The 50th anniversary of the signing of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 will be commemorated by a series of events in New Orleans beginning this week.
A nonprofit organization, Liberty ’64, is spearheading the nine-day commemoration of the anniversary of the day President Lyndon Johnson signed the act, July 2, 1964.
The law outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce; prohibited state and municipal governments from denying access to public facilities on grounds of race, color, religion or national origin; barred unequal application of voter registration requirements; encouraged the desegregation of public schools and authorized the U.S. attorney general to file suits to enforce the act; and banned discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds.
In addition to the local events, a civil rights history tour, sponsored in part by retired professional basketball players, will take 200 New Orleans students to Birmingham, Alabama, on Wednesday.
Liberty ’64 has scheduled the following events:
- “Through the Civil Rights Lens,” a photo and video exhibit of civil rights-related photographs, posters, films and audio recordings at the National Park Service’s Visitor Information Center in the French Market. The monthlong show opens Saturday, with live entertainment several days each week.
- Civil Rights Sunday, June 29, an opportunity for churches to remember the struggle that led to the act’s passage. Printed materials will be used in local churches to recognize the important roles played by such people as Oretha Castle, Helen Mervis, Rosa Keller, Doris Castle, Dodie Smith, Lois Dejean, Jerome Smith, Matt Suarez, Lolis Elie, Don Hubbard and Rudy Lombard.
- Bell-ringing ceremony at noon July 2 at the Louisiana Supreme Court building, 400 Royal St. People are encouraged to bring their own bells to take part in the ceremony.
- Civil rights panel discussions: a series of five panel discussions from June 30 to July 5. Four of the discussions will take place at WWL-TV, 1024 N. Rampart St., and will be aired online and on Cox Channel 8 through the Orleans Parish School Board. Topics at those panels will be the Freedom Riders, the significance of the 1964 act, the role of women in New Orleans’ civil rights movement and “Changing the Conversation on Civil Rights.” The fifth panel, “The Music of the Movement,” will be held at 2 p.m. July 5 at the Old U.S. Mint, 400 Esplanade Ave., followed by a live performance by the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Freedom Singers.
- A Civil Rights Gospel Brunch, at 1 p.m. July 6 at the House of Blues, 225 Decatur St., will be the concluding event. Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster.
Except for the brunch, all the events are free, though seating at many is limited.
Dionne Butler, who heads Liberty ’64, said the organization also is preparing “a self-guided tour of historic civil rights sites in New Orleans.”
“When you grow up in a segregated society and watch downtrodden people come together for the remarkable accomplishment of passing such an important piece of legislation, you always remember it and want to celebrate it for the next generation,” Butler said.
Meanwhile, the Civil Rights History Tour for New Orleans Youth is sponsored by the National Basketball Retired Players Association, Stand for Children, Liberty ’64 and City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell.
The tour will take at-risk New Orleans youths between ages 11 and 16 to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Historic 16th Street Baptist Church, Rickwood Field (home to the Black Barons, a Negro League baseball team before Major League Baseball was integrated) and the University of Alabama.
NBRPA President and CEO Arnie Fielkow, a former New Orleans city councilman and Saints vice president, will lead the tour.
Also attending will be the Rev. Samson “Skip” Alexander, who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Dr. Dorothy Smith, Dillard University dean of general studies; Keith Plessy, a descendant of Homer Plessy, of the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” case; and NBRPA member Marvin Roberts, a former professional basketball player and current assistant vice president at Utah State University.
The NBRPA is made up of former players from the National Basketball Association, the American Basketball Association, the Women’s National Basketball Association and the Harlem Globetrotters.
For registration information regarding the tour, visit the Stand for Children website at https://stand.org/louisiana /blog/2014/05/14/day-civil-rights-trip.