I will never forget the day I truly understood the significance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
My family had just moved to Franklin, Tennessee and it was election day. I was talking with my mother on the phone, and we were discussing the elections in my new home in Tennessee and the elections in my native Baltimore, Maryland.
Our conversation went something like this...
"So who were you all voting for this time," my mother inquired. "Senators and City Council members, like us?"
"Yeah, Senators, City Council, and some other positions too," I replied.
"Oh, so did you already vote earlier?"
"No, I didn't vote, Mom." My eyes watered as I fought an impending yawn. "We just moved here, and honestly, I don't know any of these folks running for office."
A few seconds went by...
"Hello?" I glanced at the phone, wondering if she'd gotten disconnected.
"I'm still here." Her tone had flattened. "Carla, I can't believe you didn't vote today. How could you not vote? After all our people went through for the right to vote? People lost their lives for the right to vote."
And to that, I had no response.
I felt horrible.
I was too young to have marched or protested or sat-in during the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties. I wasn't even born during the Movement. But I'd read books and watched documentaries and heard many stories about those who did. I'd cried tears over the testimonies of people being beaten and even killed as they fought for the liberties they'd been denied in the "Land of the Free."
But I hadn't truly appreciated the sacrifice of these martyrs.
I'd taken them for granted.
After that discussion with my Mom, you better believe, I was one of the first people to reach the polls in the next election. I still didn't know much about local candidates, but I searched the internet for information about each. I read the local newspaper, weighing the opinions of others. I identified the candidates that most closely held to my personal beliefs.
And armed with just enough information to do so - I proudly cast my vote.
Like many, many African Americans since 1964.
Today, I am grateful.
I'm grateful for President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2, 1964, exactly fifty years ago today.
I'm grateful for the legislation that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender or national origin and ended the unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, workplaces and public facilities.
I'm grateful for the people who lost their lives for the rights that so many of us take for granted.
And I'm grateful for those still fighting against the powers that seek to take this freedom away.
Today, I say THANK YOU.