OAKLAND -- As several monumental figures of the civil rights movement commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Senate's passage of the Civil Rights Act on Wednesday night in North Oakland, they urged the community to never forget the struggles that preceded the law's historic passage.
"It's good to celebrate (banishing) subordination, discrimination and racism, but when you win a victory like that we don't want to celebrate too much," said Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
Clayborne was joined on the panel by Howard Moore, Jr., who was the top lawyer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s; renowned Oakland activist Angela Davis, whom Moore once defended; and Elaine Brown, who led the Black Panther Party in the mid-1970s. A packed house at Beebe Memorial Cathedral listened and responded with laughter and rowdy applause during the more than two hours of reflections on the road that led to the act's passage.
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, an organizer of the event, presented Moore, 82, with a Freedom Warrior medal in honor of his contributions to the struggle to promote anti-discrimination laws.
"We commend (Moore) for his unwavering commitment to the pursuit of liberty and justice for all, for dedicating his life to the unending struggle for freedom and equality for all," said Carson.
Davis added: "The Civil Rights Act would have been absolutely inconceivable without Howard Moore."
Carson, 65, recalled a time when segregation and discrimination were rampant in Oakland.
"We couldn't go to restaurants in Jack London Square, they wouldn't even hire us as dishwashers," said Carson, who is black. He recalled the 4,800 black people lynched based solely on accusations of wrongdoing and the millions held in slavery.
"That was the beginning of the destruction of the black family: when black men were stolen from their families," he said. "We must recommit ourselves to (current) struggles because while they happened 50 years ago, the struggles continue today."
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark bill outlawing racial segregation and discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It passed the House of Representatives in February 1964 and the Senate on June 19, 1964. President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law July 2.
Grammy Award-winning musician D'wayne Wiggins and violinist Tarika Lewis performed at the event, and excerpts were shown from a PBS documentary about the 1964 Freedom Summer, when hundreds of students and activists flocked to segregated Mississippi to help register African-Americans to vote. The documentary airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Davis, 70, said it was the "collective energy and collective perseverance that generated courage."
Follow Kristin J. Bender at Twitter.com/kjbender.