The Anniversary Of A Very Significant Event

Seventy years ago, on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that segregated schools were unconstitutional, banning segregated schools across the country. This ruling overturned the 1896 Supreme Court ruling in Plessy V Ferguson that public facilities, including schools, could be “separate, but equal.” In the majority opinion the Supreme Court stated that separate was inherently unequal. Despite the ruling in this case that began back in 1935, actual desegregation happened much slower.

In December 1955 in Montgomery Alabama, a tired seamstress, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a crowded city bus to a white man. She was arrested and thrown in jail. A young Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King Jr organized a boycott by the city’s Black people of the city buses. This bus boycott lasted over a year before the city agreed to end segregated seating on city buses.

Three years later, in September 1957, then President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard to protect nine Black students attempting to enroll in Central High School in the state capital of Little Rock. Those nine high school students had to be escorted into the school past a mob of angry white people threatening violence. But they were enrolled, and all got to attend an integrated high school.

Six years later, in February 1960 a group of Black students at North Carolina A & T University, a historically Black University sat down at a segregated lunch counter in a Woolworth’s in Greensboro and refused to leave until they were served. Of course, they were not served because the lunch counter was for whites only. They occupied those seats until the police came to evict them. But they were replaced by others. This became the first non-violent “sit in” protest.

There were many more protests to end segregation, and some were met with violence. I remember the police turning attack dogs and fire hoses on school children protesting nonviolently against segregation in Birmingham Alabama. Those images were shown around the world in the spring of 1963. Later, on a Sunday morning that September, a bomb planted by members of the Ku Klux Klan exploded in a Birmingham Baptist church killing four girls.

Martin Luther King Jr said that “the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” Slowly, but eventually racial barriers began breaking down.

The attorney who argued the Brown V Board of Education case that resulted in the landmark ruling in 1954 was Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer with the NAACP that took this case to the Supreme Court. Thirteen years later, in 1967, Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by then President Lyndon Johnson. He became the first Black justice on the Supreme Court. In 1991, Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court. His replacement, appointed by then President George H W Bush was Clarence Thomas, who at the present is the most senior justice on the Supreme Court.

In 1954, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was former California Governor Earl Warren, a Republican appointed by a Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower who also federalized the Arkansas National Guard in 1957.

Another landmark ruling by the Supreme Court was on January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled by a vote of 7 to 2 in the Roe V Wade case that legalized abortion in the United States. In that historic ruling in the seven votes in the majority were five Republican justices; Harry Blackmun appointed by Nixon who wrote the majority opinion, Potter Stewart, and William Brennan both appointed by Eisenhower, Lewis Powell and Chief Justice Warren Burger appointed by Nixon. There were two Democratic justices; Thurgood Marshall and William Douglas appointed by FDR. The two justices voting in the minority were Republican William Rehnquist appointed by Nixon and Democrat Byron White appointed by JFK who was a Roman Catholic.

Two years ago, another Supreme Court ruling overturned that landmark ruling and for the first time took away rights that women have had for almost fifty years.

What is remarkable in those Supreme Court rulings that had significant effects on the nation, the rulings were bipartisan, and in the case of desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s, Republicans were generally in favor of integration and civil rights. In fact, the major opposition to desegregation and civil rights came from white southern Democrats. But the ruling overturning Roe V Wade was on a purely partisan vote of the justices.

Looking back over the seventy years since that landmark Supreme Court ruling, much progress has been made. But in some respects, the country has gone backward. White supremacists and others are still around, and they have a supporter in a presidential candidate. That same presidential candidate has been using language from Hitler when he described as “vermin, polluting the blood of America” when referring to immigrants.

There is an expression that goes; evil triumphs when good people do nothing. When good people are silent or go along with such things, our democracy and rule of law are in trouble. Remember that this election year. Turning back the clock on progress has never succeeded in the past and only causes more problems.

Lee Kamps

Lee has been working with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance since he began working at the Erie County Welfare Department in January 1973 where a major part of his job was determining eligibility for Medicaid. He went into the private insurance business in 1977 with Prudential Insurance Company and within a short time had become one of the company’s top sales agents. In 1982, he was promoted into management where he managed two field offices and as many as thirteen sales agents. After leaving Prudential in 1986, Lee decided to become more focused on health insurance and employee benefits. He has advised many local employers on how to have a more cost effective employee benefit program as well as conducted employee benefit meetings and enrollments for many area employers. The companies Lee has worked with ranged from small “mom and pop” businesses to local operations of large national companies. Lee received his B.S. degree from Kent State University where he has been active in the local alumni association. He has completed seven of the ten courses toward the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation. He has taught courses in employee benefits and insurance at Cleveland State University and local community colleges. In addition, Lee is an experienced and accomplished public speaker. He has been a member of Toastmasters International where he achieved the designation of “Able Toastmaster – Silver” in 1994. He has also served as a club president, Area Governor and District Public Relations Officer in Toastmasters as well as winning local speech contests. Lee has also been a member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Speaker’s Bureau where he was designated as one of the “official spokespeople for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” prior to the hall’s opening in 1995. He has given talks and presentations before many audiences including civic organizations, AARP chapters and many other community groups. With the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill) in 2006, Lee has shifted his focus to Medicare and helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the often confusing array of choices and plans available. As an independent representative, Lee is not bound to any one specific company or plan, but he can offer a plan that suits an individual person’s needs and budget. In addition, Lee is well versed in the requirements and availability of various programs for assistance with Medicare part D as well as Medicaid. While he cannot make one eligible, he can assist in the process and steer one to where they may be able to receive assistance.

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Volume 16, Issue 6, Posted 8:14 AM, 06.01.2024