Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen on Wednesday celebrated what he called the golden wedding anniversary of civil and rights by challenging their children, the beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to keep them together.
He urged those attending a celebration of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the landmark legislation into law on July 2, 1964, to stand up against bullying someone because of their race, color, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation.
He cited the example of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer who recently vetoed state legislation that would have given business owners the right to invoke religion in refusing service to gays and lesbians.
Pridgen, speaking in the ceremonial courtroom at the Erie County Courthouse, noted that the annivesary of the Civil Rights Act coincides with his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
He then talked about another couple who met more than 50 years ago at a bus stop but weren’t allowed to talk to each other on the bus because one of them had to sit in the back of the bus.
He said the couple, one named Civil and the other named Rights, were encouraged when on May 16, 1963, a federal court ordered the University of Alabama to admit two black students, and the following month when President John F. Kennedy, declaring that the country was facing a moral crisis, called on Congress to enact civil rights legislation.
Pridgen recalled that segregationists like Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and other opponents of the legislation tried to keep civil and rights apart, but pastors of storefront churches, freedom riders, students, protesters and letter writers worked to join the couple through the legislation.
“After a tumultuous courtship, they were joined together by LBJ in the Oval Office,” he said.
These are still tumultuous times, Pridgen said, citing the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager walking along a Florida street while wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles.
But he said there are some good days, noting that in his lifetime he has seen the first black president and the first black governor of New York, as well as the first black mayor of Buffalo and the first black superintendent of Buffalo schools.
He urged people to speak out for civil rights and keep the couple together.
“Those whom God has joined together, let no man put assunder,” he said.
The event was sponsored by the 8th Judicial District Diversity Committee, the Minority Bar Association of Western New York and the Diversity Committee of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York.
It included music by musicians from the Colored Musicians Club, joined by State Supreme Court Justice Frederick J. Marshall on trombone.