July 5th, 1935
President Franklin Roosevelt Signs Discriminatory National Labor Relations Act
Throughout the 1930s, white Southern Democrats secured amendments excluding the majority of blacks from the benefits and protections of New Deal legislation that built the central pillars of the modern middle class. The Southern congressmen struck agricultural and domestic workers from the law establishing Social Security, barring over 60 percent of the black workforce overall, 85 percent of black women, and almost 75 percent of the Southern black workforce from receiving Social Security benefits. This included retirement benefits, welfare, and unemployment payments.
The Southern Democrats, capitalizing on their control of leadership positions in Congress and their effective veto power over almost any legislation, similarly barred farmworkers and domestic workers from the protections of laws creating modern labor unions, and setting minimum wage and maximum hours. The Southern legislators secured provisions requiring local administration of the GI Bill, small business loans, home mortgage assistance, educational grants, and nearly all forms of federal financial aid that built our modern middle class and the assets that can be passed from generation to generation. Southern Democrats also prevented Congress from including any anti-discrimination language in social welfare programs, such as hospital construction grants, school lunches, and community health services. As explained by Representative James Mark Wilcox from Florida, “You cannot put the Negro and the white man on the same basis and get away with it.”
As a result of this concerted effort by white Southern politicians, the unprecedented comprehensive government program represented by the New Deal disproportionately benefitted whites and largely excluded black people. The impact of this racially-motivated, discriminatory legislating continues to profoundly impact the nation today. According to the Pew Research Center, white households possess roughly 20 times as much wealth as black households, and more than a third of black people have zero or negative wealth, compared to just 15 percent of whites.
July 5th, 2016
Police Shoot and Kill Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
On July 5, 2016, two white police officers responded to a call about an armed man with a red shirt selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The officers tased Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man and proceeded to pin him to the ground. While he was pinned down, someone exclaimed, “He’s going for a gun!”, and another officer shoots Sterling multiple times in the chest and back. Officials later stated that the body cameras on both officers became dislodged during the incident.
Abdullah Muflahi, the convenience store owner and eyewitness, stated in an interview that Sterling never threatened the officers or wielded the gun. Muflahi also stated that Sterling had started carrying a gun only days prior to the event, because other vendors had recently been robbed.
Multiple bystanders recorded video of the shooting using their cell phone cameras. The cell phone video footage and surveillance video from the convenience store was quickly distributed to news media outlets and uploaded on social media, which allowed millions of people to watch him being murdered by the police. The video shows no movement to indicate that Sterling was reaching for his gun. Sterling’s death, and the conflict between police accounts and the video footage, sparked protests all across the country demanding an end to police brutality and the arrest of officers responsible.
On July 6, 2016, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would launch a civil rights investigation into Sterling’s death. On August 2, 2016, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a court order sealing Sterling’s autopsy report. A second court order was also issued prohibiting the release of the first court order.