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Hilbert Morales

The past three-day weekend included Rev. Martin Luther King holiday in recognition of his focused advocacy for civil rights becoming universally available to all ethnic communities. An observation is that when American society thinks about Civil Rights issues, it does not include past and current efforts to allow all civil rights to be practiced and applied by all Americans: Whites (Anglo-Saxon), Negroes (Blacks); Mexican-Americans (Brown); Asian-Americans (Yellow); and Native Americans (Red). Whites are a definite minority when one considers the entire diverse human universe.

Bring to mind that when the Founding Fathers, who all had experienced bias, bigotry, prejudice, exclusion, religious oppression, and economic hardships because of being marginalized by their Royalty and elites who made all governance decisions without really consulting the people being governed. History records the resistance of communities to the oppression of oligarchies self-interest. During the American Revolution one mantra of that era was “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION” (Boston Tea Party incident); another was “DON’T TREAD ON ME”. Over time the philosophy was developed that government, with the consent and involvement of We, The People was the best way for humanity to evolve. U.K.’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “History developed Europe; a more humane philosophy which included all the peoples developed American Democracy.”

America’s Founding Fathers, were all of the Christian faith, and embedded into the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, especially its first ten amendments, collectively known as The Bill of Rights” many Christian ideals. But, during the 1700’s many Anglos believed that persons of color were less human and subjected them to slavery. Participation in governance was limited to white men who were property owners. Today, the ideal of ONE PERSON: ONE VOTE IS AN ACCEPTED NORM which is being undermined by requirements for Identity Cards coupled with gerrymandering and several suppression schemes to limit the vote of peoples of color.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King had a vision of a future community which was governed in a much more humane inclusive manner. His advocacy of universal civil rights is well publicized. That progress was made upon prior developments which other, less known individuals conceived and achieved. This American Democracy is still developing as a work in progress.

The recent vulgar statement by Mr. Trump indicates that our society has much work to do if we are to share the wealth of this nation while living in a climate of mutual respect and inclusion which allows all of us to live enjoying peace and prosperity.

From the beginning an education was highly prized and deemed an essential requirement for success. Today, the practice of religious freedom requires that all of us need to know that all major religions identify with ONE GOD who created all in this universe. And religions all have commandments. Compliance thereof is essential to having community civic order.

Then, as now, certain white supremacists believed they were destined to be the leader of people of color who were thought to be less than they were. This sense of superiority is subtle, but exists while often derided. Each of us must learn to deal with its many varied practices. Segregation of school children was one such practice whereby people of color were marginalized systematically.

The historic records reveal many concerned individuals reacted to these oppressive practices with constructive action which changed things for the better. What follows are such anecdotes:

“Sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns was in the belly of Jim Crow segregation, swallowed by white supremacy. God, please help me she prayed in her bedroom in Prince Edward County, Virginia. We are your children, too. Johns was distraught over the conditions she and her classmates faced at Robert

Moton High School, where some classes took place in tar-paper structures. God answered her prayer with a plan. More than four years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, JOHNS ORGANIZED A (NON-DESTRUCTIVE, NON-VIOLENT) STUDENT STRIKE. Arguably, the birth of the modern civil rights movement, this student strike was followed by legal actions to end school segregation, and her actions had set the stage for the landmark BROWN VS. BOARD OF EDUCATION (1954) U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Barbara Johns and her classmates helped reshape the face of public (school) education in America. White and Black children would study the words “all (humans, men and women) are created equal in the same classroom. Why must God’s children cry out so long before we hear them?”

“For African-American children in Prince Edward County during the 1950’s, there were not enough wise men and women. The few who spoke up were ignored (by the majority). FEAR is the enemy of FAITH. Rather than integrate following the 1954 BROWN VS. BOARD OF EDUCATION decision, school leaders adopted a policy called “MASSIVE RESISTANCE” which shut down public education for five years.

Most whites found refuge in whites only private schools (unfairly) supported by local and state tax dollars. More than 2,000 Black children were left without any educational options. One of those Black children was in first grade when those public schools closed. Many years later, that man had a hard time writing his name. But, he had worked two jobs. He became a preacher who refused pay (because) the Bible says, “FREELY YOU HAVE RECEIVED; NOW FREELY GIVE.” What did Prince Edward County fear? What did King Herod fear?” (Source: FORWARD MOVEMENT, January 5 & 6, 2018)

A prior case was initiated during 1941: Mendez et al. Vs. Westminster School Board, Orange County, CA. The Mexican-American Mendez family had moved into a home right across the street from a school which was segregated for ‘whites only’. The school for Mexican-American children was away across town. School officials refused to enroll Mendez’s kids in that for whites-only school right across the street. Five families, led by Gustavo Mendez sued Westminster School District. This case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and can be googled as “Mendez vs. Westminster” (Source: Wikipedia). In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the Mendez family with the result that all schools within CA were desegregated. Following this ruling, school districts within all 9 Southwestern States stopped having segregated schools for African; Asian, Mexican, and Native Americans, No longer were schools for whites only!

This Mendez Case provided a learning platform for judicial luminaries such as Earl Warren, Governor of California, who became Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall and Robert L. Carter had filed a “Brief for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as amicus curiae (i.e., ‘friend of the court’) in Westminster v Mendez”. Thurgood Marshall became the first African American Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition, these cases initiated the rejection of separate, but equal which is now established as unconstitutional. School districts in CA had established Mexican Only Schools without any CA state law authorization, therefore these schools were no longer allowed.

These cases demonstrate the effectiveness of the rule of law which must be based upon access to and equity before this nation’s courts & judicial system.

Gustavo Mendez is a role model in that he refused to compromise; persevered on having this case adjudicated. The Mendez family believed in helping the entire Mexican community, instead of a handful of (their own) children. Gustavo Mendez covered most of the expenses for the various

witnesses who made presentations. Today many need to push back to re-establish what is right, proper, moral, and ethical in defining our core values which create our standard of living in a very diverse national population.

On 02.15.2011, President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Sylvia Mendez, daughter of Gonzalo Mendez, lead plaintiff in this lawsuit. She, and her two brothers, Gonzalo, Jr. and Jerome, were some of the Mexican-American students who were denied admission to their local Westminster school, which formed the basis for this suit. Sylvia was awarded this honor for her years of work encouraging students to stay in school and to ensure that the importance of Mendez v. Westminster in American history will not be forgotten.

It is upon these prior developments that Dr. Martin Luther King stood when advocating for civil rights which We, The People enjoy today… especially the right to vote. THESE DEVELOPMENTS ARE WHAT MAKES AMERICAN DEMOCRACY A WORK IN PROGRESS.