Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Great Events from History: North American Series)
Article abstract: Responding to a vigorous activist movement, Congress passes the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.
Summary of Event
The road to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was long and tortuous. In June, 1963, President John F. Kennedy had addressed the nation and appealed to the American people to cooperate to meet the crisis in race relations. On June 19, he urged Congress to enact an omnibus bill to meet the demands of African Americans for racial equality. The bill he proposed included titles dealing with public accommodations, employment, federally assisted programs, and education.
The bill was reported by the House committee in November, just two days before the assassination of President Kennedy (November 22, 1963) in Dallas. As the stunned nation recovered, there was an outpouring of emotion for the late president. President Lyndon Johnson addressed the Congress and urged it to honor President Kennedy’s memory with the passage of the omnibus civil rights bill. Johnson, who had been viewed as a part of the conservative establishment opposed to civil rights when he was Senate majority leader, now became its most vigorous champion. Whether this transformation came from a change in conscience, a change in position, or a desire to be seen as a national leader cannot be known, but Johnson made a firm commitment to civil rights in his state of the union...
(The entire section is 1826 words.)
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Congress Passes the Civil Rights Act (Great Events from History II: Human Rights Series)
Article abstract: Congress passed comprehensive civil rights legislation giving life to the Constitutional principle of “color blind” equal protection of the law.
Summary of Event
After the Civil War, and after ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, commonly referred to as the “Civil War Amendments,” Congress did little to enforce, by statute, the provisions of those amendments, particularly as they applied to voting and equal access to and protection of the law. Although some important advances were initiated by passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, most human rights observers agree that most of the provisions found in those laws did little if anything to eradicate the sometimes blatant discrimination suffered by many African Americans prior to 1964. On February 28, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, perceived by most at the time as being a strong advocate of civil rights, proposed to Congress the need for strengthened civil rights legislation. Although Kennedy was in favor of greater gains for minorities, his civil rights agenda included only minor cosmetic additions to the civil rights laws already on the books. The agenda was conspicuous in its failure to advance fair employment guarantees. Kennedy understood that a proposal for a stronger civil rights bill would be doomed to failure before ever reaching the floors of the House and Senate for...
(The entire section is 2170 words.)
Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Major Acts of Congress)
Melanie B. Abbott
The years following World War II in the United States brought a period of economic prosperity for many Americans. The economy was strong and workers found themselves able to use their income to pay for new homes and goods and services that had been unheard of for prior generations. Not all U.S. residents, however, shared equally in the prosperity. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, white Americans enjoyed many benefits that were unavailable to people of color. African Americans attempting to vote in local, state, and federal elections faced poll taxes and rigid entry requirements, though their white neighbors had no such barriers. In parts of the United States white people had preferential seating on buses and in movie theaters; water fountains and municipal swimming pools bore signs indicating that their use was restricted by race; and drugstore soda fountains and restaurants refused to serve people of color.
In the same vein, public schools admitted students not on the basis of their residence, but rather on the basis of their race. The education provided in the schools attended by white children was different from that provided to black children. Students of color who wished to attend college had many fewer choices than white students with equal ability. Housing, too, was restricted, both by the refusal of white landlords to rent to black tenants and by the refusal of white homeowners to sell their homes to people of color. As a result, neighborhoods in many parts of the country were segregated.
During the 1950s activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began to stage protests against widespread racial discrimination. African American leaders held marches in cities in the South, joined by many Northern supporters, both white and black. Many of these nonviolent protests were met with violent responses, including the use of police dogs, water hoses, and physical abuse of the protesters. Newspapers and magazines covered the confrontations, bringing the struggle to the attention of many Americans who had remained unaware of the extent and severity of racial discrimination.
By the time the presidential election campaign of 1960 began, a national debate on the issue of race discrimination was occurring in the media, schools, and local government chambers. Both national parties made Civil Rights a part of their campaign platforms in 1960. The 1960 Democratic platform said: "The peaceful demonstrations for first-class citizenship which have recently taken place in many parts of the country are a signal to all of us to make good at long last the guarantees of our Constitution.... The time has come to assure equal access for all Americans to all areas of community life." The Republican platform stated, "We pledge the full use of the power, resources, and leadership of the Federal Government to eliminate discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin."
Against this backdrop, John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960. Progress on legislation addressing the promises made by both parties was slow. Congress considered legislation to address inequality in public accommodations, but failed to pass it. Legislators tried, but also failed, to pass a widespread Civil Rights law in 1963. Those who argued against the law's passage asserted that the remedies proposed by the law were unconstitutional, in violation of the rights of the states to govern their own affairs, and an impermissible infringement on the rights of business owners to decide for themselves with whom to do business. It was only after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and the swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson in his place, that the legislative tide turned in favor of passage of Civil Rights legislation.
THE ACT'S PROVISIONS
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (P.L. 8852, 78 Stat. 241) addressed voting rights, desegregation of public facilities,
The voting rights provisions of the act stated that for federal elections, persons acting "under color of law" could not apply standards to some voters that were different from those applied to all other voters, and could not use immaterial errors in written applications to bar voters from participating in federal elections. The act also barred the use of literacy tests for some voters but not others and allowed the U.S. attorney general to sue in federal court for violations of these provisions by state officials.
Title II of the act rendered illegal barriers imposed by owners of restaurants, motels, and other public businesses against people of color, stating, "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 ... without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin."
Title IV called for the commissioner of education to conduct a survey to determine the extent to which public schools and public colleges were providing equal educational opportunities to all without regard to race, religion, or national origin. It also authorized the attorney general to initiate lawsuits against public educational officials in response to complaints from those who believed they had been deprived of equal educational opportunity.
Title VI provided that discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin is illegal in "any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." This section applied to programs in which the federal government provided grants, loans, contracts, or other financial support to other organizations, public or private.
Title VII made it illegal for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." Title VII's provisions applied to labor organizations, apprenticeship providers, and employment agencies. The act also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a bipartisan commission, intended to be independent of control by the president or the Congress. Its role has been to investigate and attempt to remedy violations of Title VII. Cases in which the EEOC is unable to reach a satisfactory resolution go on to federal court for judicial proceedings.
IMPORTANT LEGAL EFFECTS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT
The Civil Rights Act served to unite in federal law a number of important principles. Primary among these, of course, was the clear statement that discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin was illegal when practiced by public officials or those providing public accommodations. The voter registration drives in the early 1960s had made clear there were substantial barriers to full participation by all Americans in the federal electoral process. By allowing suits for cases in which the attorney general could find a "pattern or practice of discrimination," the act made it possible for black voters to challenge actions by local officials that deprived them of the right to participate equally with white voters.
The 1964 act strengthened earlier laws preventing racial discrimination against black voters and helped lay the groundwork for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Act's prohibition of discrimination by those providing public accommodations also made possible a giant step in racial equality, preventing most local businesses from refusing service to people of color.
The Equal Employment Opportunity provisions in Title VII have had the most wide ranging, and perhaps unexpected, effects. These provisions certainly served to open opportunities to people of color seeking jobs and training opportunities previously unavailable to them. Manufacturing companies, labor unions, police and fire departments, and innumerable other employers were forced or encouraged to open their doors to applicants of all races and national origins. In addition to those expected results, however, the inclusion of the word "sex" among the prohibited bases of discrimination meant that Title VII has been the focus of considerable attention and analysis long after most of the other provisions in the act have ceased to be noteworthy.
SIGNIFICANCE OF CHANGES IN THE LAW
The Civil Rights Act is well known for the remedies it provided for those routinely discriminated against on the basis of race or national origin. It also, however, made some significant advances in the way courts considered violations of these laws. For example, Title I includes a section making it possible for the U.S. attorney general to request that a three-judge panel of federal judges hear cases brought by persons alleging discrimination against them in connection with voting. This is different from the usual practice, in which a single federal judge hears a case and makes a ruling, which can then be appealed to a three-judge panel of an appellate court. One reason for this change from the standard practice was the concern on the part of those sponsoring the law that some judges and court officials had acted to block access to the courts by people of color seeking to assert their rights. This section also required that federal courts treat voting rights cases as priorities, rather than subjecting them to the usual docketing practices of the courts.
Another significant development in the law is in the connection the act makes between interstate commerce (or state action) and barriers created by owners of public accommodations to prevent people of color from using these facilities. Previously, owners of local pools, hotels, motels, theaters, and
The Civil Rights Act did not explicitly make "separate but equal" education illegal; the Supreme Court had taken that step ten years earlier in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Instead, the act incorporated into federal statutory law a requirement that public schools be desegregated, allowing the U.S. attorney general to sue schools that failed to provide equal opportunities for all students and making nondiscrimination a prerequisite to receiving federal financial assistance. Not until after the enactment of the 1964 act were desegregation requirements enforced throughout the country.
Following passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, much of the activity surrounding efforts to integrate facilities of all types moved from the streets to the courts. Lawsuits concerning discrimination in many different settings allowed the courts to define, refine, and apply the provisions of the act. Education was a major arena in which legal action helped to effect desegregation. Though the decision in Brown v. Board of Education predated the Civil Rights Act, the passage of the act provided significant support for efforts of those seeking to open educational institutions to students of color.
Among the most significant post-act decisions was Regents of University of California v. Bakke (1978), in which a white student sued the medical school of the University of California, alleging that the school had violated his civil rights by setting aside several seats in the class for members of disadvantaged groups. The Court upheld the state court's decision that the quota system was unlawful, but also held that it was acceptable under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and under the Civil Rights Act for the school to take race into consideration as one factor in an admissions program seeking educational diversity.
In 1992 the Supreme Court held that a state's obligations under Title VI of the act were not satisfied merely by operating a race-neutral admissions system. In United States v. Fordice (1992), the Court ruled that a formerly segregated public university system must eliminate remnants of the dual system even if those aspects of the program had no discriminatory purpose. The Supreme Court considered race in college admissions most recently in 2003, holding that a quota system for undergraduates of color at the University of Michigan violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but further ruling that race-conscious admissions to the University's Law School were acceptable in pursuit of the goal of racial diversity so long as the University made decisions on an individual basis (Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, both 2003).
Courts have also held that the act requires states operating public recreational facilities, such as pools, parks, and playgrounds, to make those facilities equally available to persons of all races. In Daniel v. Paul (1969), the Court ruled that an amusement park in Arkansas was a "place of public accommodation" covered by the act and therefore could not limit use of its facilities to whites who had paid a twenty-five cent "membership fee." The Court rejected the operator's argument that the park's operation was entirely private, noting the park was advertised in magazines and on broadcast outlets, that it served out-of-state visitors, and that the food sold in the park's snack bar moved in interstate commerce.
Subsequent legislation has further developed and amplified the provisions of the act as they apply to many areas, especially discrimination in housing, which was largely unaddressed by the act. The provisions of Titles II and VII of the act were expanded in 1990 with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) required that the Civil Rights Act's prohibitions against discrimination apply to people with physical and mental disabilities as well. Recognizing that discrimination in employment on the basis of age was a related problem, Congress supplemented Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1967 with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, a part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, further supplemented Title VII by prohibiting employers from paying men and women different wages for the same work.
Though much progress has occurred since passage of the Civil Rights Act's passage in 1964, courts and legislatures throughout the country continue to address many difficult issues on a regular basis.
See also: AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990; CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1866, 1875, 1957; EQUAL PAY ACT OF 1963; FORCE ACT OF 1871; KU KLUX KLAN ACT; TITLE IX EDUCATION AMENDMENT; VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965;
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Carson, Clayborne, et al., eds. The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle. New York: Viking Penguin, 1991.
Williams, Juan, Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954965. New York: Viking Penguin, 1987.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Encyclopedia of Public Health)
Slavery, segregation, poverty, and racism have shaped the health status of African Americans throughout American history. One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, blacks were still denied the right to vote in some states and received an inferior education in most. Barriers to public health services and hospital care contributed to excess illness and death. Historically, African Americans have used the public policy process to facilitate the social changes necessary to win the full rights of citizenship. This process peaked during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, probably the most progressive legislation in American history. The act outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, public schools, and health care facilities. It also made possible the Medicaid-Medicare legislation of 1965, which led to improved health status of African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority groups.
STEPHEN B. THOMAS
(SEE ALSO: African Americans; Community and Migrant Health Centers; Community Organization; Enabling Factors; Ethnicity and Health; Inequalities in Health; Landmark Public Health Laws and Court Decisions; Politics of Public Health; Public Health and the Law)
Saraf, J. (1997). "Civil Rights Movement." In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.