In honor of Black History Month, one Binghamton University faculty member mapped out the broad history of the Civil Rights Movement.
Randall Edouard, assistant provost and director of admissions at BU, led the audience Saturday through the century after the Civil War and the journey from slavery to equal rights.
“I don’t want to ever forget about the Civil Rights Movement,” Edouard said. “You have to give a history lesson to give justice to the civil rights movements.”
Edouard explained that following the Civil War, former slaves were granted citizenship and the right to vote though the 14th and 15th Amendments, respectively. However, despite new laws, blacks faced long-term difficulties and injustices including disenfranchisement, segregation and staunch opposition by whites toward their social mobility and equality.
“You can’t be racist if you don’t have power. You just got an opinion if you don’t have power,” Edouard said. “That is the essence of racism.”
Edouard discussed the landmark 1896 decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld racist policies through the “separate but equal” doctrine. The ruling stood for more than 50 years until it was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education.
“Education is the right of all and not the privilege of a few,” Edouard said.
Edouard also touched upon accomplishments of both W.E.B. Du Bois, who founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Booker T. Washington.
“Du Bois argued that blacks should fight for social and economic equality all at once,” Edouard said.
The modern Civil Rights Movement made headway with Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat in a bus in Birmingham, Ala. in 1955, according to Edouard. Her actions resulted in the boycott of Birmingham buses for nearly a year, with blacks walking to work and profits sinking for bus companies.
“She said ‘I’m tired.’ That’s all she did. I see about a thousand Rosa Parks just in my daily life, just tired people,” Edouard said.
The March on Washington in 1963 and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech brought the Civil Rights Movement to the national level, Edouard said, with more than 200,000 Americans of many races in attendance and many more watching the event televised.
Days after courts ordered the desegregation of Birmingham in 1964, a church bombing killed four young black girls. Edouard said this act convinced President John F. Kennedy to risk his own political future and fully endorse the Civil Rights Movement. Following Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 24th Amendment, which prohibits the revocation of voting rights due to failure to pay a poll tax.
“We enjoy those fruits today because during the Civil Rights Movement, students across the South decided to change all that,” Edouard said.
Edouard applauded BU President Harvey Stenger and Binghamton University for efforts such as the Educational Opportunity Program and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. He described the University as “one that gets it.”
Edouard, born and raised in South Jamaica, Queens, attended the second-worst high school in the state. Despite this setback, he attributed his opportunity and success in working his way up in the world to the work by proponents of the Civil Rights Movement.
“We can never hear these stories enough,” said Ladene Miles Bourne, director of the Haven After School program. “The more we hear of what it took to advance, the more we have an understanding of where we’ve been and where we need to go.”
The NAACP helped organize the event Downtown at the Broome County Public Library. Brenda Brown, an adjunct human development professor at Binghamton University and an event coordinator of the Black History Month Committee, invited Edouard to speak.