Prof: Civil rights movement still has much work ahead
As the country moves further into the 21st century, the challenges before the civil rights movement will be varied — and many, according to IUP professor Mark Staszkiewicz.
Delivering the keynote speech during the NAACP Indiana County branch’s 27th annual Freedom Fund banquet on Saturday evening, Staszkiewicz said the movement will be challenged as its mission evolves from simply working to ensure equal legal footing for minorities.
In referencing that evolution, Staszkiewicz quoted the late Bayard Rustin, an activist and organizer, who in a 1965 essay wrote that he believed the civil rights movement was changing from a protest movement into a full-fledged social movement.
“From sit-ins and freedom rides we have gone into rent strikes, boycotts, community organization, and political action. As a consequence of this natural evolution, the Negro today finds himself stymied by obstacles of far greater magnitude than the legal barriers he was attacking before: automation, urban decay, de facto school segregation,” he wrote.
“These are problems which, while conditioned by Jim Crow, do not vanish upon its demise. They are more deeply rooted in our socio-economic order; they are the result of the total society’s failure to meet not only the Negro’s needs, but human needs generally.”
Staszkiewicz said that for him, the take-away is that the movement must be cognizant of the differences between desegregation and integration; between non-discrimination and affirmative action; and between anti-hate and true acceptance.
“We must help each other not simply by eliminating negative behaviors but by encouraging positive behaviors,” he said. “We need to move from removing barriers to building pathways. We need to use all the tools at our disposal to address the important issues and that, I think, is our challenge for civil rights in the 21st century.”
Among many specific challenges, Staszkiewicz said the movement, with respect to race and national origin, will have to contend with the achievement gap in public schools and disparities in health care access.
And with respect to gender, there exists a wage disparity between men and women that needs to be closed. And better legal protections need to be extended to abused women and children, he said.
With respect to the disabled, the movement will have to fight discrimination against people with mental health impairments. In terms of religion, it must remain vigilant in the enforcement of separation of church and state and remain on the lookout for religion-motivated hate crimes, he said.
Additionally, it must work to ensure marriage rights for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, he said.
“I am sure some would place a greater emphasis on certain issues than on others and variations of these issues may exist differently if different settings,” he said. “But collectively, this is comprehensive and aggressive agenda for the civil rights community.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Staszkiewicz told the audience that much has been accomplished in the years past, such as the end of legal segregation; the outlawing of racial discrimination in employment decisions; the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; the right to gay marriage in 14 states as well as in Washington, D.C., and equal opportunity for people with disabilities.
“Clearly, the efforts of our fight for civil rights — whether related to race, sex, age, disability, national origin, or religion — have resulted in real and significant changes and improvements.”
Also during the dinner, the Indiana branch presented its annual awards to several people.
The Bill Shane Diversity Award was presented to Bill Herring, president of the Indiana Players community theater group and a director of its recent production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” The Bill Shane Student Diversity Award was given to Terrance Hudson, president of the IUP Graduate Student Assembly. Susan Heberer, the Chevy Chase Community Center’s youth summer program coordinator, won the Community Service Award.
The President’s Award was given to Nell Webb, who serves on the advisory board for the African-American Cultural Center at IUP and is a lifetime member of the NAACP.
Special recognition also was given to Staszkiewicz and the “A Raisin in the Sun” cast. Branch President Carolyn Princes said it was the first time the play has been performed in Indiana County.
PHOTO: Mark Staszkiewicz, a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, spoke Saturday during the NAACP Indiana County branch’s 27th annual Freedom Fund Banquet at the Holiday Inn in White Township.