by Joshalyn Hundley, City of Knoxville
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88–352, 78 Stat. 241, enacted July 2, 1964) is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation in the United States that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (known as “public accommodations”).
1963 was a pivotal year in Knoxville’s history, culminating with Look Magazine’s designation of Knoxville as an All-American City in April of that year. During that same year, African-Americans attempted to purchase, and were refused, tickets to attend a screening of the now-classic film “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Tennessee Theatre.
Consider this! Imagine being scorned or jailed for sitting beside someone of a different race; ostracized for being open minded; beaten or jailed because you exercise recently passed legislation that your local government refused to implement. Imagine watching a friend being attached to a car with a rope and dragged through the streets, while the passengers and drivers laughed… and when you report it to the Police no one was held accountable. What if your livelihood was threatened because you desired to exercise your right to vote? Think about a time when Civil Rights were granted to some but not to all. This may not have been the woes of our generation, but it was the reality of many.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would finally correct unjust situations in Knoxville. Area schools, restaurants, churches, and Theaters were now open to everyone. By 1971, African Americans were running for political office in Knoxville. Indeed, social change had arrived, but it was a long, hard journey to get there.
Whether small or large, we should always be reminded of the price others paid for us to have what we have today. That is why the City of Knoxville jumped at the opportunity to emphasize the importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These celebrations were great opportunities for people to learn the first-hand story behind the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Fifty years on, the achievements of that era are easy to take for granted. It is important to remember how hard the fight was. The signing of this Act facilitated a paradigm shift for social change which shook the country, yet, fifty years later we still have a lot to accomplish.
These celebrations cast a light on the University of Tennessee and how it has grown exponentially in size and character. UT campus was the scene of several protests and these celebrations emphasized the measures UT has taken to ensure all are welcome and treated fairly.
The success of this year’s celebrations is due in large part to the spirit of collaboration among several organizations. The City of Knoxville and UT could serve as a catalyst to steer the collaboration through the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Act locally. I think it is safe to say that we all feel there is still much to be done to garner civil rights for all. With this in mind, we can keep the struggle at the forefront, by continuing the dialogue that has been going on throughout this year and brainstorming ways in which we can partner on future projects. Lastly, I believe we can serve as educators for others by engaging the region, we expand the conversation on strategies to accomplish the “Unfinished Business,” hopefully, creating a platform for communication that does not exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts or feelings or experiential reality for all.