The Second World War ended in 1945 after both the Japanese Empire and Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces. Of course, many of the American service men returned to the States, but only to find that another enemy lurked on their own home front. It was the beast of racial prejudice. Well-known for its rampage against African Americans, it is lesser-known for its massive attack on Mexican Americans.
In fact, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, a turning point in American history against legal and institutionalized discrimination, is first remembered, sometimes solely and only, as a victory for Black Americans. It was a time when the nightly news broadcast the speeches of their charismatic leader, Martin Luther King, and watched as he led them, on march after march – not turning their cameras away as they endured the brutal backlash of a Southern culture built upon their backs.
These are images burnt into our brains, along with the pictures of more than a quarter million standing in Washington, D.C. to listen to a speech, in 1963, by Dr. King about his ‘dream’. Shortly after that, in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. Nevertheless, prejudice did not fade away, and 4 years later, still leading that fight, King was constantly on the road.
In 1968, he arrived in Memphis to support a march of 1300 black sanitation workers who were protesting years of discrimination and dangerous working conditions; two workers had recently been crushed to death as city rules permitted black employees only the back of their compressor trucks, with the garbage, as shelter from the rain. Dr. King was assassinated, by a shot to the head, on the evening before that march was to begin.
For many, the Civil Rights Movement ended that day. Yes, the fight was not over but, no doubt, discrimination had been exposed. Unless you were a Mexican American.
In fact, unless you are a Mexican-American – and, maybe, only an older one at that – this July 4th story may open up, for you, an entirely new window on the era’s Civil Rights Movement.