Although it’s been 50 years since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, one local leader says more needs to be done to make all minority groups — not just African-Americans — feel embraced and included.
Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, said the landmark legislation in some ways improved the lives of black Americans, but also didn’t go far enough.
“It has but it hasn’t because the message is the same — equality,” Poore said. “At the end of the day, that’s what our country was founded on.”
Poore said immigrants came to America to pursue not only religious freedom, but economic freedom. Many started businesses or worked their ways up the ladder to provide for their families. The promise of equal and fair treatment is what attracted many immigrants to the United States.
“Are we really fulfilling what our forefathers intended this country to provide to everyone?” Poore asked. “Is it inclusive or embracing the way it was supposed to?”
Poore said she would argue it’s not. In many states, including West Virginia, gay and lesbian individuals are not promised equal treatment when it comes to jobs or housing.
State lawmakers have repeatedly introduced the Employment and Housing Nondiscrimination Act only to see it die in committee.
The House of Delegates recently formed a women’s caucus, including dozens of female delegates and the one lone female senator to lobby women’s, children’s and family issues. The Office of Minority Affairs also recently came to fruition. That office’s mission is to “provide forums for discussion of minority issues and assist in the development of strategies to deal with those issues.”
Poore said she hopes the office fulfills that mission to serve as a springboard for a broader conversation about all minorities.
“It took years to get it established to make sure people know there is a void and a need,” Poore said. “Now that it’s being recognized and funded, it shows West Virginia needs to embrace minorities in all areas of West Virginia, in oil and gas, in education, in all areas of the economy.
“It should be an ongoing conversation to make West Virginia better,” she said.
In the decades since the Civil Rights Act was passed, other groups, including women and gays and lesbians, have fought for equal treatment under the law. Poore, who serves in the House of Delegates and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. House of Representatives in the second congressional district primary, said she often tells constituents that just because a bill passes doesn’t mean the problem is solved.
“You have to actively build on the efforts on why that legislation was passed and why it was needed,” she said. “Just because something passed 50 years ago, to think it’s all resolved and we’re not learning from our previous mistakes and discriminations, this is not that simple.”
The Civil Rights Act, signed into law in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, made it illegal to discriminate based on sex, race, color, religion or national origin, ending discrimination in the workplace and public facilities and banning the unequal application of voter registration requirements. But passage of the bill didn’t come without a struggle.
Longtime Sen. Robert C. Byrd famously filibustered the bill for 14 hours, joining other Democrats who fought the bill for 83 days. Byrd later said he regretted the move.
On the other hand, the New York Times referred to Sen. Jennings Randolph, also a Democrat, as “generally a liberal” in his 1998 obituary. Randolph supported the Civil Rights Act, as well as Johnson’s War on Poverty and the creation of Medicaid.
In the U.S. House, Democrat Ken Hechler and Republican Arch Moore supported the legislation. Hechler earned a reputation as a liberal Democrat during his time in office and marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Ala., in 1965. Moore’s time in the House was highlighted by his strong support for public works projects and civil rights.
His daughter, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, reminded West Virginians of her father’s stance on the bill.
“Today is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act becoming law. My dad fought for its passage and I’m proud of his work fighting for equality,” she tweeted Wednesday.
Poore said she understands the need to celebrate and remember the passage of the Civil Rights Act, but that doesn’t do enough to call attention to the real problem.
“For me, if we’re not talking about that, we’re doing a disservice to our state because we’re not talking about it consistently enough,” she said.
Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.