I grew up following World War II and knew for sure that the United States was the greatest country on earth. No, we weren’t perfect, especially considering that many of our founding fathers were slave owners and the remnants of slavery were still with us. I remember traveling from our home in Columbus, Ohio, to Miami, Florida to visit relatives during the 1950’s. As we drove through the southern states, I saw signs for “white motels” and “negro motels,” “white restrooms” and “negro restrooms” and recall asking my parents why this was so. This was against everything they had taught me about respect for each individual, irrespective of their skin color or religion.
Yet we were a country that strove to be better. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Provisions of the Civil Rights Act also forbade discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race in hiring, promoting, and firing. This was federal law that did not leave it to each state to determine its own level of discrimination. While this law did not end discrimination, it provided a framework by which people of color and women could slowly improve their positions in American society.