The Civil Rights Movement has come a long way but much remains to be done to ensure equality and justice for all, a national leader of the NAACP said Saturday night.
"I was just at the White House yesterday," said Hilary O. Shelton, the Washington bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Shelton said he remains amazed by the election of President Barack Obama. "It still chokes me up," he said.
Shelton was present when Obama signed into law his inaugural bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. The fact that a black man had that kind of power for the first time in U.S. history made the hair stand up on the back of his neck, Shelton said.
But even though Obama is president, the battle for civil rights continues. "This is not a sprint. It's a marathon," he said.
Shelton pointed to the inspirational life of the late Nelson Mandela, who went from 27 years of imprisonment for opposition to apartheid to become president of his native South Africa.
"Regardless of where we are, if we simply put our minds and hearts and prayers into play there is nothing we can not do," Shelton said.
He was the keynote speaker for the Charleston Branch NAACP 96th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet. He has represented the interests of the NAACP for many years dating back through several presidential administrations.
He cited the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court school desegregation ruling Brown vs. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as key landmarks in the struggle for equal rights.
"This year marks an important time in our history," he said.
It has been 50 years since the assassination of President Kennedy and the march on Washington, D.C., he noted.
Today, as then, the U.S. Constitution is like a promissory note or check that is returned for insufficient funds for those whose rights are violated, he said.
He praised Attorney General Eric Holder for his work against racial profiling, voter ID laws and employment discrimination.
Shelton referred to the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and what he described as a lack of due process akin to a lynch mob.
Every generation must understand the struggle that went before them and the need to move the struggle forward, he said.