Tag Archives: LBJ

Celebrating the Fair Housing Act

11 Apr
LBJ expands his powerful legacy

LBJ expands his powerful legacy

On this date 46 years ago, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This important piece of legislation is better known as the Fair Housing Act. Its core purpose is to prohibit discrimination in housing — whether for lease or for sale. The law makes it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.”

Sadly, even with the landmark civil rights legislation already passed, housing discrimination was rampant in the United States, particularly in urban areas. This blatant discrimination — including redlining, social steering, and other heinous practices — was not restricted to the South. Even though there was 100-year-old legislation (the Civil Rights Act of 1866) that implied the rights of property, the lack of a strong enforcement mechanism allowed many nasty practices to grow over time.

As the civil rights movement grew and the first major laws were passed — the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act — activists began focusing on housing. The Chicago Open Housing Movement was a trailblazing effort and federal legislation was drafted based on the successful aspects of that movement. Unfortunately, Congress had lost some momentum and many members felt that civil rights had been sufficiently covered — a view afforded to those with white privilege. The draft law languished.

Then tragedy struck. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Riots broke out and racial tensions rose again across the nation. Never one to miss an opportunity to take bold action, LBJ decided the time was right to re-energize the Fair Housing Act. He wrote personal letters to Congressional leaders demanding immediate action. As was often the case, he was sufficiently persuasive. One week after King’s death, he signed the Act into law.

LBJ has a complicated legacy, but he was a powerful, convincing leader whose passion for civil rights and equality cannot be questioned. No president before or since has done more to create legal protections for oppressed and targeted people. The Fair Housing Act created strict guidelines and penalties. It also established an enforcement agency, the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The NAACP and ACLU have successfully pressed cases that have expanded the protections to include urban renewal planning. People with disabilities and families with children were added to the protection umbrella as subsequent legislation was passed over the years.

While this law was critical and made a real difference, housing discrimination is still a significant problem. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates approximately two million cases of discrimination every single year. Imagine what the problem would be like without a law in place! As with most federal protections, Fair Housing still does not carry protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several states and localities have created protections, but without cohesive federal standards this piecemeal approach is not enough.

Call to Action: We who believe in freedom cannot rest. Given the current Supreme Court’s fondness for gutting rights laws and the blatant violations that still exist, we must be vigilant to ensure that the enforcement, protection, and punishment mechanisms that are in place remain strong. We must also work to include all people in this protection, demanding strong federal protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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Tribute to R. Sargent Shriver

27 Jan

As the Peace Corps gets ready to turn 50 years old, I have been saddened by the little coverage Sargent Shriver and the Peace Corps have received from the media.  I suppose we are all to busy wanting to know what secret Oprah is going to reveal.  During this culture war in the United States and during two concurrent wars with Iraq and Afghanistan respectively, it seems we should be focusing on what type of power we can assert–the power of peace.  Shriver was the first Director of the Peace Corps, whose mission states, as handed down by JFK:

The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:

  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Shriver, who worked under the Johnson Administration was the architect for the Peace Corps, Job Corps, and Head Start.  He was a man that cared about helping the poor and disenfranchised, as was demonstrated in his behavior.  Today, he would be quite the anomaly in US politics–all that stuff about helping the poor.  The U.S., as much as ever, needs to tout its goodwill and deeds around the world.  Yet, I don’t hear much conversation around peace and how we can promote it.  Click here to learn more about the Peace Corps. I take my hat off to you Sargent Shriver, an American hero.  To learn more about Sargent Shriver, click here.

Shriver: An American Hero

Hero of the Week Award, LBJ: November 26

26 Nov

With all the hype I have been hearing lately about cutting the whopping 2% that NPR gets from the Federal government, along with the TON of money they get with their “beg-a-thons,” I thought I would add some much needed perspective and a sense of history.  National Public Radio was started to ensure journalistic integrity, so that there would be a source of news that could not be purchased by corporations and thus biased for a political agenda.  If we lived in a hyper-liberal society, NPR would offer a conservative perspective.  The country we live in now is so conservative that the Nixon years (Affirmative Action and the EPA started in the Nixon Administration) look downright leftist; consequently, NPR is acting responsibly by offering a slightly more liberal perspective (some would argue moderate and not liberal).

I would like to underscore the history of NPR and when it started.  President Lyndon Baines Johnson working with congress started the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, November 7, 1967.  I shall quote LBJ, because his words are far more eloquent than mine.  He describes the purpose of Public Broadcasting as:

It announces to the world that our Nation wants more than just material wealth; our Nation wants more than a “chicken in every pot”. We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man’s spirit. That is the purpose of this act.

More concretely:

It will give a wider and, I think, stronger voice to educational radio and television by providing new funds for broadcast facilities. It will launch a major study of television’s use in the Nation’s classrooms and their potential use throughout the world. Finally — and most important — it builds a new institution: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Would that we could elect another LBJ.  While I would not want to be personal friends with him, nor sit and drink a beer with him, he was a fantastic leader with courage, intellect, and great intelligence.  My guess is he also knew the difference between North Korea and South Korea.  President LBJ earns the HWA posthumously for having the vision and leadership to safeguard true democracy.

 

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