How should the South have handled the issue of desegregation? Well, according to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, by referendum. This past Wednesday, he stated “People would have been happy to have referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South.” Yep, and many of those Southern states would still be segregated today.
The comment stunned and rankled Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver. In 2010, she became the first Black woman to head the Assembly. She stated in refutation of what Christie said:
“Gov. Christie better sit down with some of New Jersey’s great teachers for a history lesson, because his puzzling comment shows a complete misunderstanding about the civil rights movement. It’s impossible to ever conceive that a referendum on civil rights in the South would have been successful and brought justice to minorities. It’s unfathomable to even suggest a referendum would have been the better course.
“Governor – people were fighting and dying in the streets of the South for a reason. They were fighting and dying in the streets of the South because the majority refused to grant minorities equal rights by any method. It look legislative action to bring justice to all Americans, just as legislative action is the right way to bring marriage equality to all New Jerseyans.
“The governor’s comment is an insult to those who had no choice but to fight and die in the streets for equal rights. The governor needs to show the same courage. We do not shrug off civil rights. We do not pass on tough decisions.”
It should be noted that there is a difference between Civil Rights- which include where a person can live, work, assemble, and so forth, and Political Rights- which include being able to vote and hold office. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950′s and 1960′s was actually about both Civil and Political rights. The LGBT Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement have been about Civil Rights alone.
Also taking Christie to task was Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman who stated:
“It’s difficult to understand what the governor was thinking. His words defy history and were extremely insensitive to the struggle for equality of African-Americans and other minorities in this country. Fighting and dying in the streets of the South was not a choice, governor, it was the only way.
“Anyone who lived through that time or took a history class in school understands it was an incredibly dangerous and hostile period for African-Americans and other minorities in the South. Basic human rights should never be decided by a referendum. But can you imagine the outcome if civil rights in this country, during this very racially charged time in our history, had been left up to a vote?”