By Hank Sanders, Alabama District 23 Sen. Hank Sanders
July 2nd is an important date to me. It is important to others for different reasons. Let me tell you why.
I grew up in a segregated society. It was not just segregated, but very oppressive. Most Americans think of segregation as just separation of the races. Separation does not even begin to tell the real story. So, July 2nd is very important to me.
I grew up going to separate schools from white Americans. The schools were not just separate. The Black school children and Black teachers were pressed down. As I recall, Black American teachers received half the pay of white American teachers. Black American teachers did an extraordinary job under very oppressive conditions. July 2nd is very important to me.
Schools were not just separate. Black schools were inferior in buildings, libraries, books, materials, school buses and every way. When I was in Junior High School (that’s what we called Middle School today), our entire library was two small sets of encyclopedias. I read both sets of encyclopedias by putting a piece of paper to mark my place each time I stopped.
I read all the way through both sets of encyclopedias without anyone ever removing my marking paper. I loved to read, so I read all my textbooks right away and borrowed books from students in higher grades to read on the bus. I know that the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision was supposed to end segregation in schools. I believe that it was the early 1970s before any change even commenced in Baldwin County, where I grew up. July 2nd is very important to me.
As oppressive as segregated education was, it was not the worse part of segregation by far. It was not the worse because we Black Americans did not come into contact with white Americans on a daily basis. We may have seen white Americans when we went into stores, but that was not often unless we were working. July 2nd is very important to me.
The whole societal structure was created and maintained to send the message every moment of our lives that Black Americans were way less than white Americans. Black American lives did not really matter. Black lives did not really matter. Sometimes our lives mattered less than the dogs, cows, pigs and other animals. Evidence of this was everywhere. July 2nd is very important to me.
We hear about the separate water fountains and separate restrooms. We hear about Black Americans not being able to eat in a restaurant with white Americans or stay in a separate room in the same hotel.
This only became a problem when we traveled and could not use restrooms even at service stations. We had to go into the bushes. July 2nd is very important to me.
When we Black Americans did the same work, we were paid a lesser salary. In fact, no matter how important the work we did, we Black Americans could not make as much as any White Americans in our workplace. July 2ndis very important to me.
All the foregoing and more were degrading and oppressive. However, the worse thing was that white Americans could say and do anything to us Black Americans and we had no right to respond honestly.
It’s terrible when we are helpless to defend ourselves, our wives, our children, our homes, our property, etc. It’s terrible when even the smallest thing can bring the forces of oppression down on our heads and sometimes the forces of death. July 2nd is very important to me.
I know July 4 this very important to many Americans. It was the date of the Declaration of Independence. But my ancestors had no independence to celebrate.
They were bound by the worst form of slavery known to humankind. Every element of our person was taken including name, family, language, religion, history, and more. Even our own children did not belong to us. July 2nd is very important to me.
Let me tell you why July 2nd is so important to me. It was the date President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Finally, there was law to say that I was equal to all other Americans except for the right to vote.
I could stand a little straighter after July 2, 1964.
I could talk a little stronger after July 2nd.
I could think a little clearer after July 2nd.
I could be more of myself no matter where I was or whom I was with after July 2nd.
July 2nd is very important to me.
We all have dates that are important to us. Some have birth dates. Some have wedding dates. Some have graduation dates. Some have other dates. July 2nd is an important date to me because I became more human in my eyes and the eyes of others.
July 2, 1964 was an independence day for me.