Four decades ago....after 5 months of debate...after 500 amendments whose only purpose was to kill the bill....and after Everett Dirksen the Majority Leader in the Senate at that time, shut down this country's longest filibuster which lasted 534 hours, 1 minute and 51 seconds...After cloture and the vote..
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.
This was not a perfect bill. In fact, more work was done on it the following year, in 1965. But it was an historic moment for America. One more time, we as a country, have come to look out over that precipice again, and once again, race plays a very big part in the divide. But this time around it is not only about race. It is about fairness and equality between the haves and have-nots of all colors, creeds and genders.
It is about health care and reforming the system as we know it today. It is a fight that began with Teddy Roosevelt and now comes down to Barack Obama.
I'm not going to rehash the latest national debate, because it won't be over until later today. However, I do want to look backward and remind you from where we've come.
In 1964, only 12,000 of more than 3,000,000 Blacks students in the South, went to integrated schools.
Medgar Evers had been dead less than a year...the same held true for John F. Kennedy and the three freedom riders lynched and brutally murder down in Mississippi. 1964 was the year after the March on Washington and Martin's “I have a dream” speech.
The White House woke up, finally and from that awakening came HR 7152, which was passed by the House and sent to the Senate. Up to this time the conservatives in Congress would simply filibuster to kill any bill that spoke to civil rights for Black people. This obstruction back then was peopled with southern congressmen, just like today, with a few exceptions.... Boehner....McConnell...Kyl.....Cantor...and DeMint...to name a few. The fight over civil rights for Blacks was very violent, very bitter and long lasting.
Talking about partisanship and politics, Senator Dirksen said at the time...
"I trust that the time will never come in my political career when the waters of partisanship will flow so swift and so deep as to obscure my estimate of the national interest. . . . I trust I can disenthrall myself from all bias, from all prejudice, from all irrelevancies, from all immaterial matters, and see clearly and cleanly what the issue is and then render an independent judgment."
While, today, most of the solid opposition to health care comes from the GOP, it should noted that Everette Dirksen was a Republican working with a Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson. Dirksen, working across the aisle delivered the Republican votes to pass the Civil Right Act of 1964.
Democrats had actually splintered and if the passage back then had depended solely on Democrats, there would have been no civil rights act of 1964.
If America is to have Health Care Reform today, it will have to come from one party...the Democratic Party, because lesser minds and hearts control the Republican Party, wielding fear and prevarication as their weapons of choice to goad their followers..
Prior to cutting off that filibuster and gaining cloture, Everette Dirksen had been castigated and metaphorically skinned alive by Blacks and Black newspapers of the time, portraying him as no different than the other racists, conservatives and segregationists who peopled the Congress and American government. He was not loved by Black people. It would have been easy for him to turn his back. But Dirksen it turned out, was a man of principle , guided by justice and morality.
40 years later, Congress is still peopled with conservatives, racists and would-be segregationists, who would jump at the chance to turn back the clock to pre-1964 levels.
However, I don't think there is one man or woman in the House or Senate today, who has the courage of Everette Mckinley Dirksen, the senator from Illinois.
There is something about those Senators from Illinois...they seem to see things differently from the rest of them....kind of like what Robert Kennedy said right around the same time....
“Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not.”
Dirksen prodded the Senate to step up by saying,
"I appeal to all Senators. We are confronted with a moral issue. Today let us not be found wanting in whatever it takes by way of moral and spiritual substance to face up to the issue and to vote cloture."
Health Care Reform is a moral issue and a just issue that will not go away. Hopefully the House will agree.