As our nation grapples with immigration reform, the deaths of unarmed black citizens at the hands of law enforcement, voter disfranchisement and the United States Supreme Court's possible nullification of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, I am disheartened by the decision made by Senator John Cornyn, the incoming Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, to remove "Civil Rights" and "Human Rights" from the name of the Subcommittee. Senator Cornyn's decision to alter the Subcommittee's name is dangerous, not only because the "Civil Rights" and "Human Rights" would be absent from the title, but because the name adjustment underscores the idea that there remains little work to be done to build the 'Beloved Community.' And yet there remains a great work to be done across this nation and across the globe.
In regards to the Subcommittee's name change, Senator Cornyn's spokesperson stated that he agreed to drop any references to civil and human rights because the "Constitution covers our most basic rights." Senator Cornyn's aide continued: "We will focus on these rights, along with other issues that fall under the broader umbrella of the Constitution." While I understand the concept of having a name that covers broad issues, I believe that, at this critical juncture for humanity, we must keep "Civil Rights" and "Human Rights" at the forefront of our minds as American and global citizens.
We cannot forget that, although the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were adopted 1865, 1868 and 1870, respectively, 150 years after the abolition of slavery, we now face the harsh realities of the prison industrial complex. African-American men are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than white males, resulting in billions of dollars in revenue for the private companies, as well as the state and federal governments. One hundred and forty seven years after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, all Americans still do not enjoy "due process of law" or "equal protection under the laws." The Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African-American men the right to vote, had essentially failed by 1869 as the Redeemers began to regain control of the state legislatures in the South. If the Constitution was strong enough to protect "our most basic rights," there would not have been a need for a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, nor the Voting Rights of 1965.
We must continue to focus our energy on issues concerning "Civil Rights" and "Human Rights", including human trafficking, minimum wage increase and equal pay for equal work for our female citizens. These are issues that will not be legitimately addressed unless they receive the required attention, even via the title of the Subcommittee that Senator Cornyn heads.
It imperative that we remember that, as my father stated, "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle." I implore Senator Cornyn to maintain the title of the Subcommittee that denotes the continuous struggle.
Bernice A. King is Chief Executive Officer of The King Center.