NOLA marks 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Act of 1964

On the steps of the Louisiana Supreme Court, dozens of children who are part of the Tambourine and Fan Club in Treme sang Civil Rights era spirituals and rang bells.

It was all to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Civil Rights Act banned segregation on the grounds of race, religion, national origin, or gender at all places of public accommodation, and also applied to employers and labor unions.

"It's not the legislation that we celebrate the most, it's the sacrifice of the people who pushed and changed the climate of the country to make it necessary, warranted and justified to a Civil Rights Act," said United States Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans).

New Orleans was not absent from the struggles that helped to transform the nation's conscience during the turbulent civil rights era.

Tired of the racial restraints that encompassed everyday life, locals protested outside stores like Woolworth's and McCrory's on Canal Street.

It was a fight for racial equality that included rural areas of the state. In Bogalusa, young men and women also dared to push against segregation.

"I always believed the power is with the people and prayer is of great value," said Jerome Smith of New Orleans, a former freedom fighter who endured brutal beatings and imprisonment.

Smith recalls how others suffered worse at the hands of segregationists in the south.

"Many people got severely hurt. Many people are in the rivers of Mississippi now, they will never be identified, they were murdered, too," he said.

And while Smith is pained by the violence that continues to ravage many African-American neighborhoods in New Orleans, his response is not coupled with hopelessness.

"So the deal is with our boys they don't have a sense of self, but one day they will, one day they will. They're born without fear they're missing is spiritual consciousness…The worms may be chewing on my teeth, but one day they will definitely turn it around," he said.

And now he works daily to make sure young kids know the sacrifices made to change America's history.

"We got to try to instill that the blood is sacred," he said.

Follow FOX 8:    

Copyright 2014 WVUE. All rights reserved.