February is Black History Month, and it’s worth noting that 57 years ago, life for American Africans was not what it is today. To be black in 1955 meant being saddled with the burden of racial prejudice and economic discrimination that is almost beyond our comprehension today unless one was alive back then.
We all know the story of Rosa Parks, a black woman, who on Dec. 1, 1955, didn’t go to the back of a Montgomery, Ala., bus, as the law required, and instead sat on a bench in the front half. There, she refused to give her seat to a white man, who demanded she move. She later was arrested for refusing to give her bus seat to the caucasian, which violated Montgomery’s segregation ordinances.
Rosa Parks’ act of determination launched the freedom marches and other desegregation initiatives which eventually led to the American Civil Rights Act, and other anti-discrimination legislation which followed.
Discrimination was just as prevalent in the North as it was in the South. Housing discrimination, job discrimination and school discrimination were practiced, especially in the big northern cities, although there were no ordinances to back that discrimination up.
In the 1970s, life began to get better for black people, although it was still a struggle. The older generation of white Americans remained prejudiced in large part, but the younger generation began to change.
Today, prejudice is still with us, to an extent, but it does not carry the weight it once did.
As an example, the outpouring of grief among fans of Whitney Houston was expressed by white and black alike, as was the grief and anger following the death of Michael Jackson. The praise for such movies as “The Help” and “Red Tails” has come from whites as well as blacks.
It may take another generation for prejudice to fade away, but at least it is moving in the right direction.