50 Years after the Civil Rights Act, African Americans Face a Different Kind of Segregation

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted on July 2, 50 years ago today. It is a landmark piece of legislation that in the United States outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It ended unequal application of registration requirements for voting, racial segregation in schools, workplace, and also facilities that serve the general public.

To talk about the significance of this day and the history of it are two guests in our studio.

Dayvon love. He is the founder of the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle out of Baltimore, Maryland. He’s a champion debater and has considerable experience in grassroots activism in the Baltimore community.

And also joining us is Bob Moore. He served in the Maryland–he was the Maryland director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the period just before the assassination of Martin Luther King. In 1964 he was one of the founding organizers of the community organization known as Union Jobs or Income Now, which was a project of students for a democratic society. He was also an organizer for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers for nearly 45 years.

Thanks for joining us.

BOB MOORE, FMR. MARYLAND DIRECTOR, SNCC: You’re welcome.

PERIES: Both of you.

PRESIDENT, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: Thank you. Thank you.

PERIES: Bob, let me start with you. This was, you know, your period of civil rights activism. You were present as this act was being signed. Describe events leading up to the act and what happened immediately after.

MOORE: I think the passage was always in doubt. It came up, I think, the Civil Rights Act, because of all the demonstrations during the ’60s over youth, counters, drugstores, jobs, what have you, because America was a pretty discriminatory place. The city here was full of discrimination as when I was a kid.

And in the summer 1963, of course, people know about the March on Washington for Jobs or income now. And as a result of that gathering, Kennedy suggested that he was going to put forth a civil rights act. In fact, that demonstration that August was in fact meant to put a point on making sure that Kennedy and Congress passed.

When Kennedy was assassinated–I think that’s November ’63–there was great concern that all would be lost. We didn’t know that the president at the time, Lyndon Johnson, who had been Kennedy’s vice president, and just become president and whether or not since he was from Texas, a southern state with a big history of racism and discrimination, whether this was the end of the Civil Rights Act. But Johnson moved forward and in ’64 passed it.

But by that time I think most of us young folks in the movement had moved on to trying to organize real political power and give poor people and black people a organization to–organizational grounding, so that jobs and income and clean, decent neighborhoods to live in would also become a reality.

PERIES: Was Baltimore then a segregated city until that time?

MOORE: Pretty much. I guess it’s just coming out. I forget the year they passed a public accommodations bill, but certainly I began my activism as a student demonstrator on Freedom Rides when CORE and others came to town. I wasn’t allowed to get arrested in those days.

And then in ’63 at the Gwynn Oak amusement park, which was the first time I get arrested, we were trying to put an end to discrimination at that facility.

And so, yes, it was pretty segregated town.

PERIES: And 50 years later, Dayvon Love, you’re active in trying to fight some, you know, not segregated amusement parks but other kinds of segregation. How do you sort of deal with the Civil Rights Act now?

LOVE: Yeah, I mean, it’s really interesting. Many of the things that Mr. Moore said I think helps put context to the way that I think the Civil Rights Act of ’64 affects people’s collective consciousness around issues of racial justice, because what often happens is that people, they pluck the Civil Rights Act of ’64 out of this historical context. So, you know, people talk about the ending of discrimination as being, like, the endgame for what civil rights was about instead of the importance of organizing communities to have the power to be able to determine the economic, political, and social dynamics in their communities. And oftentimes conceptually it’s difficult for people to understand civil rights beyond just the notion of ending segregation, because of the way the Civil Rights Act and the March on Washington, etc., is lifted up as kind of, you know, the culmination of what civil rights is supposed to be about.

And so I know in my work one of the things that we have to do on top of the advocacy that we do on particular issues is to frame the context around racial justice beyond just the notion of color blindness, beyond the notion of just not discriminating, but also investing in communities to be able to build the power necessary for the kinds of things like guaranteed income, which was a part of, you know, Dr. King’s call in the “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963. And even if you look at then the other civil rights acts, you know, the Voting Rights Act of 65, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which were all supposed to try to help to create investment in the very communities that were affected–.

And one thing I’d like to note: you know, one of the things that Dr. King remarked about in an essay he wrote called “Testament of Hope”, where he says that, you know, nine out of the ten provisions in the Civil Rights Act were not being enforced. And one of the things that really was disheartening to him was to see that, you know, a lot of the money that was supposed to be put aside to supplement the Civil Rights Act of 64 was being directed towards the war in Vietnam. You know, and this for him was devastating, because for him in order for the Civil Rights Act of 64 to be meaningful and substantive, it needed to be accompanied with many of the things that Mr. Moore talked about in terms of economic justice. And that being taken off the table, I think, undermines what it was supposed to do. And I think that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in today.

PERIES: So it needed to be enforced fully in order to have its intended impact.

LOVE: Absolutely.

PERIES: Bob, one thing that was very significant in what both of you said in your introductory statements is the economic justice part of it. And it’s something you were struggling–as the act was being signed, something you were struggling for was economic justice of African Americans. And I see Dayvon saying he’s still working on that issue. So let’s talk about the lineage from then to now in terms of economic justice issues.

MOORE: Well, like I said, in the summer of 1964–I think it’s also important to remember that there was a thing called Freedom Summer and a thing in August called the Democratic Party convention, where after a summer of intense organizing in Mississippi, a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party came to the Democratic Party convention, because they–pledging to be loyal Democrats, where they were not allowed to hold position or office in the Mississippi Democratic Party.

And Lyndon Johnson also at that point–this was just a couple of months after the signing of the Civil Rights Act–told liberals and progressives to get the Mississippi people in line. And they offered a compromise of two seats, two voting seats, as opposed to, you know, a full accreditation in the party. And people saw that as also a betrayal. While on the one hand there’s the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you know, we know by now, we believe, or certainly many of us believe that the only way to get real economic justice was also to have a real democracy where people were included in the process. And it was Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act and making sure that the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party went away, right, which will be–I’m sure some people will recognize that anniversary. Whether it will get the same glow that the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s getting I don’t know. But remember the Voting Rights Act came the following year, 1965, after Bloody Sunday and demonstrations in Alabama, and, you know, we still have pretty much a–well, in Mississippi we have the highest–I think the highest portion of blacks in elected office in Mississippi, right, and the highest percentage of black population, and it’s still a pretty poor place and there are no–I don’t think there are any statewide holders in Mississippi who are African-American.

PERIES: What kind of jobs were African Americans engaged in at the time, and what were the kinds of things you were fighting for?

MOORE: Well, our project started in Baltimore as a attempt to organize the unemployed. It’s hard for people to remember this, but during, you know, that period of time, it was an attempt–there was–progressives attempted to get what they call a full-employment economy. And so there was this legislation going on that was what they call, I think, the Humphrey Hopkins full-employment bill. And so we thought the way to get started was trying to organize all the people who were unemployed and press for training and jobs.

It’s also in Baltimore–at the time, they had just–in 1964 they unfolded what they call sort of a war on poverty, and this is a forerunner of the national program, where I actually had my first political interaction with the City Council and then a councilman, Don Schaeffer, because we saw the program that they had developed as being–not creating any jobs or economic. It was supposed to teach people how to do to get jobs. And there seemed to be more welfare than any projects. You know, could you build schools, could you build houses, the kind of things that they–had been done during the–after the Great Depression, can you do those things in a city? Yeah. And it’s about then that also steel jobs began to slow down, in the mid ’60s. And so, yeah, people come from–you know, migrants who had from the South, like my people, who found jobs, decent, good jobs in industry–union jobs, by the way–and now this next–my generation, if you didn’t have high school, if you didn’t have a college diploma or a high school diploma, it was hard to get a industrial job and so on, I think. During this period in the mid ’60s, people did apply a lot of welfare and [incompr.] but nothing that actually would change people’s economic conditions.

PERIES: Dayvon, when did you learn–in terms of your schooling, your education, when did you learn about this history? And is it resonating with you in terms of what you’ve learned and what Bob is describing?

LOVE: Yeah, I mean, that’s a really interesting question. We were talking before just about how, you know, there is a pretty considerable youth advocacy community in Baltimore, a lot of young people that are interested in social transformation and pushing for racial and social justice. You know. But a lot of us aren’t really connected to a lot of the people here in Baltimore who were doing the work and were on the front line. And it really, for me, hasn’t been until recently that I’m getting acclimated with some of the history of Baltimore, the, you know, civil rights movement.

You know, when Mr. Moore mentioned the Gwynn Oak Park desegregation event, you know, it’s interesting. You know, you mention that, you know, delegate Jill Carter, who’s been instrumental in a lot of the work that we’ve been doing here in Baltimore, her father, you know, Walter Carter, was really instrumental in that effort. You know. And she tells me stories about, you know, the work that her father did on that issue and on other issues as well. So for me it’s just really important, you know, to hear more of that history, ’cause we don’t really learn that in school. We don’t really learn about, you know, the Parren Mitchells and the Marion Bascoms or the Vernon Dobsons, the Homer Favors, you know, the people who were responsible for really pushing forward some of the progress that we see here in Baltimore. So I think that’s definitely something that needs to be highlighted more.

PERIES: And, you know, schools in Baltimore, with a, you know, 63 percent African-American population, why isn’t the curriculum more attuned to what happened to African-Americans and their history?

LOVE: Well, that’s a very complex question. I mean, I think the simplest way to put it is that, you know, I think there were many people that benefited from the gains of the civil rights movement, but I think what you’ll find is that there are a lot of folks who benefited from that that didn’t carry on the legacy. You know, I think there were some people who were so enthralled in integration, the ethos of integration, in the sense of, you know, going into white communities and affluent communities, you know, leaving behind a lot of the folks who were responsible for grooming them, and, you know, putting them in a place where they could take advantage of those opportunities without having, you know, a commitment to giving back to those from whence they came. And I think what you see in Baltimore is exactly that, folks who don’t /pərˈvir/ that legacy the way they should, particularly being legatees of that very struggle that created the opportunities we have today.

And so, you know, I mean, that’s kind of a controversial thing to say, but I’m not sure there’s any other explanation as to why, you know, some, you know, prominent–Baltimore being so prominent during the civil rights movement–. I mean, Baltimore was one of the first cities when Brown v. Board of Education came down to be–it was forced to be integrated, you know, one of four cities that was a part of that effort. And Baltimore was really in the center of that. And, again, those are things I didn’t learn about till, you know, I was an adult. Again, it just speaks to the lack of reverence that’s given in the political mainstream in Baltimore to the importance that legacy.

PERIES: Bob, you were saying earlier that at the time you were conflicted. You know, do you continue the civil rights struggle, fight for economic justice for your people, or, you know, actually go to school and learn some more about the world, about the situation you find yourself in? You felt conflicted. Why did you end up doing what you did?

MOORE: I suppose, and at the time, to me, it clearly–well, these were moral questions and moral issues for me, as they were for many other people, especially black Americans. But we had a conflict because our families wanted us, you know, like, to get that education, go on. You’ll get a job. Things’ll change by and by. And at the time there were many of us who thought, you know, you have to stand up for injustice as it is. And for a while the conflict kept coming and going until about 1965, when I finally just dropped out, right, and then tried to get my bearings.

So it is–you know, I think generation–it’s also–you can see it in the media. You know. The stories that get reported passed on [incompr.] the stories, ’cause I look at what’s happening today, and, you know, certain things, from whether it was the Iraq War, is kind of–you know, history prior to a given period is just ignored. And so here we are, right? And we also had a point where the old Dixiecrats are now conservative Republicans trying to roll back people’s right to vote.

And so while there’s lots of progress–and certainly Obama being in the White House is some kind of [incompr.] that’s progress, ’cause it’s not–I couldn’t have imagined that–you know, 50 years ago that that would happen. But it’s happened, and that’s a victory. But at the same time, the issues, the economy comes in where African Americans are still, you know, first to be fired, last to be hired, as we used to say back then. And there’s complete resistance to doing anything to ameliorate that situation. People don’t want to spend money on education, you know, because we never did really get to the basis of the ruling, which was that 1954 ruling that night education had to be, you know, equality-based so that everybody got an equal education. And part of that, you know, was resistance to the notion that schools should be integrated, integrated at a time when the cities are changing, people with jobs are leaving, the industrial jobs are gone, people are fleeing the city to greener pastures, and you wind up being left with poor people who can’t do a whole lot. The open housing campaign that led to the election of Spiro Agnew as governor of Maryland, right, is a, you know, strange story. But none of that has gone away, right? There are still these issues that I hear that are not being addressed. Progress, yes, and I look that there’s going to be a brighter day, because–and it’s so good to hear Dayvon, ’cause I often wonder, I’ve been kind of lost to whatever youth are doing, but I’m very pleased that, you know, young people are struggling, and I kind of understand that it’s going to be different than what it was. Right?

PERIES: Bob, you’re far too young to pass the baton to Dayvon so soon. You have to be a active part of this struggle for civil rights that is still going on today, because while the schools may not be segregated, this city still is in terms of, you know, some sections of the city getting more, and those are usually the white communities in the greater Baltimore area, perhaps. And the city still remains to be quite segregated, and your struggles that you are fighting for here, whether it’s economics, jobs, or school curriculum, or housing–this is a very segregated city. How do you explain that and how to deal with it is an activist?

LOVE: Yeah, it’s–I mean, one of the lessons that the civil rights movement gives is that there are ways beyond just overt racism that economic devastation has done to black folks. And so we when you think of segregation, you’re thinking about a series of policies that have the effect of reinforcing, you know, racial inequality. So, for instance, if you look at redlining, where, you know, federally backed banks wouldn’t, you know, invest in giving mortgages to black folks that lived in certain neighborhoods. You know. And that kind of practice continues today. It’s not called redlining, but in terms of what it is that city government invest in. You know, the city just invented in a tax increment financing bill that they gave a developer, Michael Beatty, over $100 million to do development at Harbor Point. You know?

And one of the questions that people ask is, well, why not invest in the very people and communities that are most directly affected by things like institutional racism to build up communities’ power, because that would be mutually beneficial to everyone in the city, doing it that way. But what you find is that the investment that’s done happens along racial lines in the city in terms of development in the harbor, you know, development in places like Kent and Harbor East, whereas in places like lower Park Heights, you know, Winchester-Sandtown, you know, parts of Edmondson Village–so you don’t find the same level of investment, and you can’t possibly look at that investment, you know, of public dollars without seeing that it’s clearly a racialized way in which those resources are invested, which exacerbates the racial inequality.

But what happens is that because there isn’t a sign that says, you know, “whites only”, you know, people don’t think that that means that there is racism present. And so a part of the work that we have to do is to illuminate the fact that during the civil rights movement you had similar issues in terms of, you know, redlining and restrictive covenants, you know, things of that nature that didn’t necessarily have to explicitly say “whites only” but had the effect of creating the–well, you look at the Homestead Acts, where billions of dollars were given, you know, primarily to white families, which pretty much built, you know, the white middle class that we see in our society today that black people were excluded from. I mean, these are the kinds of things that I think is important to illuminate that history within the civil rights movement, so that people see the corollaries between that and current policies in which investment is done in a racialized way that exacerbates the discrimination and the segregation and the racial inequality.

PERIES: So one of the solutions to all of this is really jobs, jobs, and jobs.

MOORE: Correct.

PERIES: You know, it was an issue back then. It is an issue now. Through, you know, economic emancipation a lot of the issues that we’re struggling about could really be resolved, because money is power. Having an ability to act differently, if you were well resourced, you would probably act differently. So what do you say to those who are fighting for economic justice issues today?

MOORE: I don’t know what there is to say except pick up the pace. It was so disappointing. There was a big effort to raise the minimum wage here. And when I saw where it wound up, you know, at $10.10 in–when is it?–2018 or whatever it is–.

PERIES: People are fighting for a $15 minimum wage in some parts of the country. But even that is really very little to bring a family of four, you know, up in the city.

MOORE: Right. And, you know, my union is engaged now in a fight with Hopkins over trying to raise wages substantially to get people to $15 an hour, which to get there you won’t–it won’t bring you peace of mind. Right? And it won’t necessarily allow you to raise your kids in a much different economic style.

So it still goes on in today. And while people can pat themselves on the back–and I take credit for some victories along the way. You know, I became a union organizer because I thought that would be a vehicle to which at least black working people could–it would empower them to change, help change economic conditions. But even in labor it is struggling to stay alive.

PERIES: Obama is at this moment, you know, fighting for the $10.10 that’s been signed, and as executive order signed into being enacted in 2017. Ten-ten isn’t insufficient to raise a family. Fifteen dollars an hour isn’t sufficient to raise a family. Today there’s a huge demonstration going on in South Africa, where the metalworkers union is fighting for a 12 percent increase on their $2.25 an hour wage. The struggle for, you know, a living wage in this country and around the world is such a big issue in a country that is so rich. You know, 50 years later we’re fighting for the same thing.

What do you think will be transformative, Dayvon? What do you think will actually make this country and those elites in power, you know, make a difference in terms of people’s wages?

LOVE: I mean, I think really one of the conversations that’s recently been reignited is a conversation around reparations. And I think, you know, when you think about the 246 years of free labor that pretty much was the startup capital, the economic inertia that made America the global superpower it is, and the hundred years of Jim Crow where black folks were excluded from economic competition that’s necessary to engage in asset–acquire–wealth-building activity, you know, I think reparations is one of the few things–if you look at it just from a policy standpoint, what it would take to at least begin the, you know, radical redistribution of political power and wealth that Dr. King once talked about–. You know, he once gave a speech where he talked about a lot of the subsidies that, you know, white farmers had gotten, you know, land-grant colleges had gotten, in order to start their institutions, so that they could be self-sustaining. And reparations to me seems like one really central and important remedy to provide the capital necessary for black folks to be able to build the kinds of institutions where we would be able to protect our own quality of life, to be held to build our own institutions and have the kind of economic parity that would encourage the kind of social and racial justice that I think was the spirit of the civil rights movement.

PERIES: Some people would argue, Bob, that reparations is not the answer for the economic injustice against African Americans in this country. What do you say to that?

MOORE: I would ask them what do they think the answer is.

But, you know, the question of any community, right, is: what is this–what is that economy based upon? Right? And are people able to participate in that economy? And clearly, right, there are millions of Americans, not just color of skin, but just happen to be poor or immigrants who are just trying to get a foot up, you have to do something. Otherwise, what we have is a very–you know, the rich get richer and, you know, meanwhile people are crumbling, and all around the world.

And it’s why in part there has–I think–and it has to be some kind of new labor movement, right, one that is structured to look at the bigger picture than just to have a simple–what they call a pure-and-simple unionism, where you’ve got a contract and you’ve got employees in this job or that skilled job and you get a contract and that’s all, because the reason where the unions are taking a beating today is because they don’t–you know, most people don’t–even though they might be working and need just as much as–you don’t see that as a vehicle for change. Plus the laws make it–you know, workers don’t really have civil rights, right, in the country. You know, you work for somebody, like we’ve just seen in the Supreme Court, they don’t think you should have pills, you won’t get pills. And that’s what workers find themselves. And if they happen to be public workers, nobody likes paying taxes. But on the other hand, you know, we subsidize a awful lot of employers and people who supposed to create jobs and economic development, and it doesn’t happen.

You know, I think the answer is we have to have a more democratic society, where the voice of the poor and blacks and Latinos and women get to take on some of this power, because it is very uneve. It is clearly uneven. Congress doesn’t to serve–I mean, they may be serving what they perceive to be the interests of their [incompr.] but you tell me how in Alabama, as bad off as people are, poor people, black people are in Alabama, how they could be on the wrong side of so much progressive legislation, worrying about balancing a budget on the backs of the poor?

PERIES: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us on The Real News Network for our discussion on civil rights and wrongs. This is obviously an ongoing discussion that we’ll have to keep addressing. So perhaps we’d like to have you back. And we’ll have the discussion on reparations and union organizing and continue on The Real News Network.

LOVE: Thank You.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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