“Our White Brothers [and Sisters]”: Civil Rights are Everyone’s Business

Marching for Civil Rights

In my Religious Studies courses at Gwynedd Mercy University, I have the honor of teaching students from every race, ideology, religion and creed. In a course recently, we — the students and lecturer — came to the rather obvious conclusion that civil rights are human rights and human rights concern everyone, regardless of his or her race, religion, gender, ideology and socio-economic status.

Everyone, then, has a vested interest in striving for the advancement of civil rights, because the violation of the human rights of one group of people, such as African-Americans, will, sooner or latter, grow and spread, affecting other groups of human beings. That was understood and taught by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.  For example, in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he said,

“The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”

If I, for instance, deny others their human right to be free, if I sanction their oppression by the government, then I should not be surprised when the authorities come for me, denying my right to be free. As King rightly observed, “Injustice anywhere [e.g., in African-American urban areas] is a threat to justice everywhere.” Therefore, because civil rights are human rights, all Americans should be concerned about them.