Black New Jersey leaders hit back at GOP Gov. Chris Christie for saying that the civil rights movement could have been achieved by referendum, saying that it represents ahistorical nostalgia.
"People would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South," Christie said on Tuesday, according to Newjerseynewsroom.com.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) joined a vociferous chorus of voices that rose up against the governor, whose comment was related to his call for a voter referendum on a proposal to legalize gay marriage in the state. Christie called for a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot that would ask voters to decide if the state should legalize same-sex marriage. He also said that he would veto a Democratic-backed bill to allow it that's currently working its way through the Legislature.
According to the Associated Press, Booker used baseball great Jackie Robinson and himself as examples of people who would not have achieved their accomplishments if not for the civil rights movement. "Dear God, we should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote, to be subject to the sentiments, the passions of the day," Booker said at a news conference, according to the AP. "No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and the sentiments of the majority. This is the fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for."
Oliver, who in 2010 became the first African-American woman to head the lower house, expressed the same sentiments. "Gov. Christie better sit down with some of New Jersey's great teachers for a history lesson, because his puzzling comment shows a complete misunderstanding about the civil rights movement," Oliver said in a statement, the AP reports. "It's impossible to ever conceive that a referendum on civil rights in the South would have been successful and brought justice to minorities. It's unfathomable to even suggest a referendum would have been the better course."
Indeed, Christie's comment lacks historical perspective and shows a complete misunderstanding of cultural history. If it had been left to a referendum, minorities never would have achieved civil rights in a nation whose very foundation was built on the tenet of "separate but equal."