Early in our history, people flocked to our country because they sought religious freedoms that were denied to them in their home countries. The Pilgrims are probably the most famous group. They even attempted to produce their own government before they set foot on what would become American soil when they — all the men, that is — signed the Mayflower Compact, a rudimentary constitution. The Pilgrims felt they needed this document to maintain the rule of law as they set out to establish their new society in their new country.
The issue of the abolishment of slavery caused such turmoil that it almost destroyed our country during the mid-19th century. Fallout from the slavery issue still raises its ugly head even now in the early years of the 21st century.
In the 1960s, the civil rights movement was the cause of many riots and other forms of social unrest. President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed a major civil rights bill into law in 1964. This act was the direct result of the efforts of the African American minority in our country to gain equal rights in all aspects of our society including education, housing, employment and voting in elections. Discrimination against minorities was the essence of these actions.
Women sought to remove discrimination against their sex in the early 20th century when they fought and won the right to vote. Voting in general has been a constant source of various discriminatory issues. Originally, only free, white, land-owning men could vote. Then only men could vote. Later, after the Civil War, still only men could vote, but only after they paid a poll tax. The poll tax didn’t keep minorities from voting so a literacy test had to be passed before a man could vote. Poll taxes and literacy tests were abolished finally, but not until the usual social upheaval over the issue had taken place.
Fairness seems like it should be a no-brainer when it comes to issues of daily, peaceful living in any country, but unfortunately, fairness is something the Haves in any society seem to try and hold back from the Have Nots. Discrimination is a means of denying even the basic civil rights to any minority in any society.
“Women’s liberation” became a watchword of the late 20th century. Issues of employment and reproduction were, and still are, on the front burner of the women’s movement. Women’s rights became a hot topic as a direct result of the fact that women were working more on the assembly lines of business and not in the kitchens of our country. They were an integral part of the “war machine” during World War II. When the war was over, women stayed on the assembly lines and the two-earner home was born. Along with this development, women sought more individual rights they had been content not to seek prior to the war.
In the late 20th century, gay rights became a major issue and still are today as the issue of gay marriage is at the forefront of that minority group’s agenda.
Conditions of employment have only occasionally been challenged as being discriminatory. Is it discriminatory to demand that a person be able to lift a 50-pound load from time to time? The military requires a PULHES rating of 111111. This is known in the military as a picket fence when they evaluate a prospective recruit’s pulmonary, upper body, limbs, heart, eyes and skeleton. Is that discriminatory?
Will we ever not have elements of discrimination affect the operation of our country? Probably not, but we have a court system to alleviate discriminatory ills against our people. We are, after all, a nation of laws that are designed to apply to all people evenly and without prejudice.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.