Prominent Houstonians reflect on Houston civil rights: Then & now

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Doug Miller / KHOU 11 News

Posted on April 10, 2014 at 6:14 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 10 at 6:40 PM

HOUSTON – Most people take for granted the rights we now have, but the Civil Rights Act changed our nation, and it also changed the city of Houston.

It’s hard to imagine Houston today without the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Imagine you’re riding a Metro train, if you’re white you ride in the front, if you’re black you ride in back. Or dining in a restaurant where you can’t sit with your friends of a different race.

“(It’s) very hard to imagine. Could we have remained in the Jim Crow world, in the total straightforward, above board racism?” Rice University Sociologist Stephen Klineberg pondered.

Gene Locke doesn’t think so. He was a leader of black students at the University of Houston.  Now, he’s one of the city’s most prominent lawyers and he figures without the Civil Rights Act, Houston could not be today’s Houston.

“Imagine, if you would, a segregated Houston, with barriers all around it, trying to compete economically with a city like New York, or San Francisco or Chicago.  It would not have been possible,” he said.

Hank Moore worked at Lyndon Johnson’s radio station in Austin.  When he was 16 years old, the president named him to a committee that helped write the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  When he grew up, he became a disc jockey in Houston -- a city he believes boomed largely because of that legislation.

“I think it would have been more like a small town. I think diversity and the Civil Rights Act, and the kind of companies that support diversity, have made Houston a much bigger, world-class city,” he said.

If you think fights over civil rights are a thing of the past, think again.  Houston’s mayor has just proposed what she calls a human rights ordinance, that would fine businesses that discriminate against customers and employees, based on everything from race to age, to sexual orientation.

So the Houston we know today is still changing, thanks to a movement  and a law passed a half-century ago.

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