The other day, I commented on how wonderful it was to see four former presidents joining President Barack Obama in celebrating the great civil rights progress that was made in the 1960’s. America was changed, the United States is a better country but the struggle for true equality regretfully is far from being over.
I was delighted to see a statement in the Austin American Statesman on the fact that the struggle needs to continue. An article was coauthored by the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus and they touched briefly on very serious issues that still must be addressed. They state that as Texans:
“We rightly demand a fair system that provides meaningful freedom and opportunity for each of us….
“Instead we see a fixed system that consistently puts well-connected millionaire donors and corporations ahead of middle class working Texans. We still a school finance system that is so unfair and inadequate that most Texas school districts are compelled to sue the state over it.”
“We see a sustained attack on health services, women and the poor, along with efforts to revise history, whitewashing the record and ignoring the plain fact that Texas leads the nation in its percentage of uninsured residents.”
“And in clear echoes of 50 years ago, we see repeated efforts to make it harder for Texans to exercise the most fundamental right of all – the right to cast their ballots.”
The senators are very correct in pointing out that so much still needs to be done. I certainly hope and pray that Texans will continue to work for a more just and equitable society.
Onward through the fog.
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The 1960’s were an extraordinary time in the United States. They were filled with hope and chaos. Nationally, the Vietnam War raged on and on. Thousands of young Americans were dying and tens of thousands of Vietnamese were suffering the same fate. The draft was on and many young people were making every effort to avoid it because they instinctively knew that the war was so senseless, so wasteful and so unnecessary.
On the Church side of the ledger, things looked differently. Konrad Adenauer was leading a prosperous, peace loving Germany and the agony of the Second World War was beginning to fade, at least slightly. In the Church there was optimism everywhere. John XXIII, that rotund, little parish priest from the Italian alps, sat on the throne of Peter. He was loving and lovable. He looked at the problems in the Church and for the first time in more than 100 years called for a world-wide council of bishops. Change was in the air. Hope was in the air. Optimism was abundant. So there you had that decade. You had war and chaos and conflict, and you had faith, hope and optimism.
As a young priest, I had already been in several very diverse parishes and in the late ‘60’s was serving the national office in Washington, D.C. I had the thrill of witnessing close at hand the remarkable legislative accomplishments of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. In the South, the Freedom Riders were beaten and sometimes killed but the War on Poverty with all of its ramifications and the Civil Rights Act, the Voters Rights Act and Open Housing Act were all passed in that same decade. I remember the whole decade very well and I hope that I never forget it. No one should.
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Many sensitive Americans are very proud of racial progress that the nation has made since the first major civil rights act in 1964. This act was quickly followed by The Open Housing, The Voter Rights and a number of other breakthroughs on the racial front was a tremendous step forward. Together they were the crowning achievement of civil rights leaders working in tandem with Lyndon Johnson. Everything is a lot better now, right? WRONG!
A startling new book, written by Michele Alexander of the ACLU, entitled The New Jim Crow has just been published. In my opinion, the book meaningfully documents that the evils of Jim Crow have been returned in a very indirect manner. Alexander contends that mass incarceration of black men for non-violent drug offenses, combined with sentencing disparities and laws making it legal to discriminate against felons, public housing, employment, education and voting constitute nothing less than a new racial caste system, a new segregation.
The book goes on to document that according to federal statistics whites use drugs at roughly equal rate in percentage terms. In terms of raw numbers, whites are far bigger users in illegal drugs. The difference? Racial profiling by police.
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