A Soul Searching History Lesson: Change is in The Eye of The Beholder (Part 3)

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

As I listened to Mrs. Jefferson’s accounts of 1963, I wanted to skip the parts of history that made me uncomfortable. You know the parts that I’m referring to, right? The parts that include Commissioner Bull Conner giving orders to his police department to use firehoses and attack dogs to control a nonviolent protest that included school aged children or the senseless bombings that went unprosecuted. I wanted to talk about change! I thought change would be less difficult to hear. I thought change would be filled with brighter days ahead.

After all, the events of 1963, led to 44 Democrats and 27 Republicans joining together to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and President Lyndon Johnson signed the act on July 2, 1964. The act made segregation in businesses illegal. People could no longer legally discriminate against employees based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age, and it ended segregation in public facilities such as schools, libraries, theaters, and swimming pools.

However, it was not an easy bill to pass. While President Lyndon Johnson was a Democratic president, southern democrats opposed the bill. According to Senate.Gov, “southern senators launched a fillibuster against the bill” (“Landmark Legislation:The Civil Rights Act of 1964”). An example of a fillibuster is a prolonged speech that obstructs progress in a legislative assembly. In other words, it’s a way to waste time or delay progress. “The Senate debated the bill for sixty days, including seven Saturdays” (“Landmark Legislation:The Civil Rights Act of 1964”). On June 10, 1964, 44 Democrats and 27 Republicans ended the fillibuster when the Senate voted 71 to 29 for cloture, which is the procedure for ending or limiting a debate and taking a vote (“Landmark Legislation:The Civil Rights Act of 1964”). The senate passed the bill and it was signed as I mentioned earlier on June 2, 1964.

So, if the southern democratic senators did not agree with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, what was life like in the south after it was signed? According to Mrs. Patricia Jefferson, people continued to find ways to be separate but equal. For example, neighborhoods and schools that were once all white became predominately black, as white families moved to the suburbs. In addition, when she was hired by a major telephone company as a switchboard operator, she had to sit toward the end of the line with the rest of the black employees and they had a segregated eating area. Due to the discrimination, she only worked there for one year. No formal complaint was filed.

In 1973, Mrs. Jefferson moved to Huntsville, Alabama with her husband and she saw black and white people living together. It was during this time when she reflected upon her life in Birmingham and realized that racism is demonic. This revelation prompted her to pray for the city of Birmingham.

Prayer Changes Things

Along with her prayers, there was also a Jesus movement happening. In summary, the Jesus Movement was a movement in Christianity that begun on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and it spread primarily through North America and Europe. Young people who were a part of the movement were often called, “Jesus People,” or “Jesus Freaks.” Their desire was to deepen their relationship with Christ, so they did not neccessarily belong to a particular church or demonination. They gathered in large and small places to spread the word. Reflecting upon this time in our history, that included the Jesus Movement and Billy Graham’s services at Legion Fields in Birmingham, Alabama, Mrs. Jefferson said, “I think things like that caused God to hear the cries of the people and he intervened during that time. God came in at one point. He knows when enough is enough, and the wind of God blew across the hearts of a generation.”

Behold! Change is Coming

As the hearts of those, who followed Christ begun to change, the enemy continued to kill, steal, and destroy. On June 22, 1979, Bonita Beatrice Carter was shot in the back by a Birmingham police officer due to a robbery call- a robbery that she did not commit. Some would argue that this is another example of being black at the wrong time and place. According to Mrs. Jefferson, “A lot of people had been killed by the police. For some reason, her death changed Birmingham.” The community came together, which was an answer to her prayer, and the first black mayor was elected. Mayor Richard Arrington served the city of Birmingham, Alabama from 1979-1999.

Soul Searching Reflection

Meditating on the word change, I realized that change is in the eyes of the beholder. On one hand, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a bipartisan decision that ended segregation in businesses and public facilities; however, people still found a way to be separate but equal. Mostly the separation would take place in their neighborhoods, during church on Sunday mornings, or in the breakroom areas at work. So, did things really change? Maybe not right away! The Civil Rights Act of 1964 wasn’t enough! The Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, made it illegal for people and businesses to discriminate concerning the sale, rental, or financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. Of course, some people would argue that people and businesses found a way to keep people of color out of certain neighborhoods. Nevertheless, we cannot allow an imperfect world to steal an opportunity for us to experience and appreciate the changes around us. Oh! I’m excited for you to hear the last part of this interview. Mrs. Jefferson teaches us the true definition of change.

Soul Searching Discussion

Prejudice is an emotional bias. It’s how you feel about people and situations. Stereotypes is a cognitive bias. It’s how you think about people and situations. Discrimination is a behavioral bias. It is how we treat people. Politicians can create laws to end discrimination; however, a politician cannot control how we think or feel. We must pray like David! Psalm 139:23-24 states, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” We must be bold enough to ask God to search our hearts and humble ourselves, so he can lead us in the way ever lasting. It isn’t too late for God to change our hearts and mind! This is a personal conversation between you and God. Journal or testify when the spirit moves you.