Nation and World

Unbalanced History

The need to continue to take action for civil rights

by Mary Evans


SUMMARY: Shaw spoke on the relevance of history especially in regard to discrimination and how there is still a need for action.

In conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week, the Madison Vision Series and the Center for Multicultural Student Services welcomed decorated lawyer and civil rights activist Theodore M. Shaw. He spoke on the relevance of history and looking back at our past to realize the strides we need to make for our future.

TEd Shaw
Shaw began by referencing music lyrics from The Way We Were, “What is too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.” 

He reminded the audience that in 2007 we celebrated the 400th anniversary of English Settlement Jamestown with visits from former President George W. Bush, Queen Elizabeth II and travelers all over the nation as we collectively claimed the colony as our own. He stated that We glorify our Colonial days and the Reconstruction era, yet we “antique” slavery and discrimination. However, he said it was not that long ago, and walked the audience through our history of slavery and discrimination.

In two years, it will be the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves being brought forcibly to America. Since their arrival, slavery has been a contentious issue starting with the Founding Fathers and the “unholy compromises” of the Constitution starting the Three-Fifths Compromise and the ban on interracial marriage. He said the tension of this decision eventually led to the Civil War over a hundred years later.

After banning slavery in the late 1800s, discrimination, “a new form of slavery,” began Shaw said. The enactment of Jim Crow laws affected the country, especially the South, until the 1950s into the 1960s. Some notable civil rights cases and laws include:

  • Brown vs. Board of Education (1954): Declared that separate schools for black and white students is unconstitutional
  • Civil Rights Act (1964): outlaws discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin
  • Loving vs. Virginia (1967): invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage
  • Fair Housing Act (1968):  intended to protect the buyer or renter of a dwelling from seller or landlord discrimination 

In order for change to occur, inspirational civil rights leaders had to pave the way. Shaw recalled Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy as a radical challenge to racial inequality, as well as power and militarism. He said that many revered King but many disagreed with him as well. At the age of 26, he was called upon to lead the Montgomery bus boycott. Shaw said King would be encouraging of the fight for more racial equality and diversity efforts across the country.

By looking at history, starting from Jamestown when the first Africans arrived 400 years ago, 350 of those years consisted of slavery or discrimination to the African-American community. Shaw said that the fight for racial equality is not over. He said that we are not close to balancing history in the years from our ugly past. He said that those who think we are in a “post-racial society” need to review history, and although we have made great strides since the 1960s, we still have ways to go. “It is time to pass the baton” to the next generation of activists to fight the uphill battle against injustice, he concluded.

Published: Friday, January 20, 2017

Last Updated: Thursday, March 16, 2017

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