Today, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we can reflect upon and celebrate the strides our nation has made in many areas – at the ballot box, and in employment, public places, and our nation's schools.
Now is also a time to honor the many leaders and citizens who refused to be complacent and accept the status quo, who risked their lives in pursuit of justice and equality, and who did not back down until our country lived up to its better self. To them—and to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who persevered to see the legislation through to fruition despite great opposition—we owe a tremendous debt.
We have, indeed, made progress toward fulfilling the goal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Black and Latino young people are graduating high school and enrolling in college at much higher rates. In 1950, fewer than 25 percent of young black adults completed high school; in 2012, almost 70 percent graduated on time. During the same time span, the percentage of young black adults who earned a bachelor's degree or higher increased seven-fold, from about 3 percent to 21 percent. There are other indicators, too, that point to significant improvements over the last half-century.
Yet crucial work remains to ensure equal opportunity for all students. We still have unacceptable opportunity gaps in America, as our latest release of the Civil Rights Data Collection revealed. Great disparities continue to exist for students of color. Young men and students of color face harsher discipline and far greater suspensions beginning as early as preschool. And there are too many racially isolated schools with unequal access to preschool programs, advanced courses, and college counselors.
Education is the civil rights issue of our time. Our Office for Civil Rights will continue to vigorously enforce the landmark legislation that banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. We must recommit, as a nation, to programs and policies that close opportunity gaps and help all students reach their potential. Only then will we be able to accelerate our nation's economic progress, increase upward mobility, and reduce social inequality for all Americans.