Proclamation 95, better known as The Emancipation Proclamation, was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. It changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslaved people in the designated areas of the South from slave to free. The signing of the Proclamation was the pivotal event that helped to hasten an end to the four year Civil War which cost the lives of 620,000 and thus ended America’s First Civil Rights Movement.
On July 2, 1964, more than 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark civil rights and US labor law known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Four years later and just seven days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Johnson signed a second Civil Rights Act of 1968, which provided equal housing opportunities regardless of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Before equal rights could be granted to virtually all Americans, America’s Second Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s would claim the lives of innocents and activists alike. Among them were Emmett Till; Medgar Evers; Eldridge Cleaver; four little girls in a church basement in Birmingham; Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner; and Martin Luther King Jr.
Today we are witnessing the first skirmishes of America’s Third Civil Rights Movement…the fight for the lives of school children, people of color, and potentially anyone walking the streets of any U.S. city whether large or small. This new Civil Rights Movement is not about equal opportunities in the labor force, accessible housing, integrated schools, or other public accommodations. This new battle is not about universal access to seats on a bus or at a lunch counter or which drinking fountain may be used.
Instead this new fight for equality derives from America’s seminal document, the Declaration of Independence which speaks of three unalienable rights, the first of which is LIFE. The founders described the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as having been given to all human beings by their creator and which governments are created to protect.
But the words of the Declaration, though implicitly promising these fundamental rights, ring hollow for the 13,000 Americans who are murdered each year by one of more than 300 million guns in the U.S. The unalienable right to life is alienated on average 96 times every day when an American is murdered by a gun. And, of the 96 people killed every day by a gun, seven are children and teens. On average, 50 women per month are shot to death by an intimate partner.
America’s gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries. An analysis of gun homicide rates in developed countries— those considered “high-income” by the World Bank — found that the United States accounted for 46 percent of the population but 82 percent of the gun deaths
If every person killed by a gun last year avoided being shot and instead they were a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight it would take nearly 100 planes to accommodate them. Now imagine that all 100 planes plummeted to earth. The carnage would be unfathomable. 13,000 murders each year by guns is like five Pearl Harbors or four September 11’s…EVERY YEAR.
None of this data include accidental deaths from guns or suicide by self-inflicted gun shots. These are murders. The same robbing of life that befell those lynched, blown up, or killed by other violent means. And in each case that fundamental and unalienable right to life was violently stripped away. Each was an infringement of someone’s civil rights.
The plaintiff cries of Enough is Enough are resonating across this country with the loudest coming from America’s youth. High schoolers have become this generation’s civil rights leaders. They are the brilliant, articulate and passionate voices of what started as a grief stricken protest but which has evolved to a national movement. The voices of the students from Parkland where the civil rights of 17 students and teachers synced in harmony with student-led sibling marches in more than 800 cities across the globe.
What was first thought to be a short-lived protest has grown rapidly to a real movement that has and continues to capture to attention and commitment of millions of everyday people as well as leaders in the highest seats of government, faith leaders, and other celebrities and notables. And it appears to be a movement that will not soon go away.
This third American Civil Rights Movement appears to have an endless supply of fuel to sustain the passion and energy last seen in the 60’s by those who marched for equality or in protest of a war. We are witnessing the evolution from a moment to a movement. And as with all movements, change may not come easily, quickly or even completely. Change comes about incrementally by those who pledge to sustain the movement until voices become victors.
The courts have long held that the wrongful death of an innocent by at the hands of a police officer can give rise to charges of a civil rights violation. The basis would seem to be that the victim has been robbed of the fundamental right to life. And though infrequently used, this legal oddity was actually first conceived in the Civil War reconstruction in the 1870s as a way to prosecute criminal activity when local authorities either wouldn’t or couldn’t convict someone committing crimes against black people.
Exactly what remedies can be developed to slow or even eliminate the epidemic of murder by firearms is yet to be discovered. But one thing is certain. The youth of America have launched a movement and as they will tell anyone who will listen, they’re not going away.
We’ve seen their faces and heard their passionate pleas. We feel like we know Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Alfonso Calderon, Sam Zeif, and Delaney Tarr. But the image of one young girl who spoke at the Washington March for our Lives was the one speech that connected the most famous Civil Rights leader of the modern era with the newest Civil Rights leaders of this generation.
Yolanda Renee King, the nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. told the world that her grandfather had a dream that “his four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.” Then little Yolanda shared her dream… “that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world. Period.”
The day before a gunman snuffed out the life of Dr. King, the iconic Civil Rights leader said: “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.” The young people who have inherited Dr. King’s zeal and commitment will undoubtedly take this country to the victory lane of America’s third Civil Rights Movement. They will be the activists whose advocacy will bring about the day when Americans may never again experience the catastrophic death toll caused by guns. And following Dr. King’s teaching, they will succeed nonviolently but with all of the passion of every Civil Rights leader whose legacy they have inherited.