The Current

Civil rights movement did not do enough to create systemic change

Many would argue efforts begun six decades ago in the U.S. to fight for racial equality, yet the movement never did manage to re-design a system or a national infrastructure. Today we have rights activists from then and now, waiting to address the victories and failures that led to the unrest in Baltimore.
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson hands a pen to civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the the signing of the voting rights act as officials look on behind them, Washington, D.C., August 6, 1965. (Washington Bureau/Getty Images)
(thierry ehrmann, Flickr cc)

"Some very good friends of mine were killed by bombs, bombs that were planted by racists ... that's why when someone asks me about violence I just find it incredible, because what it means is that the person who is asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country, since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa." - Angela Davis, American political activist

Half a century later since the civil rights movement in the 1960s, it seems some things never change.

It's hard not to notice the echoes between the voices of past struggles, and those making themselves heard today, on the streets of places such as Baltimore and Ferguson. These are some of the new battlegrounds, in the 21st century chapter of the American civil rights movement.

In the city of Baltimore, the mayor lifted a curfew yesterday ... six days after it was imposed to deal with what officials called rioting and looting sparked over the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, who suffered a severe and fatal spinal injury not long after being taken into police custody. Six police officers now face charges in his death. 

Today, as Baltimore tries to pick up the pieces ... we're asking what lessons can be drawn from the struggles of a previous generation, those learned in places such as Selma, and Montgomery.

  • Fatima Cortez-Todd was involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and worked for decades as a community organizer and activist. She was in Los Angeles. 
  • Samuel Sinyangwe is the program coordinator for the organization Policy Link and a member of the activist group We The Protesters. He was in San Francisco.
  • Tia Oso is the national coordinator of the Black Immigration Network for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. She was in Dallas. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch and Natalie Walters. 

Today's Last Word on the program went to MSNBC host Chris Hayes when he turned the tables, and offered this satirical take on a group of predominantly white people rioting in the streets of Huntington Beach California.