Byron Allen partners with Congress for bill seeking to strengthen Civil Rights Act of 1866

EXCLUSIVE: Owner of theGrio's parent company Entertainment Studios Byron Allen lobbied on Capitol Hill for the effort following historic Supreme Court case

Media mogul and billionaire, Byron Allen, the owner of theGrio’s parent company Entertainment Studios, is again pushing the civil rights ball forward, this time through a partnership with members of Congress who are requesting to strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which is focused on economic inclusion. 

Today, Democratic U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon, along with House Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Mondaire Jones (D- N.Y.) introduced the Economic Inclusion Civil Rights Act of 2021.  

Byron Allen lobbied on Capitol Hill for this legislative effort to strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Allen pressed for support from lawmakers and Sen. Blumenthal heeded the call by sponsoring the legislation.

The new legislation is intended to amend and strengthen Section 1981 of the nation’s oldest federal civil rights law enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This is the specific civil rights statute that served as the basis of Allen’s litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019.

Byron Allen
Byron Allen, Founder/Chairman/CEO, Entertainment Studios, appears at the Supreme Court of the United States for racial discrimination suit against Comcast on November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for Entertainment Studios)

Due to the current law requiring 100% proof of racism, the Supreme Court requires a higher threshold of evidence to enact the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. However, if the proposed amendment to the legislation is passed, it would require those seeking protection to meet a lower threshold of proof. This would subsequently overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling of Allen’s 2020 case and take up the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg‘s call to action. 

The bill would also overturn the Court’s decision in General Building Contractors v. Pennsylvania, which made Section 1981 inapplicable to anything except purposeful, intentional discrimination. In his dissent from that decision, Justice Thurgood Marshall lamented that the Court was “shutting its eyes to reality.” And he was right. So-called disparate impact suits, which this bill restores, are essential both to uncover hidden and hard-to-prove intentional and unconscious discrimination, and to remove artificial and arbitrary barriers to equal opportunity.

Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall,
Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. (Photo:

The measure also seeks to outlaw both forced arbitration and class action waivers for Section 1981 claims. The Supreme Court has said that “absent contrary Congressional command” both tools can be used to restrict access to courts. 

“Enacted 155 years ago, Section 1981, the nation’s first civil rights law, sought to equitably reshape the American economy for Black people following the Civil War,” Sen. Booker said in a statement provided to theGrio. “Over the years, the Supreme Court has unfortunately eroded these critical protections. The Civil Rights and Economic Inclusion Act of 2021 would help reverse these decisions and address the stark inequities in our nation’s economy, granting greater opportunities to Black Americans and other minorities.”

In looking back at the fight of the 1950s and 1960s Dr. King and others waged, this could give congressional lawmakers an opportunity to assess the current division of the racially charged political landscape. The passage of this effort could serve as a reinforcement of civil rights protections.

The current reality the Senators and Congressmembers seek to confront is fraught with attacks on voting rights laws in which states are crafting restrictive voting laws and placing anti-protest measures on the books. At the same time, identity is under siege as LGBTQ+ rights are being challenged, as well as issues of racial equity and equality. 

As Byron Allen takes on the legal fight of expanding civil rights in the United States, he continues to cite his conversations with the late Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the woman he calls “the True Queen of America.” 

“She said to me, “Byron ‘as Black people in America, we have had four major challenges: number one — end slavery, number two — end Jim Crow, number three — achieve civil rights.’ And then she choked up and she said, ‘and number four — the real reason they killed my Martin — achieve economic inclusion.’” 

Coretta Scott King behind an array of microphones
Coretta Scott King (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

According to Allen, Scott King credits Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at Stanford University, which highlighted the economic issues that presented a dual reality in America based on race to be the root cause for his assassination. For this reason, Allen feels strongly about economic equity.

“This generation will deal with the fourth and final chapter, real economic inclusion,” Allen told theGrio in an exclusive interview. “Today, after more than 400 years, we’re on the precipice of achieving a pathway to real economic inclusion. And we will finally get to the mountaintop.”

Allen has acknowledged in the past that those conversations with the civil rights icon about achieving one America through education and economic inclusion, had propelled him to take action in a manner that places leveling the economic playing field for minority-owned companies at the forefront.

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