Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act that was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, faith leaders, elected officials, community members, and activists assembled together at the Beebee Memorial Cathedral in Oakland Wednesday evening to honor the memory of that historic moment and to underscore the lessons of that struggle.
Speakers at the event hosted by Supervisor Keith Carson and Black Elected Officials & Faith Based Leaders of the East Bay (BEO&FBL) reflected on the courageous grassroots efforts that went into passing the Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination based on race, religion, and gender in public accommodations, voter registration and employment.
The program was emceed by Elaine Brown – activist and former Black Panther Party leader who now works in Supervisor Carson’s office – who introduced speakers Dr. Clayborne Carson, Angela Davis, and civil rights attorney Howard Moore, Jr. – who all have a rich history in the Civil Rights Movement.
The event included performances by Tarika Lewis and My Strings of Soul, a group of youth violinists, and Grammy award-winning recording artist D’Wayne Wiggins.
Supervisor Carson presented Moore, general counsel for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and attorney for Angela Davis from 1971-77, with a “Freedom Warrior” Medal to honor his contributions to the struggle to defeat legal discrimination.
Excerpts of the Firelight Media documentary “Freedom Summer” were shown documenting the summer of 1964 when students, civil rights workers and organizers joined Mississippi residents and risked their lives to register Blacks to vote. The film will air on PBS June 24.
The packed crowd seemed to listen with open ears and hearts as each speaker articulated their experience and how the struggle for human rights continues.
Moore emphasized the need to raise “historical consciousness.”
“The problems that we faced in the 50’s and the 60’s and that people fought to overcome go directly back to what happened immediately after the Civil War and what happened in the late 1890’s,” said Moore, speaking of the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. “How much progress have we made?”
“Never believe that a piece of paper represents your rights,” said Dr. Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
He reflected on the influence of W.E.B. DuBois to the struggle as DuBois had died in Ghana the day before the March on Washington.
“He was a freedom fighter unlike any other freedom fighter. I think of him because here is a person who devoted 93 years to a struggle and he dies on the eve of the March on Washington; he never sees the conclusion of that story,” Dr.Carson said.
“People struggled for many decades without ever seeing the great victories,” he added.
Activist and former member of the Black Panther Party, Angela Davis, remembered the courage and uncompromising strength of Fannie Lou Hamer.
“I’m reminded of Fannie Lou Hamer’s remark when she demanded that the Mississippi Democratic Party be seated at the Democratic Party Convention…they were offered two seats,” Davis said. “What did Fannie Lou Hamer say? She said ‘We didn’t come all this way for no two seats.’ She was uncompromising.”
Davis continued, “We should always remind ourselves that our dreams do not have to bear the imprint of compromise.”