RALEIGH — State Rep. Garland Pierce, whose district includes parts of Robeson County, said this week that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a major force in moving the United States into the 21st Century.
“This was ground-breaking legislation,” Pierce said. “It opened doors for America’s minorities, especially blacks, that had never been there before.”
Pierce, chairman of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, led a press conference in Raleigh on Wednesday that was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was 50 years ago, on July 2, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark legislation into law.
Under the act, it was promised that equal opportunity under the law would be established for all Americans. It brought for all races the end to outright discrimination and segregation.
The legislation also laid the groundwork for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that protects everyone right to vote.
“We’re not all the way there yet, but this was ground-breaking legislation that made a big difference in the lives of all minorities,” Pierce said. “People were now not to be treated as second class citizens. For the first time they could get a good quality education, vote, shop and spend their money where they wanted. They could eat in any restaurant they chose.”
Pierce said that it “took a lot of courage” for individuals to come forward and lead the movement that finally led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act becoming law.
“On the 50th anniversary of this landmark legislation in our nation’s history, let us remember all the men and women and their contributions to making America a more just and civil society, and acknowledge that there is still work to be done,” Pierce said.
Rep. Charles Graham, a Lumberton resident and an American Indian member of the Legislative Black Caucus, called the 1964 Civil Rights Act “one of the greatest pieces of legislation in our history.”
“The anniversary of this important legislation should be recognized,” he said. “We cannot let people forget where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.
“There have been a lot of accomplisments for minorities since the passage of this legislation, not just in North Carolina but across the country,” Graham said. “It’s been good for the country economically, socially and morally… Any group considered a minority is now reaping the same benefits equally with all other groups.”
Pierce ended the conference with a quote made by President Johnson when he signed the act into law:
“This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us to go to work in our communities and our states, in our communities and our states, in our homes and in our hearts to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country,” Johnson said. “So tonight I urge every public official, every religious leader, every business and professional man, every workingman, every housewife – I urge every American — to join in this effort to bring justice and hope to all our people and to bring peace to our land.”