50 years forward. What does that mean? Is it asking where we will be in 2063 or is it asking where we have come from 1963? One could argue yes for either question or would it be more prudent to see being 50 years forward as we are always changing, accepting those around us without any prejudice to race, sex, creed or orientation. There are many facets of the civil rights movement and its understanding. We as a society have always been fighting for a form of equality. There has always been some form of intense oppression throughout history. Pick anytime and the signs of serfdom, slavery or a disregard for human’s basic civil rights can be found. Is it ignorance that causes events that shackle people to happen? How do we stop people from hating someone because they are different? How do we, as a society, stop people from hurting while giving them a chance to be everything they choose and want to be?
Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 became the epicenter for the progression of the civil rights movement. The South, since the Reconstruction days, has had a tumultuous time with progression on many fronts. Since the Civil War, the nation as a whole, passed laws that freed all men while in the south the individual laws of municipalities and states hindered the progress of life. Segregation became a theme. George Wallace spoke at his 1963 gubernatorial inauguration, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.” These words spoke to a great number of people that heard it. Not just in the south but the nation as a whole. A line was drawn in the sand and Alabama was the one who drew it. There was a great divide in the nation. Some people turned a blind eye towards it. Others stood their ground and participated on either keeping the “south alive” or for the rights that God gave them. All the Jim Crow laws, the lynchings, the hate speech, it all led to a man, a man powerful enough to let everyone know of his dream. Dr. Martin Luther King rallied this nation to see the oppression being leveled against a population of the nation. Dr. King did this without ever raising his hand. He spoke of peace. Peace for all. However, this peace was not without loss. Many people died or were wrongly accused and jailed for crimes they didn’t commit while defending these basic rights of men. This peace was hard fought for men and women saying enough is enough. We are all created as one. We are all equal. The movement to see men as men regardless of the color of skin led into the rights of women and equal pay and rights as men. This transitioned into rights of gays and lesbians allowing us to accept anyone whom we love and not be discriminated for it. Sadly though, these rights are still being fought for by those still being discriminated against. We as a nation took a bold leap 50 years ago and have slowly been taking giant steps for the rights of others. We cannot falter or waiver on our morals. We must always look past what is different to us and accept that it might not be different for our neighbor. At our core we are and will always be human beings. Human beings who will fight for the right to live in peace. To be accepted by our peers. To achieve the greatness within. It’s our turn to continue striving for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow allowing us to be who we truly are without worrying if we will be bullied or discriminated against because of a perceived difference from the normalcy of life.
What does it mean to be 50 years forward? It means being able to look at your neighbor as you look at yourself, accepting them for their uniqueness and originality. It means many things to those who ask the question. Whatever your reason, find your voice. Own who you are and stand shoulder to shoulder with your neighbor in solidarity. Be proud to say “I’m 50 years forward. Are you?”