By Rep. Mike Thompson

This February, I hope you’ll join our community in celebrating Black History Month by recognizing a defining moment in our nation’s history: the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

This legislation outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. No longer could anyone be denied a seat at a lunch counter, a sip of water from a public fountain or the opportunity to go to a certain school because of the color of their skin.

The Civil Rights Act was a giant step towards equality in America. But even 50 years later, there is still a lot of work to be done. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized, inequality in America wasn’t limited to racial segregation, it also included economic injustices, which continue today.

Dr. King asked, what good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?

Another great American, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, said in his State of the Union Address when launching the War on Poverty that, “Many Americans live on the outskirts of hope – some because of their poverty and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.”

Closing our country’s economic and opportunity gap is one of today’s civil rights fights. And we should start closing it by raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance, improving access to quality education and housing and creating good jobs so hardworking families can get ahead.

By working together, we can make sure that America is a country where, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get a job, buy a house, send your kids to college and save for retirement.

Fifty years ago, our nation came together and passed the Civil Rights Act and took a big step towards equality. As we honor the rich legacy and profound contributions that African Americans have made to our country, let’s honor this 50 year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act by coming together again and taking another giant step towards equality. Let’s come together and say, as one community and one country, that in America, no one who works hard should live in poverty, and everyone who works hard should have an equal opportunity to succeed.

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Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, represents the fifth Congressional District, including the Sonoma Valley.