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The successes in Alabama that resonated throughout the former Confederacy did not manifest in the Chicago marches and in some regard, Bevel was right: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 influenced how the Civil Rights Movement drew its last breath in Chicago. Segregation was abolished. Schools were being integrated. To most Americans, the Civil Rights Movement was over. Americans fell into a state of complacency with race relations and their attentions went elsewhere during a decade with more than its fair share of turbulence.
But, the institutional problems still existed in places like Chicago, where discriminatory hiring practices were common, poverty was bloodletting black families, and the racist sentiments primarily associated with the American South were more common than we tend to think they were. The failures of the Civil Rights Movement in achieving its broader goals allowed for racism to continue within individuals and institutions in the American South. These failures are partially to blame for why, in 2015, enough eyes have finally opened to the heinous nature of glorifying the Confederate battle flag, to the point where Mississippi — which recently has considered an amendment to its Constitution designating April as “Confederate Heritage Month” — is considering removing the image from their state flag.
This could have, and should have, happened sooner.
How is it that?over 50 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are just now having a productive conversation about how the removal of the Confederate battle flag is necessary to the establishment of racial harmony? How is it that we have allowed a symbol of treason, racism, and human rights violations to wave proudly at the South Carolina capitol for this long, despite the failure of the South’s insurrection and the forced abolition of the practice that ultimately created the rebellion in the first place? How is it that we’ve become so naive and misinformed that this symbol of American moral failure is tattooed on the bodies of Southern men and women with stunning regularity? How have we failed so miserably that this symbol, which I have unfortunately witnessed waving proudly in front yards and emblazoned on pickup trucks, has continued to endure the decades and become novel to Southerners in the United States?
The failures of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as failure on the part of every American citizen since, are partially responsible for Dylann Storm Roof killing nine in Emanuel AME in Charleston, S.C. For these failures have allowed ignorance of history, institutional racism, and the glorification of racist, nationalist identities to continue being bred into Southern generations following the victories in Birmingham.
These are the same institutions that corrupted a 21-year-old from Lexington and prompted him to?obsess over racism, obtain a firearm, deliberately choose Emanuel AME, and murder nine black Americans because, according to Roof, they “rape our women” and are “taking over our country.”
Dylann Storm Roof has existed throughout history the same as he exists today. He is Edmund Pettus. He is George Wallace. He is Nathan Bedford Forrest. He is J. Strom Thurmond. He is Edward Rutledge. He is the most recent face the chimera of racism has shown us.
Dylann Storm Roof exists because of a poor decision by great men and collective failure of us all in the aftermath.
My hope is that Charleston exposes our collective failures to us and takes us out of that state of complacency in which we’ve resided since the mid-60s. Maybe now we’ll finish the movement Dr. King, Bevel, and Raby started.
Taking down the Confederate battle flag is a good start.