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									                   1964 Civil Rights Act


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born in the presidency of John F Kennedy who
was elected president in 1960. His support of civil rights issue in previous years
had been patchy - he had opposed Eisenhower’s 1957 Act to keep in with the
Democrats hierarchy as he had plans to run for president as well as Johnson.

The new president was faced with facts that were indisputable and came from
the organisation created in the 1960 Civil Rights Act to analyse civil rights issue
in America - the Civil Rights Commission. They found that:

             57% of African American housing judged to be unacceptable
             African American life expectancy was 7 years less than
             African American infant mortality was twice as great as
             African Americans found it all but impossible to get
              mortgages from mortgage lenders
             Property values would dropped a great deal if an African
              American family moved into a neighbourhood that was not a

Kennedy himself in a passionate public speech made these facts available to the
American public. Constantly in the background was the poor treatment of people
in Eastern Europe during the Soviet occupation of this area. How could America
condemn the Russians and turn a blind eye to the inequalities of what was
clearly going on in America itself - the "land of the free"?

How should Kennedy proceed? The Cuban Missile Crisis took up a great deal of
his short time in power. But aligned to this was the fact that few whites
considered civil rights a particularly important issue - one poll put civil rights at
the bottom of a list of "what should be done for America ?" Kennedy also only
won the1960 election by a very small majority (500,000 votes) so he did not
have a popular mandate for doing anything too drastic. Also the Vietnam War
(though not officially declared) was absorbing more time with what was American
covert action in the region at this time.

Kennedy’s assassination shocked the world. His vice-president - Lyndon
Johnson - suddenly found himself sworn in as president on Air Force One.
Johnson had done what he politically needed to do to stop the full
implementation of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, but despite the fact he was a Texan,
he realised that a major civil rights act was needed to advance African Americans
within USA society. He also used the shock of Kennedy’s murder to push forward
the 1964 Civil Rights Act, part of what he was to term his vision for America - the
"Great Society".

The seeds of the 1964 Act were sown in Kennedy’s presidency. Johnson
believed that he owed it to Kennedy’s life to push through this act especially as
he was not an elected president. America had now moved on from the 1957 Act.
Martin Luther King was now an international figure and Malcolm X was now
proclaiming that a more militant approach could be used to gain civil rights. The
apparent passive approach of the 1950’s was now gone. The northern city
ghettos were now moving more and more towards militancy. Society had
changed in just a few short years. Johnson realised this and wanted changed
before potential civil unrest forced it through.

The civil rights bill’s success in passing Congress owed much to the murder of
Kennedy. The mood of the public in general would not have allowed any obvious
deliberate attempts to damage "Kennedy’s bill". Even so, the bill had to survive
the longest attempt in Congress to seriously weaken it. Johnson played the
obvious card - how could anybody vote against an issue so dear to the late
president’s heart ? How could anybody be so unpatriotic ? Johnson simply
appealed to the nation - still traumatised by Kennedy’s murder. To win over the
Southern hard-liners, Johnson told them he would not allow the bill to tolerate
anybody using it as a lever to have an easy life regardless of their colour. By
January 1964, public opinion had started to change - 68% now supported a
meaningful civil rights act. President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act in
July of that year. It introduced:

             it gave federal government the right to end segregation
              in the South
             it prohibited segregation in public places. A public place
              was anywhere that received any form of federal (tax)
              funding (most places). This stopped lawyers homing in
              on the private places issue. This act tried to cover every
              aspect that some lawyer might use to avoid
              implementing this act.
             an Equal Employment Commission was created
             federal funding would not be given to segregated
              schools (note that these had been banned in 1954, ten
              years previous!)
             any company that wanted federal business (the biggest
              spender of money in American business) had to have a
              pro-civil rights charter. Any segregationist company that
              applied for a federal contact would not get it.
Many Southerners were horrified by the extent of the act. Johnson probably only
got away with the act because he was from Texas. Ironically, the African
American community were most vocal in criticising the act. There were riots by
African Americans in north-eastern cities because from their point of view, the act
did not go far enough and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (a
predominantly Black political party) demanded seats at the Democratic Party
Convention to be held in Atlantic City as they believed that they were more
representative of the people who lived in Mississippi than the politicians who
would usually have attended such conventions. Johnson was dismayed at this
lack of public support among the African American community.

Regardless of these protests from both sides of society, many historians now
believe that the 1964 Act was of major importance to America’s political and
social development. The act has been called Johnson’s greatest achievement.
He constantly referred to the morality of what he was doing and made constant
reference to the immorality of the social structure within America that tolerated
any form of discrimination. Johnson’s desire, regardless of his background, was
to advance America’s society and he saw the 1964 Civil Rights Act as the way

                     The 1957 Civil Rights Act


The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was introduced in Eisenhower’s presidency and was
the act that kick-started the civil rights legislative programme that was to include
the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Eisenhower had not
been known for his support of the civil rights movement. Rather than lead the
country on the issue, he had to respond to problems such as in Little Rock. He
never publicly gave support to the civil rights movement believing that you could
not force people to change their beliefs; such changes had to come from the
heart of the people involved, not as the result of legislation from Washington.

However, he did push through during his presidency the 1957 Civil Rights Act.
Cynics have stated that this was simply to win the ‘Black Vote’. Up to 1957, and
for a variety of reasons, only 20% of African Americans had registered to vote. In
Britain, the government takes the initiative in sending out voter registration forms
which individuals have to return. In America it is up to each person to take the
responsibility to register their vote. In the South plain intimidation and official
apathy and obstacles meant that very few African Americans registered their
vote. Those that did not disqualified themselves from voting.
The 1957 Civil Rights Bill aimed to ensure that all African Americans could
exercise their right to vote. It wanted a new division within the federal Justice
Department to monitor civil rights abuses and a joint report to be done by
representatives of both major political parties (Democrats and Representatives)
on the issue of race relations.

Eisenhower, perhaps shocked by the news broadcasts of Little Rock, publicly
supported the bill (it was, after all, his Attorney-General who had produced the
bill). However, the final act became a much watered done affair due to the lack of
support among the Democrats. The Senate leader, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was
a Democrat, and he realised that the bill and its journey through Congress, could
tear apart his party as it had right wing Southern senators in it and liberal west
coast ones.

In keeping with Congressional procedure, Johnson sent the bill to a judiciary
committee which would examine it for flaws, controversial and unconstitutional
points etc. This committee was lead by Senator James Eastland - senator for
Mississippi. Committee heads have great powers in changing bills and altering
them almost beyond recognition. Eastland did just this especially after the very
public outburst by Senator Richard Russell form Georgia who claimed that it was
an example of the Federal government wanting to impose its laws on states, thus
weakening highly protected states rights of self-government as stated in the
Constitution. He was most critical of the new division which would be created
within the Justice Department

Johnson had other reasons for taking his stance. No civil rights act had been
introduced into America for 82 years. If this one went through successfully and
had support from both parties, it would do his position within the Democrats a
great deal of good as he had plans in 1957 to be the party’s future presidential
candidate. If he could get the credit for maintaining party unity and get the
support of the South’s Democrats for ‘killing the bill’, then his position would be
greatly advanced. If he was seen to be pushing through the first civil rights act in
82 years he hoped to get the support of the more liberal west and east coast
Democrat senators.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 maintained the mood of the bill - it aimed to increase
the number of registered black voters and stated its support for such a move.
However, any person found guilty of obstructing someone’s right to register
barely faced the prospect of punishment as a trial by jury in the South meant the
accused had to face an all-white jury as only whites could be jury members.

Political support and public confidence for the Act had been eroded when
Eisenhower publicly admitted that he did not understand parts of it.

The African American community were divided with regards to the bill. University
professor, Ralph Bunche, saw the bill as a sham and stated that he would have
preferred no act at all rather than the 1957 Act. However, Bayard Rustin of
CORE, believed that it was important because of its symbolism - the first civil
rights legislation for 82 years. He realised that it could have been better but that
almost certainly it was only the first of such acts and that it would be built on.

              The 1960 Civil Rights Act


The 1960 Civil Rights Act was born towards the end of 1958. Following the 1957
Civil Rights Act, Eisenhower introduced another civil rights bill in late 1958, which
was his reaction to a violent outbreak of bombings against churches and schools
in the South. Though Eisenhower is not automatically linked to the civil rights
issue, his contribution, including the 1957 Act, is important as it pushed the whole
civil rights issue into the White House.

Once again, politicians from the South were furious over what they saw as
Federal interference in state affairs. The bill became an act in 1960 as both
parties were fighting for the ‘Black Vote’.

The 1960 Civil Rights Act introduced penalties to be levied against anybody who
obstructed someone’s attempt to register to vote or someone’s attempt to
actually vote. A Civil Rights Commission was created.

The act barely touched on anything new and Eisenhower, at the end of his term
of presidency, was accused of passing the thorny problem of voters’
constitutional rights over to his successor. His more generous critics have stated
that at least he recognised there was a problem and attempted to tackle not just
the issue but the culture surrounding it. Though the act did little to impress civil
rights leaders, they were ready to acknowledge that it was again federal
government recognition that a problem existed.

The two Eisenhower civil rights acts only added an extra 3% Black voters to the
electoral roll for the 1960 election. Some would argue that this reflected
Eisenhower’s failure to really put his weight behind civil rights legislation. Others
could argue that after 80 years of federal apathy, something was finally being
done and the only way the federal government could go from 1960 was further
down the road of advancing the cause of civil rights. This was to lead to two
landmark pieces of legislation : the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting
Rights Act.

Voting Rights
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits discrimination in voting practices or procedures
because of race and color. In 1957 and 1960, Congress had enacted voting rights laws
that took small steps toward increasing minority voting participation for all Americans.
The 1965 Act, however, made huge strides towards making voting rights a reality. The
Act prohibited literacy tests and poll taxes which had been used to prevent blacks from
voting (see Background and Introduction). In 1975, Congress recognized the need to
protect citizens who did not read or speak English well enough to participate in the
political process and expanded the protections of the Voting Rights Act to them.

In 1963, civil rights activists began an effort to register black voters in Dallas County,
Alabama. During 1963 and 1964, although they brought potential voters by the hundreds
to the registrar's office in the courthouse in Selma, they were unable to get them
registered to vote. In January and February 1965, protests were held in Selma to bring
attention to this violation of rights. The protests were met by violence by Sheriff James
Clark and his deputies. On February 17, a small civil rights march ended in the shooting
of Jimmy Lee Jackson who died from his wounds several days later. The civil rights
activists decided to hold a memorial march from Selma to the state capitol in
Montgomery on March. 7.

                                             Approximately 600 marchers started out on
the march that Sunday morning. As pictured, when the marchers crossed the Edmund
Pettus bridge on the outskirts of Selma, they were met by about 200 state troopers, and
Sheriff Clark and his deputies mounted on horseback, all armed with tear gas, night sticks
and bull whips. The marchers were ordered to turn back. When they did not, they were
attacked by the law enforcement officers. The air filled with tear gas and marchers were
beaten, whipped and trampled by the horses. Finally, they turned around and returned to
Selma. 17 marchers were hospitalized.

Dr. King and his supporters filed a federal lawsuit requesting to be permitted to proceed
with the march. On March 21, the march began again, with federal troops protecting the
marchers, and proceeded to Montgomery. In Montgomery, a rally was held on the steps
of the state capitol. However, within hours of the end of the march, 4 Ku Klux Klan
members shot and killed Viola Liuzzo, a white 39-year-old civil rights volunteer from
Detroit, Michigan, who had come to support the Alabama African-Americans. President
Lyndon Johnson said, "Mrs. Liuzzo went to Alabama to serve the struggle for justice. She
was murdered by the enemies of justice who for decades have used the rope and the gun
and the tar and the feather to terrorize their neighbors." In August, 1965, Congress passed
the Voting Rights Act.

According to a report of the Bureau of the Census from 1982, in 1960 there were 22,000
African-Americans registered to vote in Mississippi, but in 1966 the number had risen to
175,000. Alabama went from 66,000 African-American registered voters in 1960 to
250,000 in 1966. South Carolina's African-American registered voters went from 58,000
to 191,000 in the same time period.

In July 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. The legislation attempted to
deal with the problem of African Americans being denied the vote in the Deep
South. The legislation stated that uniform standards must prevail for establishing
the right to vote. Schooling to sixth grade constituted legal proof of literacy and
the attorney general was given power to initiate legal action in any area where he
found a pattern of resistance to the law.

The following year, President Lyndon Baines Johnson attempted to persuade
Congress to pass his Voting Rights Act. This proposed legislation removed the
right of states to impose restrictions on who could vote in elections. Johnson
explained how: "Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. Yet the
harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from
voting simply because they are Negroes."

Although opposed by politicians from the Deep South, the Voting Rights Act was
passed by large majorities in the House of Representatives (333 to 48) and the
Senate (77 to 19). The legislation empowered the national government to register
those whom the states refused to put on the voting list.
                        "By the way, what's the big word?"

                    Bill Mauldin, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (1964)

(1) In 1964, 650 members of the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating
Committee went to Mississippi to help African Americans register to vote.
One student wrote to his parents explaining what happened in the county
of Milestoon when they attempted to help blacks register.

We got about 14 Negroes to go to the court house with the intention of
registering to vote. Sheriff Smith greeted the party with a six shooter drawn from
his pocket, and said "Okay, who's first?" Most of the Negroes remained
cautiously quiet. After several seconds a man who had never before been a
leader stepped up to the Sheriff, smiled and said, "I'm first, Hartman Turnbow".
All registration applications were permitted to be filled out and all were judged
illiterate. The next week, Turnbow's house was bombed with Molotov cocktails.
When the Turnbows left the burning house, they were shot at. A couple of days
later, Turnbow was accused of having bombed his own house which wasn't
insured. Sheriff Smith was the one witness against them. Mr. Turnbow was

(2) In 1964, eleven civil rights campaigners were murdered in Mississippi.
This included the murders of two white men, Michael Schwerner and
Andrew Goodman. Michael Schwerner's wife made a statement to
newspapers on the murders.

My husband, Michael Schwerner, did not die in vain. If he and Andrew Goodman
had been Negroes, the world would have taken little notice of their deaths. After
all, the slaying of a Negro in Mississippi is not news. It is only because my
husband and Andrew Goodman were white that the national alarm had been

(3) Lyndon Baines Johnson, speech on the Voting Rights Act (15th March,

Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. Yet the harsh fact is
that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply
because they are Negroes. Every device of which human ingenuity is capable
has been used to deny this rights. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be
told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is late, or
the official in charge is absent. And if he persists and he manages to present
himself to register, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle
name or because he abbreviated a word on his application. And if he manages to
fill out an application he is given a test. The register is the sole judge of whether
he passes his test. He may be asked to recite the entire constitution, or explain
the most complex provisions of state laws. And even a college degree cannot be
used to prove that he can read and write. For the fact is that the only way to pass
these barriers is to show a white skin. This bill will strike down restrictions to
voting in all elections - federal, State, and local - which have been used to deny
Negroes the right to vote.
(4) Lyndon Baines Johnson, speech at Howard University (4th June, 1965)

At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning
point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord.
So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.

There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their
rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man - a man of
God - was killed.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose.
The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and
South: "All men are created equal" - "Government by consent of the governed" -
"Give me liberty or give me death". And those are not just clever words and not
just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two

Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome
systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books
can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it.
Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to
the right to vote. This bill will strike down restrictions to voting in all elections -
federal, state, and local - which have been used to deny Negroes the right to

The assassination of John Kennedy in November 1963 left most civil rights leaders grief-
stricken. Kennedy had been the first president since Harry Truman to champion equal
rights for black Americans, and they knew little about his successor, Lyndon Baines
Johnson. Although Johnson had helped engineer the Civil Rights Act of 1957, that had
been a mild measure, and no one knew if the Texan would continue Kennedy's call for
civil rights or move to placate his fellow southerners.

But on November 27, 1963, addressing the Congress and the nation for the first time as
president, Johnson called for passage of the civil rights bill as a monument to the fallen
Kennedy. "Let us continue," he declared, promising that "the ideas and the ideals which
[Kennedy] so nobly represented must and will be translated into effective action."
Moreover, where Kennedy had been sound on principle, Lyndon Johnson was the master
of parliamentary procedure, and he used his considerable talents as well as the prestige of
the presidency in support of the bill.

On February 10, 1964, the House of Representatives passed the measure by a lopsided
290-130 vote, but everyone knew that the real battle would be in the Senate, whose rules
had allowed southerners in the past to mount filibusters that had effectively killed nearly
all civil rights legislation. But Johnson pulled every string he knew, and had the civil
rights leaders mount a massive lobbying campaign, including inundating the Capitol with
religious leaders of all faiths and colors. The strategy paid off, and in June the Senate
voted to close debate; a few weeks later, it passed the most important piece of civil rights
legislation in the nation's history, and on July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed it into

Some members of Congress, however, worried whether the law would pass constitutional
muster, since in 1883 the Supreme Court had voided the last civil rights measure,
declaring such action beyond the scope of congressional power. They need not have
worried this time. The Supreme Court accepted two cases on an accelerated basis and in
both of them unanimously upheld the power of Congress under the Fourteenth
Amendment to protect the civil rights of black Americans.

Title II, of which sections are reprinted here, is the heart of the law, and deals with public
accommodations, so that African Americans could no longer be excluded from
restaurants, hotels and other public facilities.

For further reading: Charles and Barbara Whalen, The Longest Debate: A Legislative
History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (1985); Carl M. Brauer, John F. Kennedy and the
Second Reconstruction (1977); and Doris Keans, Lyndon Johnson and the American
Dream (1976).


Title II

Sec. 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods,
services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public
accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the
ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

(b) Each of the following establishments which serves the public is a place of public
accommodation within the meaning of this title if its operations affect commerce, or if
discrimination or segregation by it is supported by State action:

(1) any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient
guests, other than an establishment located within a building which contains not more
than five rooms for rent or hire and which is actually occupied by the proprietor of such
establishment as his residence;

(2) any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility
principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including, but not
limited to, any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment; or any
gasoline station;
(3) any motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium or other place of
exhibition or entertainment; and

(4) any establishment (A)(i) which is physically located within the premises of any
establishment otherwise covered by this subsection, or (ii) within the premises of which
is physically located any such covered establishment, and (b) which holds itself out as
serving patrons of such covered establishment.

(c) The operations of an establishment affect commerce within the meaning of this title if
(1) it is one of the establishments described in paragraph (1) of subsection (b); (2) in the
case of an establishment described in paragraph (2) of subsection (b), it serves or offers to
serve interstate travelers or a substantial portion of the food which it serves, or gasoline
or other products which it sells, has moved in commerce; (3) in the case of an
establishment described in paragraph (3) of subsection (b), it customarily presents films,
performances, athletic teams, exhibitions, or other sources of entertainment which move
in commerce; and (4) in the case of an establishment described in paragraph (4) of
subsection (b), it is physically located within the premises of, or there is physically
located within its premises, an establishment the operations of which affect commerce
within the meaning of this subsection. For purposes of this section, "commerce" means
travel, trade, traffic, commerce, transportation, or communication among the several
States, or between the District of Columbia and any State, or between any foreign country
or any territory or possession and any State or the District of Columbia, or between points
in the same State but through any other State or the District of Columbia or a foreign

(d) Discrimination or segregation by an establishment is supported by State action within
the meaning of this title if such discrimination or segregation (1) is carried on under color
of any law, statute, ordinance, or regulation; or (2) is carried on under color of any
custom or usage required or enforced by officials of the State or political subdivision
thereof; or (3) is required by action of the State or political subdivision thereof...

(e) The provisions of this title shall not apply to a private club or other establishment not
in fact open to the public, except to the extent that the facilities of such establishment are
made available to the customers or patrons of an establishment within the scope of
subsection (b).

Sec 202. All persons shall be entitled to be free, at any establishment or place, from
discrimination or segregation of any kind on the ground of race, color, religion, or
national origin, if such discrimination or segregation is or purports to be required by any
law, statute, ordinance, regulation, rule, or order of a State or any agency or political
subdivision thereof.

Sec. 203. No person shall (a) withhold, deny, or attempt to withhold or deny, or deprive
or attempt to deprive, any person of any right or privilege secured by section 201 or 202,
or (b) intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any
person with purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by section 201 or
202, or (c) punish or attempt to punish any person for exercising or attempting to exercise
any right or privilege secured by section 201 or 202.

Source: U.S. Statutes at Large 78 (1964): 241.

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