Reflecting on Civil Rights Act of 1954: Onward Freedom display celebrates 60th anniversary

Sixty years ago on July 2, after a century of persistent activism in the face of terrorism and violence, justice scored a victory with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is marking the anniversary of the landmark piece of legislation with Onward Freedom, a display in partnership with the Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 dismantled systemic racial segregation codified by Jim Crow laws of the 19th and 20th centuries, opening public places including restaurants, theaters, hotels and swimming pools to people of all races. It also banned employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The law strengthened earlier Civil Rights legislation and catalyzed future legislation, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that helped protect the fundamental right to vote for African Americans and for all American citizens.

“A generation celebrated in 1964 not just for themselves, but for their ancestors who came before them and those who would come after them, knowing some of the rights they had organized, marched, bled and died for would finally be protected by law,” said Woodrow Keown, Jr., president & COO of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “A new generation is now poised to push even further, not just for themselves, but for their ancestors on whose shoulders they stand and for the ancestors they will in turn lift up.”

Onward Freedom showcases community reflections on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the state of freedom today. Among the voices featured are current law students, a Freedom Center teen docent, and artistic director of the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival tt stern-enzi.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be discussed even more right now because each and every marginalized group in society seeks to identify and build upon the legacy of this legislation,” said stern-enzi.

The statements reflect gratitude for the legislation’s legacy and also the need to protect those hard-won rights as we continue the progress toward equity started in 1964.

“The Civil Rights Act is a reminder that ordinary people have the power to revolutionize and transform their country for the better,” said Marques Jones, a student at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. “It should also be a reminder that we have a moral obligation to fight for change every day.”

Onward Freedom will be on display through July 31.

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