(NNPA)—Covering the three-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act at the University of Texas last week brought back a string of memories—some fond, some bitter. As a son of the South—Tuscaloosa, Ala., to be specific—I saw first-hand how the region was transformed from America’s version of apartheid to one that is perhaps more genuinely accepting of African-Americans than any other geographical section of the country.
Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton—all White Southerners who grew up in the Jim Crow South—played a significant role in the region’s transformation. But that didn’t happen in a vacuum. Each was pushed and challenged by the modern Civil Rights Movement, a multi-racial movement, with Blacks serving as chief architects that prodded the U.S. to have its deeds mirror its professed ideals. (George W. Bush, a wealthy Texan, is omitted from this discussion because he did nothing significant to advance civil rights. In fact, his appointment of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court represented a setback to the cause of civil rights.)
While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Whitney Young of the National Urban League; NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins; John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Roy Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality receive the lion’s share of publicity about the movement, the true heroes were the everyday men and women of the South who risked their jobs and lives to be treated as equals.