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 “In a multi-racial society, no group can make it alone.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a couple of days, it will be February, a month designated in 1976 as Black History Month.  Some people feel that February was chosen as the month to focus on black people because it is the shortest month.  But as I wrote in 1999: “February was selected because it was the birthday month of Abraham Lincoln (Emancipation Proclamation) and Frederick Douglass (U.S. Black leader, journalist and statesman)… Coincidentally, February is also the birth month of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Feb. 4, 1915), a civil rights activist who refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, thereby spearheading the Montgomery bus boycott and increasing civil rights efforts.” 

Many of the January celebrations commemorating Dr. King’s birthday and legacy made references to the civil rights marches and protests, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” (1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom).  Dr. King said in this speech: “I have a dream that one day…the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. …” 

People of all races, colors, ages and religions joined together to protest and march against racism, but the majority of the participants were black.  Certainly, the participation of non-blacks showed that Americans from all groups found racism to be against the tenets of democracy espoused in the July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence, which states:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” 

As history has shown, some people in the U.S.A. were (are) not considered equal.  The Constitution of the United States (1787) considered a black person to be only three-fifths of a human being.

Since the majority of marchers/protesters were black and the focus was on racism, people forget or don’t know that the resulting Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed not only discrimination based on race, but also discrimination based on ethnicity, national origin, religion and sex (gender).  The Act barred unequal voter registration requirements (but not literacy tests) and racial segregation in schools, the workplace and in public accommodations and established the Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity.

“Within a year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to strengthen the voting provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” (Civil Rights Chronicle, The African-American Struggle for Freedom, Clayborne Carson, Primary Consultant)  But as Dr. King said, “Laws only declare rights, they do not deliver them.”

Throughout the year, but especially during Black History Month, Americans should acknowledge and appreciate the fact that struggles for black rights procured rights for all Americans. 

“[O]ur world is a neighborhood. …We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.  And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. March 31, 1968.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...