Why the call for a Victory Stride?
“Victory Stride” celebrates the progress made in expanding civil rights in our lifetime. It commemorates the anniversaries of two landmark events – the Supreme Court decision on equal education in 1954 and the broad-based Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Sixty years ago, Americans lived by laws and practices that would be hard to imagine today. It was common to exclude vast segments of the population from the benefits of society. The exclusions were enforced solely on the basis of race, gender, religion, politics, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and physical and mental ability. Such practices were justified at the highest levels of state, corporations, schools, and church, and accepted as the norm by society at large.
African-Americans, in particular, were subject to laws and customs intended to keep them in a condition of semi-slavery. As such, they became the shock troops in the struggle for justice. Through the tireless efforts of the black community, and its many white allies, the legal foundation of discrimination was overthrown.
The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act were transformational events in modern social history. They ended the legal support for segregation – and broke the link to slavery for African-Americans. Moreover, the laws established a benchmark for gauging the fair treatment and equal opportunity for people across the land.
The generation that accomplished these feats is now fading from the scene. Emerson College has sponsored a number of activities to honor the accomplishments of their work. It began with the campus visit of former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous on Feb. 3, and continues with a teach-in between Feb. 3 and 25, when participating faculty dedicates a class day to exploring an issue of social justice.
The Feb. 26 Semel rally is the culminating event. The theatre gathering is a small gesture of respect to what the civil rights generation has achieved, and a reminder to the young of the work that remains. As such, the theme of the Victory Stride program is “Things to be appreciated, things still to do.”
Associate Professor of American Studies
Department of Journalism
Brown vs. the Board of Education
The 1964 Civil Rights Act