Forty years ago, in 1968, a series of events took place here which changed the face of Northern Ireland irrevocably. These events were the culmination of attempts since the early 1960s by a number of different organisations and individuals to highlight injustices in Northern Ireland. The Campaign for Social Justice, the Derry Housing Action Committee and the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster were examples of this. Their concern was not with the great constitutional issues which had dominated political debate thereto, but with the everyday issues which dominated people’s lives. In 1967, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was founded to address all these issues. The following year, inspired by the courage of Civil Rights leaders in the United States, and by their example of peaceful non-violent protest, Civil Rights protesters began to take to the streets of Northern Ireland. Their objective was to bring an end to injustice in the system of public authority housing provision, injustice in public and private employment practices, injustice in voting and representational rights, and the arbitrary and oppressive powers available to the state to suppress dissent.
The things that happened during that pivotal year had a profound effect upon our society, and precipitated an avalanche of change which left no part of our community untouched. Such was the importance of these events, and what they led to, that it is appropriate and even necessary, 40 years later, to commemorate them in a sober and reflective way, to seek to learn from what happened, to consider the significance of the Civil Rights Movement for our society today and the continuing resonance of the issues which it addressed, and the ideals which underpinned it.
A number of those who were active in leadership positions in the Civil Rights Movement in 1968, have established a broad based Civil Rights Commemoration Committee to commemorate the events of 1968, in such a way as to serve the historical record as best we can, and to generate a balanced and inclusive reflection upon that year.
Objectives of The Civil Rights Commemoration Committee are:
- To honour the courage all those who took part in the Civil Rights movement.
- To explore the legacy of civil rights through documentation, conferences and other events.
- To reflect on the achievement of civil rights movement as an example of non-violent and peaceful change.
- To commemorate the shared/contested history of civil rights on a cross community basis.
- To examine the civil rights challenges at home and abroad today especially racism and sectarianism in Ireland and the need to build a tolerant and inclusive society throughout the island.
- To support and strengthen the protection of civil/human rights throughout Ireland and to share the lessons of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement with people working for human rights in situations of conflict.