I’m a white, middle-class woman, possibly middle-aged, who benefited from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and truly appreciate what Martin Luther King, Jr. did to advance the Civil Rights Movement. As a direct result of the Civil Rights movement, I was promoted to my first management position when I was only 24. I had a stellar career with the Federal Government. I had choices. I had options. I had opportunities. I had them because the Civil Rights Act forced business and the Federal Government to give me those opportunities.
Is it perfect? No. Is everyone treated equally because of it? No. Do we have a long way to go? Yes.
I’m grateful for my friends and family who had the option to work after having children. I’m grateful that they didn’t have to quit their jobs when they became pregnant, or worse, be fired. I’m grateful that the ones who wanted to stay home had that choice. Until 1978, women could legally be fired from their jobs for becoming pregnant. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was a step to eliminate that practice.
Prior to the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, many banks required a man to cosign any credit application submitted by a single, widowed or divorced woman, regardless of their income. Often their wages were discounted by as much as 50% in determining how much credit could be given. I have single friends who have purchased homes on their own credit! I’ve had credit cards issued to me based solely on my income, with high credit limits. I’ve bought cars on my own.
Once upon a time, it was rare for a woman to rise above the ranks of a clerical position. Men were always chosen for promotions. Women rarely applied because they would not have had the necessary experience to have been considered. Women were expected to maintain the household, raise the children, take care of her husband, and do it all well if she wanted to work outside the home. One friend’s husband told her that she had his permission to work as long as everything at home ran smoothly.
My gratitude for my charmed life runs deep. I’m grateful for those who went before me and blazed the trail. I don’t even want to imagine my life had I not come of age after the civil rights movement.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” The word men has been expanded to include women as well. Dr. King led the Civil Rights Movement. Were it not for him, I doubt all the benefits of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not have applied to me, my family and friends. I’ve heard my friends say that there is no need to observe Martin Luther King Day and definitely no need to have school let out. Scary but true, I’ve also heard that we don’t have an observance for white people so why should we have one for blacks.
Unfortunately, they are missing the point. The Civil Rights Act is for everyone. Were there hurdles along the way while trying to implement? Yes. Were qualified white men passed over for jobs and promotions in order to ensure that minorities were represented in the workplace? Yes. Is discrimination alive and well? Sorry to report that yes, yes, I believe it is.
Please reconsider the question, “Have you personally benefited from the Civil Rights Act of 1964?” If you can honestly say, “No”, has anyone you know benefited? Consider the questions below as you formulate your response.
- Do you have at least one friend or family member who is African American, Asian, Native American, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian, Hispanic, Latino, Female, Gay or Lesbian?
- If you are a married woman, is your name on the Deed, Note and Mortgage of your house?
- As a woman, have you been given credit on your own merit?
- Do you know a woman who has been fired from her job for being pregnant?
If you answered “Yes” to any one of those questions, you at least know someone who has had opportunities that they would not have had if the Civil Rights Act had not been passed and MLK had not pushed for it.
I am a white, middle class, possibly middle-aged, woman who has lived the benefits of the Civil Rights Movement of 1964. I am so grateful for President John F. Kennedy’s insight that civil rights were important and for all those that followed his dream and fought for my rights. Are we there yet? No, but I’m hopeful that we’ll keep moving forward as a nation.