In June of 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson and a panel of community leaders, activists, and politicians gathered at the White House Conference on Civil Rights, shortly after the promise of equality was supposedly ensured by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the wake of these legislative motions, it quickly became evident that it was no less dangerous to be an individual of color in the United States as the racial tensions that were supposedly ameliorated by these measures were more evident than ever. Four days after the conference, Civil Rights activist James Meredith began a protest walk that would take him and a group of his peers from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi, a tour of black men defiantly walking across the landscape that represented a historical hotbed of violence, discrimination, and prejudice. On the second day of this march, Meredith was shot by a white supremacist and it became clear that while white politicians proclaimed the dawn of a new era, burning crosses scorched picket fences and sodden earth while racial epithets hung in the stale southern air.
That same summer, the first black superhero in mainstream canon was introduced as the Black Panther hit the pages of Fantastic Four #52. And this past Friday, in an era no less rocked by institutionalized discrimination, ingrained prejudices, and longstanding bias, the hero hit the big screen for the first time as the stand-out star of Marvel’s latest blockbuster Captain America: Civil War.