Jul 02 2014

On 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Act, Challenges Remain

Fifty years ago on this day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill which forever changed the lives of millions of Americans: The Civil Rights Act. The Act was proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 but was actually decades in the making, paved by the struggles of civil rights activists as well as ordinary Americans who wished to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr called the law, “the child of a storm, the product of the most turbulent motion the nation has ever known in peacetime.”

Marches, sit-ins, boycotts and protests all helped to galvanize the movement which eventually shaped the Civil Rights Act. Just two weeks before the bill was signed, three young civil rights workers were murdered by the KKK in Mississippi. Yet the House of Representatives passed the bill on a 290 to 130 vote, even as a 54 day filibuster in the Senate stalled its approval. A compromise measure which allowed States to voluntarily comply with the law before the Federal Government stepped in to enforce it finally allowed the bill to clear Congress.

The Voting Rights Act which was aimed at preventing voter discrimination especially in Southern States was signed a year later in 1965. While both The Voting Rights Act and The Civil Rights Act helped countless Americans living in a de facto state of apartheid at that time, many now fear that their historic mandates are being chipped away by a highly conservative Supreme Court.

GUEST: Kevin Gray, author of “Waiting for Lightning to Strike: The Fundamentals of Black Politics” and “The Decline of Black Politics: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama.”

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