SHREVEPORT/LAFAYETTE/ALEXANDRIA/MONROE/LAKE CHARLES, La.:United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley attended a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at a program hosted by the U.S. Justice Department and Howard University held in Washington, D.C., last week.
Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at Howard University in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 2014, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. The Attorney General gave a short history of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The Civil Rights Act was signed into law on July 2, 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and ended legal segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It also blazed a trail for subsequent related legislation: the Voting Right Act, the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fulfilling the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Act authorized the Department of Education to assist with school desegregation and permits the U.S. Attorney General to file lawsuits to desegregate schools. Additionally, the Act prohibits the unequal application of voting requirements, established the Community Relations Service, and gives enhanced authority to the Commission of Civil Rights.
“We know from our history that advances toward equality and inclusion have never been inevitable,” Attorney General Holder said Tuesday. “Every step forward has been hard-won. The words of our founding documents were not automatically imbued with the force of law. And our nation’s future continues to be defined, and its destiny determined, by men and women of both character and conviction; by courageous people who are unafraid to stand up for what they know to be right; and by patriots who never shrink from the responsibility to draw this country ever closer to its highest ideals.”
The speakers and participants at the 50th anniversary program at Howard University honored the strides that have been made in the journey for equal rights and reminded those in attendance of the work that remains to fully realize that promise. In addition to Howard University Interim President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick and the keynote address by Attorney General Eric Holder, the program included remarks from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, who lead two of the Department of Justice’s key government partners in enforcing the Civil Rights Act. Ambassador Andrew Young, former leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, also delivered remarks.
The D.C. celebration illuminated the importance of the 50-year class reunion of the Peabody High School Class of 1964 held on July 5, 2014, in Alexandria, La. Finley spoke about the transformational events of the Civil Rights Movement that took place in Louisiana and across the nation in 1963 and 1964.
More than 100 people attended the Class’ 50-year reunion banquet, including classmates that visited from as far away as California and New Jersey. The Rev. George Price gave the invocation, and classmate Harold Morrison gave the greeting by telling humorous stories and reminding everyone of the importance of the class to the history of Peabody High School. Classmate and former banker Willis L. Spears who has known Finley since she was a child, introduced her to those gathered for the reunion.
“We were happy to have U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley speak at our 50th class reunion,” reunion chair Lillie Batiste Stewart said. “She brought up highlights of events that took place in the early 1960s while we were in high school and complimented us on still being friends and keeping in touch after 50 years.”
J.B. Lafargue founded Peabody High School in 1895 as the Peabody Industrial School with his wife Sarah C. B. Mayo Lafargue. At the time, it was the only school for black students in Alexandria with grades one to seven. The school was named in honor of the George Peabody Foundation which had awarded a grant to the school. It became a state-approved public school in 1933. Today, Peabody High School is one of two magnet high schools in Rapides Parish. George Peabody was born on February 18, 1795 in Danvers (now Peabody), Massachusetts. In 1867, George Peabody established the Peabody Education Fund, the first education philanthropy in the United States. The purpose of the fund was to help provide education to children of both races in destitute areas of the post-Civil War South.
“The members of this class were on the frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement in the South,” Finley stated. “They graduated high school during a time of great change and struggle. We owe a debt of gratitude to them for the sacrifices they made. Their efforts brought us closer to equality and hope to later generations. I am proud that I was chosen to speak before this distinguished group of men and women.”
In the years since the Act was signed, the struggle to attain the goals contained within has remained. The U.S. Attorney’s Office plays a pivotal role in the administration’s civil rights enforcement priorities. Along with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has jurisdiction to bring cases under the Civil Rights Act and other related federal statutes.
Finley is the first female U.S. Attorney to serve in Louisiana. She was selected by President Barack Obama in January of 2010, after being recommended by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June of 2010. United States Attorney Finley was sworn into office on June 2, 2010 to serve the Western District of Louisiana as the chief law enforcement officer for 42 of the state’s 64 parishes.