Thursday, September 17, 2009

Equality of Opportunity

Equality of Opportunity is the belief that everyone should have an equal chance to succeed. Throughout American History the value of Equality of Opportunity has been held up as the ideal. Yet far too frequently that value has not been reflected in the lives of all Americans. During the 20th Century there was a core struggle for change, a change that would allow for all American’s to have equal access to the American Dream. It was during this time that a few courageous individuals helped bring America closer to her ideals.

Rosa Parks was one such courageous leader. Through her activism, she helped to bring about change. Ms. Parks was perhaps an unlikely activist. She was a wife, mother and a seamstress in a department store when she took on the system of segregation in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. That decision launched one of the most celebrated and important moments in the civil rights movement. Contrary to popular belief she was not unfamiliar with the role of activist. She had already served as the role of secretary to her local chapter of the NAACP (the National Association for Advancement of Colored People). Still, her work there would not have made her famous. It was the day she refused to give up her seat on the bus in favor of a white man that she became a symbol of the struggle for equal rights. Her arrest for that act of civil disobedience led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Boycott became a flashpoint. It led to similar events around the country. Her quest for equal access helped set in motion the non-violent campaign for equality.

Another famous Activist in the Civil Rights Movement was a man by the name of Medgar Evers. Like Mrs. Parks he served in the role of field secretary for his local branch of the NAACP. He also received training for activism from the RCNL (Regional Council on Negro Leadership). In these roles he assisted in a boycott of gas stations with white’s only rest rooms. He distributed bumper stickers that proclaimed “Don’t Buy Gas Where You Can’t Use The Restroom.” Perhaps more significantly he was one of a group that tried to desegregate the public Universities. He applied to the University of Mississippi Law School and was denied admission to that segregated institution. The NAACP used this denial as a focal point in their legal campaign to end segregation at the school. On June 12, 1963, the night President Kennedy was giving his famous speech advocating Civil Rights in America, Medgar Evers was murdered in his driveway by KKK member Byron de la Beckwith. His death captured the attention of the nation and shed even greater light on his cause.

The greatest legal battles of the Civil Rights movement were fought by NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall. A graduate of Howard University Law School he took on cases involving the segregation of universities and colleges. Each of these cases helped chip away at the laws of segregation. For example, in the Sweat vs. Painter he argued for a man who was unable to gain admission to law school because there was no public school that educated black lawyers in the entire state of Texas. The state was forced to open a school to serve this need. However, his most famous case was Brown vs. the Board of Education. This case targeted public schools for children. He successfully argued that segregation was inherently in-equal. He won a unanimous victory from the Supreme Court when they agreed with his argument. This case helped dismantle the legal structure of segregation law.

Each of these leaders brought America closer to her ideals of equal access to opportunity. Like the most famous of all civil rights leaders, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., they used their courage and their skills to help bring about this change. The powerful message they give us about the chance to make change without violence is an inspiration. This country is enriched by their legacy.

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