Last weekend’s Heart Mountain Pilgrimage served as a reminder that the United States has come a long way when it comes to racial issues — but that we still have a long way to go.
On one hand, this year marks several milestones for racial equality in America, milestones that remind us how far we have come in how we treat minorities. In the first half of the 20th century, African-Americans suffered many forms of discrimination, especially in the South. That discrimination included being denied the right to vote and having to attend different schools than white students — schools that were often inferior. In addition, African-Americans were often murdered at the hands of lynch mobs. That discrimination and mistreatment was not limited to African-Americans, as the former Heart Mountain Relocation Center (and its internment of Japanese Americans during World War II) reminds us.
But things began to change after World War II. Last Thursday (July 26) marked the 70th anniversary of President Harry Truman signing Executive Order 9981, ending racial segregation in the United States Armed Forces and becoming one of the first major steps on the road to racial equality in America.
Truman’s signing of Executive Order 9981 is not the only major racial equality milestone that we celebrate this year. Among the others are:
Aug. 28 is the 55th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that he gave at the March on Washington.
Aug. 10 marks the 30th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided redress and financial compensation to former Japanese American incarcerees.
This year is also the 50th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation strike, where black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, went on strike after years of poor pay and dangerous working conditions. The workers ultimately received pay increases and union recognition from the city. Dr. King also gave his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech during the strike, the night before he was assassinated while supporting the striking sanitation workers in Memphis.
This year is the 55th anniversary of the Birmingham Campaign, in which nonviolent protests for racial equality were met with high-pressure fire hoses and attack dogs — brutality that turned many against the cause of racial segregation.
However, while these milestones remind us of how far the United States has come on the subject of racial equality, current events also remind us that we still have a long way to go.
Aug. 12 marks the one-year anniversary of the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a rally by white supremacists to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the city’s Emancipation Park turned violent, including the vehicular murder of Heather Heyer at the event.
That and other recent reports of threats and violence serve as grim reminders that America still has race issues.
As we celebrate 30 years since the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and other milestones this year, we should be thankful for the progress we have made in our treatment of minorities in the United States. However, the fight to make this a nation where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” — as Dr. King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech — is far from over.