As we commemorate the birth of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., I reflect on the true meaning of the term civil rights. By definition, civil rights mean that all citizens are guaranteed due process and equal treatment under the law regarding liberty, property, enjoyment of life and protection. These rights are natural. But why then did we have to have a civil rights movement?
Unfortunately, many people in this country view this day as an “African-American” holiday. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though Dr. King espoused the cause of the African-American travesty, he was also speaking of a much greater injustice of the day.
Reflect on this for a moment.
When the Civil Rights Act passed in Congress in 1964, women had “earned” the right to vote only 40 years earlier. Barely one year before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, was the Equal Pay Act of 1963 passed, assuring equal pay for equal work for women. The civil rights movement had created a national dialogue where society was forced to examine the state of injustices for all Americans. The essence of the civil rights movement is that of equality for all citizens of this nation regardless of race, color, gender, political beliefs, and sexual orientation.
So as we pay tribute the memory of one brave man today, we must also acknowledge that he promoted the movement of equality, liberty and protection not just for African Americans but for ALL Americans. Equality is a natural right. To think otherwise is not just un-American but inhumane. The civil rights movement in general and this day of remembrance in particular should serve as a noble and secular way of reaffirming our own humanity.