It was 50 years ago that Alice Hurley and her late husband, Anthony Hurley, worked to establish the Columbia Urban League, the first league in South Carolina. This was three years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the league immersed itself in helping employers change the racial and gender workforce landscape.
Prior to this law, it was legal and customary, particularly in the South, for employers to use race and gender to deny employment to American citizens. Title VII prohibited such discrimination in employment.
The Columbia Urban League quickly became the organization that S.C. employers relied on to recruit a diverse workforce to fulfill the mandate of the law. The league realized that it would be heavily scrutinized, so it had to develop a way to recruit qualified candidates with a good work ethic who would become trailblazers and role models.
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With the help of the National Urban League, we quickly developed a reputation for doing just that. We are grateful to our dedicated staff, board members, sponsors and the many volunteers who have partnered with us over the years, enabling us to positively impact the lives of tens of thousands of citizens.
We have been in the forefront of the fight for economic opportunity by providing programs and services to underserved and disadvantaged people to empower them with the skills to be competitive in the marketplace. We must have foresight as we move into the next 50 years to develop programs to prepare our constituencies for opportunities in emergent technologies.
Civility is critical for healthy communities, so we must work unceasingly toward common ground. Many incorrectly believe that we live in a post-racial society, but we must remember the caution of former National Urban League President Whitney M. Young Jr.: “The danger is that people may mistake what is basically a change in vocabulary for a change in behavior, practices and attitudes. While practically all Americans have learned to talk inoffensively, not enough have learned to think differently, nor act positively.”
We must remain vigilant in our advocacy for social justice, fairness and equal rights in education, employment, health care and voting rights. We must fight to protect the progress that has been made. It is only by protecting and preserving these fundamental civil and moral rights that we can ensure the well-being and prosperity of our community and country.
James T. McLawhorn Jr.
President, Columbia Urban League