57th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act

July 2nd is the anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.

In recognition of the 57th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we at Hare Wynn want to highlight the history and importance of the Civil Rights Act and how it has shaped America.

History of the Civil Rights Act

After the Civil War, constitutional amendments abolished slavery (the 13 Amendment), made the formerly enslaved people citizens (14 Amendment), and gave all men the right to vote regardless of race (15 Amendment).

But many states, especially in the South, continued to deny African Americans the right to vote through literary tests, poll taxes, and other measures. Jim Crow laws enforced segregation, and white supremacist groups like the Klu Klux Klan terrorized communities.

Congress finally created a civil rights section of the Justice Department, along with a Commission on Civil Rights to investigate discriminatory conditions, in 1957.

John F. Kennedy initially postponed passing new anti-discrimination legislation when he entered the White House in 1961. But with protests across the South, including one in Birmingham, Alabama where police brutally attacked protestors with dogs and clubs, Kennedy decided to act. In June 1963, he proposed the most comprehensive civil rights legislation to date.

After Kennedy was assassinated, President Lyndon B. Johnson took up the cause. The Civil Rights Act faced fierce opposition but was eventually passed and signed on July 2, 1964 – just hours after approval.

What the Civil Rights Act Did

The Civil Rights Act banned segregation on the basis of race, religion, or national origin at all places of public accommodation, including courthouses, parks, hotels, restaurants, theatres, and sports arenas. This meant that Black people and other minorities couldn’t be denied service because of their race.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act barred race, religious, national origin, and gender discrimination by employers and labor unions and created an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the power to file lawsuits on behalf of workers.

The Civil Rights Act also outlawed the use of federal funds for any discriminatory program, authorized the Office of Education (now the Department of Education) to assist with school desegregation, gave extra clout to the Commission on Civil Rights, and prohibited the unequal application of voting requirements.

Importance of the Civil Rights Act

While the Civil Rights Act didn’t end racism, it was a huge step towards ending legal segregation. Martin Luther King Jr. called the law nothing less than “a second emancipation.”

Passage of the Civil Rights Act ended the Jim Crow laws which had been upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Court held that racial segregation purported to be “separate but equal” was constitutional.

It secured African Americans equal access to public facilities. As the act was enforced, many Black children began attending integrated schools.

The Civil Rights Act also paved the way for two follow-up laws: the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited literacy tests and other discriminatory voting practices, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which banned discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of property.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was a crucial milestone for women’s equality, as it led to the foundation of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Title VII became a means to protect women in collegiate athletics and other programs receiving federal funding from discrimination.

Inspired by the Civil Rights Act, activists fought for and won protections for fighting for disabled Americans, the elderly, and pregnant women.

About Hare Wynn

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a watershed moment in the struggle to ensure equality before the law. The principle that all people deserve justice is a guiding principle at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton. Hare, Wynn’s deceased former law partner, James Baker, was a Freedom Rider during the civil rights movement and one of the civil rights marchers across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma, Alabama.

As a leading Birmingham personal injury firm, we help clients who have been harmed by another party’s negligence pursue the justice and compensation they deserve. If you have been harmed by someone’s careless or reckless actions, call our office today at 800-568-5330 for a no-obligation, free consultation.

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