GULFPORT -- With Independence Day just a few days away, people gathered on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday morning to celebrate a freedom which was granted 50 years ago.
The Gulfport NAACP hosted a commemoration of the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which was signed on July 2, 1964, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. "I was 10 years old when this legislation was passed, and I can't help but thank God that we are able to live in a country where my people could go from being recognized as only three-fifths of a human being to being free," said Pastor Seymour Adolph of First Missionary Baptist Church in Gulfport.
"I pray that we would recognize how precious that freedom is."
The Civil Rights Act helped bring an end to the Jim Crowe era, banned discrimination in public places and prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
It also provided an enforcement mechanism for the integration of schools and paved the way for legislation strengthening voting rights and establishing fair housing standards for all Americans.
"I've very proud to be here on this occasion. We have a lot to celebrate," said Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes III. "I often talk about in the city of Gulfport and in this coastal community that what sustains us and makes us better is our diversity. We see the bigger picture and come together hopefully at every opportunity that we get."
Ruth Story, president of the Gulfport NAACP, recalled growing up in a time of segregation and passing Gulfport High School on her bus ride to 33rd Avenue High School.
"As I look around now and remember the Gulfport that I grew up in, it's amazing. It almost brings tears to your eyes because it's completely different," she said. "We want what is best for America. Only when we work together can this come to fruition."
Wayne Ferrill, second vice president of the Gulfport NAACP, also recalled memories of growing up in Gulfport.
"There have been so many challenges both on the black side and the white side, but what I love is that when the challenges become so great, we come together to overcome as one community," he said.
Hewes read from a mayoral proclamation on behalf of the city, which commemorated the occasion.
"Few achievements have defined our national identity as distinctly or as powerfully as the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It transformed our understanding of justice and equality and democracy and advanced our long journey toward a more perfect union," he said.
"A half century later, we celebrate this landmark achievement and renew our commitment to building a freer, fairer and greater society. We know our country works best when we can accept our obligations to one another, embrace the belief that our destiny is shared and draw strength from the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth."