This post is courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels
Fifty years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated a vision of equality that animates the work of the Department of Justice to the present day. Over the past five decades, there is no doubt that we as a country have made tremendous strides toward realizing the uniquely American promise of equal justice and equal opportunity for all. Yet for all that we have accomplished, much work remains.
Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Dr. King’s monumental “I Have a Dream” speech. On this historic occasion, the Civil Rights Division salutes the tremendous sacrifices made by Dr. King and so many others in the face of bigotry and violence. This landmark anniversary offers us another opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to advancing Dr. King’s call for a more perfect union.
On Aug. 28, 1963, more than 200,000 Americans gathered on the National Mall to demand racial equality, economic opportunity, voting rights for all and an end to legal discrimination. This event would become one of the most famous non-violent protests in history and a turning point in the civil rights movement. In honor of the 50th anniversary, the Civil Rights Division will publish a series of blog posts highlighting both the progress our country has made since 1963, and how the issues that spurred Dr. King and thousands of others to action continue to affect Americans across the country.
Held against the inescapable backdrop of Jim Crow, the march was bookended by violence. Mississippi Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated just months before the event and, just 18 days after the march, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., shocked the nation, claiming the lives of four young girls.
Out of this turmoil, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This critical piece of legislation was followed in 1965 by the Voting Rights Act. The march laid the groundwork for other critical federal civil rights protections, such as the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.
Over the past five decades, the Civil Rights Division has vigorously enforced these laws and their protections against discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, religion, disability and other prohibited bases. The Department of Justice’s work to prosecute hate crimes, to dismantle the school to prison pipeline, to ensure that Americans can live and work free from discrimination and to defend the voting rights of all citizens, continues to move us closer to Dr. King’s dream of true equality and fairness.
There have been bumps along the way. This summer, the Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act. While this disappointing decision has eliminated one of our most effective tools in combating discrimination in voting, it has not tempered our resolve to protect this fundamental right. Under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice will continue to do everything in its power to ensure that all citizens have the ability to exercise their right to vote.
Today, the Civil Rights Division works to expand opportunity for all people, safeguard the fundamental infrastructure of our democracy, and protect the most vulnerable among us. Through the pursuit of our mission to protect the civil rights of all Americans, the Civil Rights Division strives to answer Dr. King’s call for our nation to live up to its fundamental ideals of opportunity, liberty and equality for all.