A vast silent system
This piece by Harold Meyerson about the history of the march on Washington and the power it had to put fear into the hearts of politicians everywhere is an absolute must-read on the eve of the commemoration. If, like me, you are only vaguely aware of this history, you will learn a lot.
I was particularly struck by this quote by Michael Harrington in 1962:
“If all the discriminatory laws in the United States were immediately repealed, race would still remain as one of the most pressing moral and political problems in the nation. Negroes and other minorities are not simply victims of a series of iniquitous statutes. The American economy, the American society, the American unconscious are all racist. If all the laws were framed to provide equal opportunity, a majority of the Negroes would not be able to take full advantage of the change. There would still be a vast, silent, automatic system directed against men and women of color.”
This is what makes the comments about the civil rights act being superfluous by the likes of Rand Paul so fatuous: he not only didn't believe the laws needed to be changed, he says he believes that racial harmony was going to happen naturally without any mass movement or change in the legal structure at all. These people never acknowledge the "vast, silent, automatic systems" that exist in our culture that must be changed through the acts of people rising up and demanding that at the very least our civic structures no longer accommodate them. That's just the first step. And it's never an end in itself.
We can see the progress that's been made since those laws were challenged. Our society is much fairer and less racist than it was. That's due to the hard work of people who marched and fought for the laws of this country to be changed and Jim Crow to be thrown onto the rather large rubbish pile of American segregation history. But it didn't stop there. It couldn't. The subsequent 50 years were spent in hard work by people taking the next step to change the "vast, silent, automatic system directed at men and women of color." And they aren't done yet.