On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into the law the Civil Rights Act—one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the history of the United States. After two centuries of legal inequality, the Civil Rights Act outlawed any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. (Sexual orientation and gender identity would later be added). The wide-ranging law prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools and public accommodations, and employment discrimination.
New York Life supported the Civil Rights Act at the time and was an advocate for equal opportunity. In February 1964, then New York Life CEO Richard Paynter gave a speech in which he urged his New York Life colleagues to consider how to incorporate into “our America those whom we know to be fellow citizens and, like ourselves, God’s children.” And while some senators filibustered the Civil Rights Act in Congress in an attempt to prevent its passage into law, New York Life took steps to promote greater equality. In April 1964, New York Life became the first insurance company to join Plans for Progress, a federal initiative under the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, designed to open up more economic advancement opportunities for minorities. In 1969, shortly before his retirement, Paynter called the right of equal employment opportunity a “keystone of social justice.”
In 2021, given the issues we continue to face with the infringement of civil rights, discrimination, and hate crimes and actions, it is important to look upon the passage of the Civil Rights Act as a source of inspiration. It is a timely reminder that we live in a country—and work for a company—that cares about civil rights. We must stand firm against discrimination and acts of violence against anyone or any group based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Remembering this is as vital in July of 2021 as it was in July of 1964.
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