Leadership and Civil Rights

This weekend marks the 47th anniversary of the signing of the landmark Civil Rights Act. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson stood along with civil rights leaders to sign one of the most powerful legislative measures to date. Would our nation have evolved as it has today without such an important decision?

While signing of the bill was momentous, there were significant situations that led up the event. These were the collective efforts of significant leaders within government and communities nationwide to tackle three fundamentals outlined in Leadership Building Blocks: An Insider’s Guide to Success. These include having a vision, making connections (everything global), and leaving a legacy.

Just take, for instance, the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy. Each developed a big picture action plan full of strategies and risks. In fact, President Kennedy included prospective enactment of the civil rights measure part of his 1960 political campaign. Similarly, Dr. King continued to mobilize the civil rights movement with his rousing insights at the August 1963 march on Washington, DC and his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

In the same way, leaders collaborated to create the forum for the law to gain support. In short, they realized the need for cooperation and essential focus on connections. With the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 that followed after the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a bus, communities rallied together. There were newly formed coalitions and alliances that ignited rallies, sit-ins, and marches nationwide.

Finally, the Civil Rights Act was an opportunity for leaders to create and leave a legacy. At the same time civil rights leaders were taking the first steps to address racial discrimination they were also establishing a premise for civic engagement. They took the time to learn and, in turn, to share next steps. In fact, one part of the 1964 mandate was how the legislation created the foundation for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Recognizing this significant day in U.S. history, it makes sense to acknowledge these leaders and their contributions. But, there is still work to be done training and developing other leaders to make such a difference in the future.

-Dawn McCoy, author of Leadership Building Blocks: An Insider’s Guide to Success

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