Local Civil Rights Leader Remembers 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Act

Local Civil Rights Leader Remembers 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Act

By Geena Martinez

NewsWest 9

ODESSA - It's been 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed, but for the many who lived it, it seems like it was just yesterday.

"When we went into restaurants we had to go in through the back of it to purchase the same things that whites could buy in the front," Gene Collins said. "Those thoughts are very vivid in my mind."

Collins is the president for the West Texas district of the NAACP.

He was just 13-years-old and living in Odessa during the height of the civil rights movement.

"We could not be in certain areas of theaters. All the African Americans were in the balcony," Collins said. "We had white only drinking fountains here. African-Americans could not buy housing north of the railroad tracks."

On July 2, 1964, that all changed when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. The law eliminated racial restrictions in public places, strengthened voting rights and outlawed discrimination.

It paved the way, not only for blacks, but women and other minorities as well.

"It opened up a whole frontier for African-Americans and it began a work in progress that eventually led to where we are today," Collins said.

Collins said he's happy with the progress but there's still work to do and others agree.

NewsWest 9 viewer Samantha Everett said, "this country has made huge strides in fighting racial discrimination in my opinion; however, there will always be racism in some way, form or fashion."

Terrence Cain said, "We have a lot of work to do to improve discrimination against all fronts. Whether it be race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or being disabled. So many things going on that people don't even know about. The Civil Rights movement never ended, it just went dormant."

As for Collins, he said he has some concerns.

"I think the generation behind me is taking that for granted," he said.

He hopes young people will become more involved in keeping the movement alive.

"If they'll just get engaged, I'll certainly feel a lot better about the future," Collins said.