Hundreds Join First Black Attorney General for 50th Anniversary
The First African American and woman California Attorney General Kamala V. Harris stood on a stage at the California African American Museum that was made possible by the efforts of Los Angeles First Black Mayor Tom Bradley, recounting the ugly preceding moments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, hailing its milestones before challenging a nation to do more.
As host of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act in partnership with United Way of Greater Los Angeles and CAAM at the historical museum on Monday June 30, the state’s top law enforcer embraced the broad responsibilities of eradicating injustice and creating human equalities for all Americans.
After eloquent addresses by CAAM Executive Director Charmaine Jefferson who recalled the vivid memories of the Birmingham Church bombing on September 15, 1963 that killed four Black girls in their Sunday school classes and triggering outbreaks of violence throughout the nation, Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, civil rights leader and plaintiff Sylvia Mendez and Karen Korematsu, executive director and co-founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights a passionate tone for the occasion was established.
Each of the aforementioned, reminding the audience that discrimination and racial bigotry was not exclusively targeted toward African Americans, although their plight was the was the lit fuse that ignited a historical movement that while not as aggressive is still just as vibrant as it was in 1964.
Highlighted by a colorful rainbow of ethnic groups from Japanese, celebrated in dance by the Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Academy, and Korematsu who emphatically shared the saga of her father who was a central figure in the controversy over the wartime removal of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants from to inland detention centers, onto the singing of the ‘Negro National Anthem’ Life Every Voice and Sing by LAPD Officer Rosalind Curry, merged with the poignant speech of Mendez, who at the age of eight played an instrumental role in the landmark desegregation case of Mendez v. Westminster of 1946, made for a monumental occasion.
Los Angeles Urban League President Nolan V. Rollins brought about a rousing ovation in introducing Harris to the packed galley of the museum, saying that it was not just an introduction.
“You would not just introduce Shirley Chisholm, it would be an occasion to bring her before you. So it is with great pleasure that I bring someone to you who has the strength of Sojourner Truth, someone who has the intellect of Shirley Chisholm, someone who has the passion and compassion of Maya Angelou and someone who has the determination of Rosa Parks,” said Rollins.
Harris was quick to remind the audience that CAAM was built in 1984 by native Angelinos (African American) architects at the behest of Mayor Bradley during the Olympics.
“So, not only are we celebrated history we actually literally seated in a very historical place,” she began.
I would not be standing before you today as your Attorney General were it not for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I would not be standing here today if not for Brown v Board of Education. I would not be standing here if there had not been a California Attorney General who went on to be appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren who led to that ruling in the decision of Brown v. Board of Education, a precursor to the Civil Rights Act,” explained Harris.
Harris pondered if Justice Warren would have thought that some 60 years later his ruling would have been instrumental to her historical election as Attorney General, but here she was.
Lauding legal forebears of the Civil Rights Movement such as Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley who understood this great profession of law that inspired her as a young child growing up in Northern California.
She credited their abilities to translate the passion from the streets to the courtrooms of our country and understanding the power that we can have from a movement that had born from the ground where children were killed, leaders were jailed, restaurant counter demonstrations were impactful and million throng marches aimed at balancing the scales of justice.
It is a movement that came about as a result of an incredible sacrifice, through incredible leadership of such individuals as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hammer, James Howard Meredith, Medgar Evers, Andrew Goodman and so many other countless names who as Harris stated gave up their lives so that we could stand here today.
“The Civil Rights Act is not only something that was signed on July 2, 1964, it is still today a living, breathing document and it makes clear certain fundamental rights, certain fundamental truths. In particular that there shall be equal access to all that allows us to live a life of dignity. There shall specifically be equal access to education, equal access to the work place, equal access to public accommodations, equal access to the ballot box,” Harris explained.
Harris remembered the forgotten heroes of the struggle such as Bakersfield, California Senator Claire Engle.
On June 10, 1964, during the roll call for the historic, successful effort to break the filibuster on Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the clerk reached “Mr. Engle,” there was no reply. The tumor had robbed Engle of his ability to speak. Slowly lifting an arm, he pointed to his eye, thereby signaling his affirmative vote (“aye”).The cloture vote was 71-29, four votes more than the two-thirds required to cut off the filibuster. Nine days later the Senate approved the Act itself.
“So, what we understood was there was an urgent need for change. In that way that it is a living-breathing document, it’s urgency is no less present today than it was then. But they knew hen that the urgency that was presented was prudent proof. They know that in the Jim Crow South as Billy Holliday sang strange fruit hung from those trees,” Harris added.
She followed,” They knew that the laws creating separate, but equal facilities, created in fact second-class citizenship. They knew that whites only and colored signs designated on who could use a fountain, or who could use a restroom, who could go to a theatre or courthouse was inherently unjust.”
Today we know that a young girl who was raised by her parents amid the Civil Rights Movement, is fighting the good fight for affordable healthcare, women’s rights, increase in California wages, rolling up her sleeves in the war of sex trafficking.
Harris pointed out that 70 percent of Black males between the ages of 10-21 are more likely to die of a homicide in California, an absolute abdominal tragedy that she will vows to combat.