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Celebrating the 1964 Civil Rights Act

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I recently returned from the Civil Rights Summit in Austin, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Words can barely describe how historic and unique this moment was for our country.  From the moment I arrived, you could feel the energy pulsating through the city and at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.

Civil rights leaders convened alongside President Barack Obama and three of his four living predecessors in the Oval Office,  Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  Rarely does such a collection of influential people come together to share their stories and perspectives about our country’s struggle to overcome racial inequality.

As a proud “almost lifer” at FedEx, I was thrilled that we were a major sponsor of the Summit. Even though our company did not exist during at the apex of the civil rights movement, our role today shows the importance of and appreciation for what it accomplished—this was a proud moment for all FedEx team members!

Through archived audio-tapes, I heard the voices of President Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr.—it was fascinating to hear how they sometimes misunderstood each other despite the common goal  of ending racial discrimination, and, ultimately, inequality in all of its forms.  Other legendary figures like Jim Brown (NFL) and Bill Russell (NBA) spoke to the audience about how they simply played their sports and tried to remain fearless amid threats, understanding that their excellence also influenced attitudes in this country and the movement itself.  Seeing them—then and now-- and being able to relive their achievements with the advantage of perspective underscores how remarkable they are even today.

We heard civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis recount how he and a group of civil rights activists, dressed in their Sunday best, were attacked as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their march from Selma to Montgomery, often known as “Bloody Sunday.”  Lewis also shared a lighter, ironic story about being barred from  his local library years ago, only to host a book signing there many years later. 

Andrew Young, the former Congressman and Ambassador to the United Nations, spoke about life on the “front lines” of the movement and told of when he was severely beaten for trying to protect a group of women who were confronted by the Ku Klux Klan.

Even though I was very young when the 1964 Civil Rights Act became law, much of what I heard and saw resonated with me and reminded me of all that we owe those who came before us. Although some would disagree, much has changed even though the work is not finished.  We should all appreciate their struggles and sacrifices in an uncertain time and embrace a future that is not yet perfect, but certainly promising.  

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