Is it fair or just to treat someone is a manner that is not equal to others just because of skin color? Even though bigotry and racism still exist in society today, most people would agree that such actions are unjust.
In the United States during the years of 1964-1965 many people took a stance of all races against the injustices that African Americans were facing in society. This was a century after the end of the Civil War, yet the African American people were still being faced with prejudice and racism on a daily basis. Even though some prejudice still exists in society today, it is difficult to believe how less than 50 years ago it was legal to act in ways that were unfair to the African Americans and how too often people looked the other way when illegal actions were used.
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Hopefully not one person in this room has ever heard the words “People like you need to use the back door” or “You are not allowed here because you are colored.” It is probably inconceivable to any of us to hear a person say words like this to another and have to accept them as a fact of life. Certainly there would be some sort of outcry by the public if a business openly used these phrases on a regular basis. This was not so when our oldest relatives were growing up in this country, the “land of the free.”
Ask someone over the age of 70 if they have ever heard of an African American being referred to as a “nigger” and that person needing to accept the term as proper use by whites in society. Most likely they have heard such language, especially if they grew up in the southeastern part of the United States. About 50 years ago, many people in America, blacks, whites, and others, finally had enough of such injustices and took part in a movement to try to eradicate outright racial prejudice in the country. This action became known as the Civil Rights Movement.
Known as freedom riders, many college students spent their semester breaks traveling to the south from other parts of the country and often joining with other organized groups in the south to work together to help the African Americans in that region. One of the main goals of these students was to register blacks to vote. This process was not as easy as it sounds, as many hurdles were faced by these students. Civic leaders of the communities they visited did not want to change and tried whatever they could to make the lives of the students uncomfortable and try to encourage them to leave.
Also traveling to cities and towns in the south were members of many religious groups. Most often, but not exclusively, these were different denominations of protestant churches. Often they would arrange for peaceful sit-ins of public places that set different rules for blacks and whites. The goal was to encourage the business or facility to accept the African Americans as equal customers. At times, without provocation, the law enforcement officials would try and incite the groups to riot, which seldom worked. Their main goal was to peacefully demonstrate. There were times when, without provocation, the demonstrators were subject to physical cruelty for their actions.
Leaders of communities from throughout the country also participated in the same actions as the religious leaders and college students. They, too, wanted the African Americans to enjoy the freedoms that they deserved, even if they remained in the still outright prejudice south. Some of the goals of these groups were to call attention to the double standards that blacks and whites faced. For instance, a black housekeeper received a fraction of the pay that a white person performing the same duties would expect. With support from these leaders, some African Americans were able to stand up for themselves, others used the support they received to form boycotts and other peaceful actions to establish and send their message of their tolerance ending to the communities in which they lived.
Although most of us do not treat others differently because of skin color or other differences between people, we unfortunately live in a nation where there were centuries of intolerance and prejudice that were both legally and illegally practiced by whites over black people based solely on skin color.
Since the Civil War, and the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans were supposed to be treated as equal to whites. Because of legal loopholes and generations of prejudice, it took a decade for the African Americans to receive support from other like-minded individuals and demand change.
The actions of a seemingly small group of people, such as college students, when coordinated with others, such as more college students, can, in fact, incorporate changes within a community. Religious leaders and community officials working together also have the power to perpetuate change.
Not only is it important for us to not treat people who are different from ourselves with respect and dignity at all times, it also would behoove us to help those who we can tell are being persecuted before they even ask for help.