis2.civ@mail.mil

As we celebrate African-History Month and the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I believe we should all take a moment to reflect how momentous that signing was and what it meant.
I always believed the younger generation was so far removed from the signing that it was just another date in history for them. But, I admit I was wrong. It has actually been some folks my age and a little older who have forgotten how things were in this country.
While I wasn’t alive when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act on July 2, 1964, I’ve benefited greatly from it. I also benefited from not living through the atrocious Jim Crow laws and how they were aimed at making African-Americans and other minorities feel less than.
The Civil War was supposed to solve America’s race problem, but by the early 1900s, Jim Crow laws were created to ensure the country remained segregated. These laws were baseless and ignorant. I can’t imagine the humiliation of having to endure being treated like a second-class citizen.
I’m thankful that I will never know how it felt to attend schools in Missouri which were “separate but free” schools. Those schools were established for the education of children African descent.
It was unlawful for any “colored child” to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a “colored” school, according to www.americanhistory.si.edu. Or, the pain of having to endure hurtful and hateful restrictive signs that were spread across the south and western landscape which read, “stay in your place.”
Because of this signing I have the freedom to travel, attend schools and live where I choose. I’ve never lived in an area which discriminated against me based on the color of my skin. But, during Jim Crow there were property restrictions, and communities signed agreements which prohibited African-Americans, Jews, Asians and Latinos living in certain neighborhoods.
According to www.americanhistory.si.edu, in the 1940s Arlington Country, Va., purchasers agreed never to sell their houses to “persons of any other race than the white Caucasian race.”
Without the signing we would never know the meaning diversity. We would never know being inclusive and not exclusive is what made this country stronger. Although African-Americans wouldn’t experience total freedom until 1964, we have fought in all wars dating back to the Revolutionary War. In fact it was a slave, Crispus Attucks, who was the first casualty of the Boston Massacre.
African-Americans have proudly served on the battlefield and many paid the ultimate sacrifice for a country that treated them like they didn’t matter. That had to be a bitter pill to swallow. Can you imagine fighting in Europe during World War II and being treat-ed as an equal to only return to this country to segregation? I know I can’t. I would have questioned the reasons for fighting in the war.
One of the men who I have greatly admired believed the same thing. When his name was called during the draft for the Vietnam War, Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the Army for that very reason. He said, “No Vietcong ever called me n@$#**.” Ali couldn’t reconcile that horrible treatment in America, yet he was being called to fight for this country.
I believe we all have our reasons for serving. For me, it was the educational oppor-tunities which were offered by the Army. I also knew the military was one of the best, if not the best, equal opportun-ity employer available to all. It doesn’t matter your color, gender or racial ethnicity. Your success or failure in the armed forces is your own.
It’s been said those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it. I firmly believe we’ve learned from our past mistakes.
As we celebrate this month we must all remember the signing of the Civil Rights Act was not done to separate one group from another, it was done to ensure we all had equal opportunities. Instead of looking at someone as being different we should embrace our differences and use those experiences to learn a little something about others.