The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
- Table of Contents
- I. Voting Rights
- II. Education
- III. Employment Discrimination
- IV.Fair Housing
- V. Public Accommodations
- VI. Policing the Police and Prosecuting the Klan
- A. De-Politicize the Civil Rights Division
- B. Promote Access to Voting
- C. Enforce Fair Housing Laws
- D. Ensure Compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA)
- E. Combat Employment Discrimination
- F. Promote and Maintain Integrated, High Quality Schools
- G. Prosecute Police Misconduct and Hate Crimes
All of Africa will be free before we can get a lousy cup of coffee.
- James Baldwin 45
Richard and Angela Edmond of Greenville, Mississippi are planning a summer vacation to Daytona Beach with their high-school-aged kids, Kevin and Marcus. Heading out on a Friday, they plan to spend a night in Selma, Alabama, to break up the drive and to have dinner with Mrs. Edmond's parents, the Hurstons. Having resided in Selma their whole lives, Mr. and Mrs. Hurston are well-known within their tight-knit neighborhood, particularly for their ongoing involvement in local civil rights issues. Over dinner, the family discusses the Hurstons' participation in the famous 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery and the voter registration drives they organized after moving back home from college. It doesn't take much to convince the grandkids to accompany them in the morning to see the A.M.E. Church where Dr. King spoke on voting rights in the 1960s.
On their way to the local Comfort Inn after dinner, the Edmonds are reminded of how differently they navigate public life in Alabama from their parents. Fifty years ago, they would not have been welcomed at most hotel chains in their area, nor would they have been served dinner in a racially integrated environment.
While pockets of injustice in customer service still exist throughout the nation, the law no longer supports them. Fifty years ago, segregation in public accommodations - particularly in the South - was the norm. Whether it was in restaurants, bars, movie theaters, buses, hotels, or drinking fountains, African Americans were routinely denied service and relegated in the social realm to second-class citizens. Through local efforts in the early 1960s, such as the sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina, students and civil rights organizations alike forced the issue of segregation into the public arena. Over the course of a year and a half, the sit-in movement had attracted over 70,000 participants and generated over 3,000 arrests in the name of equal protection under the law. 46 As a result of these and other civil rights efforts, the Civil Rights Act, passed by Congress in 1964, included provisions outlawing discrimination in public accommodations.
Title II of the Act requires that restaurants, hotels, theaters, sales or rental services, health care providers, transportation hubs, and other service venues afford to all persons "full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, [and] facilities" without discrimination or segregation. Consequently, federal law prohibits privately owned facilities from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin, and the Americans with Disabilities Act extends this provision to include disability. In 1964, including a directive to address segregation in public accommodations was particularly controversial because the 1883 civil rights cases held that equal protection under the law did not extend to privately owned and operated establishments and facilities. In order to pass Title II, Congress used its constitutional authority over interstate commerce to authorize its actions. The provision succeeded, therefore, due to Congress' ability to intercede in the buying, selling, and trading of services. The year the Act was passed, the Supreme Court upheld Title II as a constitutional application of the commerce clause in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States. 47 The Supreme Court also upheld the Act in a companion case regarding Ollie's Barbeque - a family owned restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, that served barbeque and home-made pies. 48
In the Heart of Atlanta and the Katzenbach (Ollie's Barbeque) cases, both the hotel and the restaurant, respectively, had brought declaratory judgment cases against the United States in an attempt to force the courts to declare Title II unconstitutional. The Department prevailed in these cases, after which it continued a vigorous enforcement program throughout the late 1960s. Subsequently, thousands of hotels, restaurants, bars, pools, movie theaters and transportation facilities were forced to integrate. Though these efforts were extensive, few cases went to trial and resulted in reported decisions, as the majority of defendants settled and agreed to change their patterns and practices of discrimination. Additionally, most of the public accommodations cases in which the Department intervenes originate as private suits.
While drastic changes in the administration of public services have occurred over the past 50 years, discrimination in public accommodations has weakened but not disappeared. In recent years, the Civil Rights Division has been involved in multiple cases alleging overt racial and ethnic discrimination. In 1994, the Justice Department sued Denny's restaurants for discriminatory service. In U.S. v. Flagstar Corporation and Denny's, the Division filed and resolved a Title II action in California alleging that the chain consistently required Black customers to prepay for their meals, ordered them to show identification, discouraged their patronage, and removed them from selected restaurants entirely. On the same day the Department filed a consent decree in the California case, six Black uniformed Secret Service officers assigned to protect President Clinton set out to have breakfast with 15 other officers and were discriminated against at a Denny's in Maryland. A private class-action suit was filed and won. In the California case, the Civil Rights Division entered into a settlement that provided approximately $54 million to 300,000 customers and required Denny's to implement a nationwide program to prevent future discrimination.
In 1999, the Division investigated the Adam's Mark Hotel chain for discrimination against African-American hotel guests in Daytona, Florida, during the city's Black College Reunion. The Division's settlement included compensation to the reunion attendees as well as a substantial contribution to Florida's historically black colleges to develop scholarships and cooperative education programs in hotel and hospitality management. 49 It was not until the Civil Rights Division filed a complaint against Satyam, L.L.C., which owns and operates the Selma Comfort Inn, that the management and employees officially promised to stop discriminating against African-American guests at their hotel. According to the complaint, employees charged Black guests higher prices than Whites, denied them equal access to hotel services and facilities, and consistently steered them toward the back of the hotel until the Department of Justice intervened in 2001. 50
Cases such as this remind us that while the landscape of public life today is a far cry from life in 1957, substantial work remains to eliminate the pattern and practice of discrimination in public accommodations. The Division must continue to commit itself to aggressive civil rights enforcement in the area of accommodations so that all Americans are protected equally from the systematic denial of public services.
45. Quoted in Kasher, S. The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-1968. New York: Abbeville Press, 1996, 35.
46. Carson, C., Garrow, D., Gill, G., Harding, V., and Clark Hine, D., eds. The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.
47. 379 U.S. 241 (1964).
48. See Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.E. 294 (1964). The Supreme Court also applied the 1964 Act to Piggy Park drive-in barbeque restaurants in South Carolina. See Newman v. Piggy Park Enterprises, 390 U.S. 400 (1968). This secured the law's application in drive-in (rather than only in sit-down) facilities.
49. See U.S. v. HBE Corporation d/b/a Adam's Mark Hotels (2000).
50. See U.S. v. Satyam, L.L.C. d/b/a Selma Comfort Inn, et al. (2001).