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Civil Rights Pioneers Remember Struggle for Equal Rights

  • Chris Simkins

On July 2, many people across the United States are marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law.

It's a sweeping piece of legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race and ended racial segregation in schools, the workplace and in public accommodations. The law won final passage after years of civil rights protests in which people lost their lives.

Millions marched around the country for equal rights -- led by Martin Luther King -- during the 1960's. It was a cause that brought Dorie Ladner and Joan Mulholland together more than 50 years ago. They met in racially-segregated Mississippi.

It was Dorie's first experience working with a white woman in the civil rights movement.

"She was also interested in not only the plight of my people, but her people as well. We were trying to erase this evil segregation that was bothering all of us. I found it phenomenal and embraced her," Ladner said.

Forming a bond

The two women stayed in the same dormitory at Tugaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and participated in civil rights demonstrations there. Mulholland was arrested twice for her actions, but that didn't stop her.

"I learned in church about 'do onto others as you would have them do onto you' and in high school we had to memorize the Declaration of Independence," Mulholland said. "'We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.' Practice what we preach and that's what propelled me into it."

The two took part in the 1963 March on Washington. Less than a month later, four black girls were killed in a racially-motivated church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Both women attended the funerals.

"It had a profound impact on me and made me more determined to try and eradicate this evil that was permeating through our society," said Ladner.

United effort

More than five decades later, the women are sharing their experiences with younger generations across the country. They tell them that one of their proudest moments came when President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act which outlawed discrimination and ended racial segregation.

"The students took it to the streets and the lawyers took it to the courts. And the press took it to the world. And not anybody did it by themselves," said Mulholland.

"The passing of the civil rights bill was something, one of the things we fought for and has brought about a new day, what we would call 'social change' to a large extent. Change in the laws of the country, change in attitudes of people," said Ladner.

Dorie and Joan said despite coming from different backgrounds they will always share a special bond -- one that's endured through the struggles and victories of the civil rights movement.

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