I wrote this op-ed last week but haven't had any luck placing it, so I thought I'd post it here. After spending so much time researching the Chicago Freedom Movement as I was writing My Life with the Lincolns, I couldn't stay silent when Rand Paul made his inane comments about the "obscurity" of civil rights:
In his recent interview with Rachel Maddow, Rand Paul said he would have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s clear to me, however, that he wouldn’t have marched with the civil rights leader when Dr. King moved his campaign north to Chicago to focus on issues of housing discrimination.
The Chicago Freedom Movement, a joint effort between the Coordinating Council of City Organizations and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council, sought to end slums through open housing. In 1966, hundreds of dedicated African American volunteers (sometimes accompanied by white supporters) “tested” real estate offices all over the Chicago area to see whether they would be offered services. Most of the time, they weren’t.
If Rand Paul had his way, and private businesses were declared exempt from the Civil Rights Act, such discrimination would occur over and over again—in restaurants, in taxis, in hotels, in private schools.
I think about the marches during the Chicago Freedom Movement. Thousands demonstrated peacefully in white neighborhoods such as Marquette Park to raise awareness about fair, open housing, but members of those communities weren’t always non-violent in response. Ugly racial epithets were common; cars of the marchers were set on fire; stones were hurled (one of which struck Dr. King in the head). Comments such as Paul’s set the stage for the return of such racially motivated violence.
Civil rights are not an “intrusion” on corporate America, as Paul asserts. They are not “obscure.” They are human rights, ones that are just and have been hard won. They are what Americans should be most proud of. Let’s not let small minded people like Paul threaten the integrity of the Civil Rights Act and those who put their lives on the line to bring it into being.