The Pendulum Swings, But Let’s Look Back at How Far We’ve Come — #ACLUTimeMachine
When the movement for social justice comes up against challenges, it’s easy to get frustrated. Though some setbacks occur, we’ve come a long way. To get some perspective, I browsed through our ACLU archives, looking specifically at the ACLU of Northern California’s newsletters from exactly 50 years ago: 1967.
From being jailed for having long hair to not being allowed to marry someone of another race, here’s a snapshot of what was going on with civil liberties 50 years ago.
5 snapshots from 50 years ago
“Good moral character” standards
“Barber Wins Right to Practice Profession” (January 1967 ACLU News)
California’s State Board of Barber Examiners sought to deny licenses to people with past convictions based on broad “good moral character” standards. When a man who’d been convicted of auto theft while a juvenile was denied a license, the ACLU stepped in and won.
Going to jail for long hair?
“Failure to Cut Hair Lands U.C. Student in Jail” (March 1967 ACLU News)
A UC Davis college student was sentenced to a day in jail for contempt of court—for refusing to cut his long hair when he appeared in traffic court. A volunteer ACLU attorney represented the student in court, but the judge still held the student in contempt of court for his haircut. The verdict was later set aside by the Superior Court.
Unconstitutional loyalty oaths
“Challenge of Law by Nursery School Teacher” (May 1967 ACLU News)
California’s Levering Act Oath required an oath stating people were not Communists, and a related teacher’s oath required California public school teachers to declare such an oath. The ACLU went to court to challenge the law—and won. The California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the Levering Act was unconstitutional.
An interracial marriage victory (June 1967)
On the national stage, this year was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which struck down bans on interracial marriage. Mildred and Richard Loving, an African-American woman and White man, brought the case because they wanted to raise their children in their home of Virginia.
Strength in numbers (August 1967)
And exactly 50 years ago this summer, the ACLU of Northern California hit a “record high” of 7,150 members. Today, we have more than 180,000 supporters in Northern California!
Gigi Harney is a Creative Strategist at the ACLU of Northern California.