Civil rights turns 50
Pictured in a televised ceremony on July 2, 1964, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law using 75 pens; he presented one of them to King, who counted it among his most prized possessions.
The Rev. Franklin Gans could had lived anywhere after his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He chose to return to Orange.
“I was the first black teacher in an integrated school. That meant a lot to me. Orange, Texas led in integration,” Gans said. “It was an educational thing for all of us. I was just teaching children.”
Gans has also been involved in the civil rights movement all of his life and a member of the NAACP for more than 50 years. In fact, he’s a lifetime member and vice president of the local chapter.
It was also 50 years ago that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the nation’s premier civil rights legislation, according to National Park Service website. The Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, required equal access to public places and employment, and enforced desegregation of schools and the right to vote. It did not end discrimination, but it did open the door to further progress.
Gans said conditions growing up in Orange such as Jim Crow laws created a need for a civil rights organization such as the NAACP. Velma Jeter and Essie Bellfield were the first to get a local chapter stared in Orange.
“We want to reach out and unify,” he said. “We support local issues and support elections and forums. We can’t endorse candidates but we can let them speak and present them to the public.”
Some issues are larger than others and need a community voice, such as, trying to stop a Confederate flag from being erected at a Confederate veterans memorial at the intersection of I-10 and MLK Drive. Other issues are smaller such as discrimination on the job.Gans added the idea of placing a confederate flag at the intersection is an “insulting thought.” The Orange NAACP was successful in a placing a smaller flag rather than a large one.
“The monument looks nice, but I think most Orangites don’t support it,” he said.
Gans’ involvement in civil rights has been a lifelong journey.
“I became interested in civil rights as a boy,” he said.
His parents, Matthew and Mary Gans, would read to their children about tragic events, such as lynchings. They would tell their children things wouldn’t always be so bad, it would get better and to not be bitter.
Gans went to Ruffs College in Mississippi at the same time student, James Meredith, was integrating the University of Mississippi and he had to be escorted by National Guard troops.
“I wanted things to be different for my children. I wanted them to have a more balanced way of life,” Gans said. “I was inspired by Dr. King. He told us people should be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
For instance, his son is a helicopter pilot for the Houston Police Department.
Gans said he follows Dr. King’s approach to nonviolence and he has worked with both blacks and whites for social justice. He added not only does the NAACP assists black citizens, but they support what is right for all. Though many things have improved, the struggle still continues behind closed doors. For instance, Gans and his wife were corporate trainers at DuPont after they retired from the school district. There, they discovered some opposition “under the cover.”
Dr. Jackie Mayfield, president of the Orange NAACP chapter, also became involved in the civil rights movement while residing in Bogoulousa, Louisiana where he was involved in marches and sit-ins.
“I’ve been fighting for justice and against injustice all of my life,” Mayfield said.
He’s been a member for 40 years. Mayfield said the Orange chapter’s focus has been in educational awareness- inform the public what’s occurring in the movement, being proactive and staying organized.
“Injustice never goes away,” he said. “The less fortunate can’t fight for themselves.”
“I grew up in segregation, apartheid in America. It was the legal battle by the NAACP that erased the barrier of Jim Crow laws. Schools were desegregated. But there’s still injustice in the American system. The battle changes. The powerful will always try to take advantage of the powerless.”
In fact, Mayfield believes much progress made in the agrarian South were due to NAACP efforts. Mayfield spoke next on the Confederate veterans’ monument. He said residents have to celebrate their ancestors as long as those rights don’t infringe on others.
“We fought against it going up in Orange. The rebel flag is a symbol of racism,” he said.
Mayfield also spoke against voter identification laws in Texas. “The Legislature is predominately Republican. I’m opposed to voter identification laws. They’re restrictive,” he said. “Everyone wins when justice is at the forefront.”
Gans said the Orange NAACP is reorganizing and they would like to see younger people to take more of a controlling interest and take part. “There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
History of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Although the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments outlawed slavery, provided for equal protection under the law, guaranteed citizenship and protected the right to vote, individual states continued to allow unfair treatment of minorities and passed Jim Crow laws allowing segregation of public facilities. These were upheld by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1895), which found state laws requiring racial segregation that were “separate but equal” to be constitutional. This finding help continue legalized discrimination well into the 20th century.
Following World War II, pressures to recognize, challenge and change inequalities for minorities grew. One of the most notable challenges to the status quo was the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas which questioned the notion of “separate but equal” in public education. The Court found that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and a violation of the 14th Amendment. This decision polarized Americans, fostered debate, and served as a catalyst to encourage federal action to protect civil rights.
March Marshals standing near crowds, March on Washington, 1963
Warren K. Leffler, LOC, LC-U9- 10361-23
Each year, from 1945 until 1957, Congress considered and failed to pass a civil rights bill. Congress finally passed limited Civil Rights Acts in 1957 and 1960, but they offered only moderate gains. As a result of the 1957 Act, the United States Commission on Civil Rights was formed to investigate, report on, and make recommendations to the President concerning civil rights issues. Sit-ins, boycotts, Freedom Rides, the founding of organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), local demands for inclusion in the political process, all were in response to the increase in legislative activity through the 1950s and early 1960s.
1963 was a crucial year for the Civil Rights Movement. Social pressures continued to build with events such as, the Birmingham Campaign and televised clashes between peaceful protesters and authorities. Social friction increased even more with the murders of civil rights workers, Medgar Evers and William L. Moore and the March on Washington and the deaths of four young girls in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. There was no turning back. Civil rights were firmly on the national agenda and the federal government was forced to respond.
President John F. Kennedy addresses the nation on civil rights, June 11, 1963
In response to the report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, President John F. Kennedy proposed, in a nationally televised address, a Civil Rights Act of 1963. A week after his speech, Kennedy submitted a bill to Congress addressing civil rights (H.R. 7152). He urged African American leaders to use caution when demonstrating since new violence might alarm potential supporters. Kennedy met with businessmen, religious leaders, labor officials and other groups such as CORE and NAACP, while also maneuvering behind the scenes to build bipartisan support and negotiate compromises over controversial topics.
Following Kennedy’s assassination in November, 1963, both Martin Luther King, Jr. and newly inaugurated President Lyndon B. Johnson continued to press for passage of the bill – as King noted in a January 1964 newspaper column, legislation “will feel the intense focus of Negro interest…It became the order of the day at the great March on Washington last summer. The Negro and his white compatriots for self-respect and human dignity will not be denied.”
The House of Representatives debated H.R. 7152 for nine days, rejecting nearly 100 amendments designed to weaken the bill. It passed the House on February 10, 1964 after 70 days of public hearings, appearances by 275 witnesses, and 5,792 pages of published testimony.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, July 2, 1964.
Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office
The real battle was waiting in the Senate, however, where concerns focused on the bill’s expansion of federal powers and its potential to anger constituents who might retaliate in the voting booth. Opponents launched the longest filibuster in American history, which lasted 57 days and brought the Senate to a virtual standstill.
Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen nurtured the bill through compromise discussions and ended the filibuster. Dirksen’s compromise bill passed the Senate after 83 days of debate that filled 3,000 pages in the Congressional Record. The House moved quickly to approve the Senate bill.
Within hours of its passage on July 2, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson, with Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Height, Roy Wilkins, John Lewis, and other civil rights leaders in attendance, signed the bill into law, declaring once and for all that discrimination for any reason on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was illegal in the United States of America.