Director’s Cut: Shameful Legislation 50 Years After Civil Rights Act of 1964

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William Winter Institute Mission

“The Mississippi legislature is debating a measure that would give businesses a license to discriminate against their customers. Let’s repeat that with some added emphasis: Right now, in 2014, fifty years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the Mississippi legislature is debating a measure that would give businesses a license to discriminate against their customers.”

That strong critique, which you can read in its entirety here, comes from the William Winter Institute at the University of Mississippi. Directed by my great friend Susan Glisson, the Winter Institute works to end “all discrimination based on difference.” Who can argue with that? Evidently, the State Senate, which passed SB 2681 and sent it to the House of Representatives. Couched as a “religious freedom restoration act,” it’s an untenable act of gross prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people.

This year, the SFA is marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which desegregated restaurants and other places of public accommodation — and using this moment to ask questions about inclusion and exclusion today.

It appears we’ve chosen the right fight. And the right time. At SFA we are determined to ask hard questions of our region and of our state. The hardest question to ask right now is, How in the hell did such an ill-conceived and indefensible piece of legislation ever gain traction?

On behalf of the SFA, I invite all Mississippians — no matter their race, class, gender, ethnicity, or other perceived differences — to join us at the Welcome Table in 2014.