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LEON: From Aggressive Peaceful Activism to Tranquilizing Gradualism

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon | 9/4/2013, 3 p.m.

Due to the constant pressure that the Civil Rights Movement brought to bear upon the government which culminated with the 63’ March, President Kennedy reluctantly came to support what would become the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Torn between the moral reality of the Movement and practical Southern electoral politics, Kennedy in June of 63’gave a nationally televised address where he stated, “A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all." He then asked Congress to enact a civil rights bill that would remove race from consideration "in American life or law.”

After Kennedy’s assassination, President Johnson would support and sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act, along with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act. In seizing the initiative, Johnson stated that “rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation… Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote.”

It is important to understand what both Kennedy and Johnson said and did to bring about substantive change in American society. Today, due to complacency and the fallacy that those who dare criticize the president should turn in their “Black Card”, there has been virtually no pressure on the current administration to work with the Congressional Black Caucus to propose and fight for targeted legislation that addresses the interests of the African American community.

As a result of orchestrated efforts by some in the extremist wing of the Republican Party and the complacency of the Black electorate after the election of President Obama, many of the civil rights gained from the movement and culminating in the 1963 March (affirmative action, voting rights, and protections against police brutality) have been eviscerated.

The focus of the struggle has shifted away from inclusion into mainstream America to futile efforts to hang onto the gains that were hard fought and won in the 1960’s.

The 2013 March on Washington was a wonderful commemoration and tribute to the past, but it failed to articulate a legislative agenda and plan to pressure the Obama administration and Congress to address disparities in mass incarceration, home foreclosure, unemployment or education.

In 1963 President Kennedy stayed in the White House, choosing to watch the March on television. He was afraid that the March would turn into a riot. In 2013 President Obama was the keynote speaker. Many see this as progress.

During his speech President Obama applauded the struggles and successes of the past and with soaring rhetoric talked about the promise of tomorrow. He did not propose any substantive legislative initiatives to address the suffering of today and ask those in attendance to go back to their homes and hamlets and work with him to defeat legislative gridlock.

He offered the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer/host of the Sirius/XM Satellite radio channel 110 call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon” Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email:wjl3us@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com