The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed 50 years ago this year. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Day today, I would like to discuss this in some detail.
In June 1963, President Jack Kennedy was a changed man. A man who saw that being on the side of civil rights, Kennedy was fed up with the slow progress made in this issue due to it being seen to opponents as, to quote George Wallace, “Segregation Forever”, and to the majority of supporters as solely a legislative issue. On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy gave his nation-changing Civil Rights Address. His address changed many people’s thoughts on civil rights, and transformed it from a legal issue to a moral one. He highlighted that all of America would not be free until every one of its citizens are. This speech helped Kennedy propose his Civil Rights Bill in Congress.
At first, it was said that it would be detrimental to the movement. They said that there would be violence, hate speech, and an embarrassment. But Dr. King and the rest of the Big 6 in the movement knew that it was what the Bill needed. On August 28th, 1963, one of the most important events in American history occurred: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The gathering of over 250,000 people of all races and genders showed Congress that the nation was vastly in support of Kennedy’s Civil Rights Bill, and that it needed to be passed now. And the Dream speech. One of the most important speeches ever was given mostly off the cuff by Dr. King, to show that this nation was ready for equality and that it was the time now to begin to fulfill the promise of our nation: that all men are created equal.
On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. At first, this nation was not certain that the Bill would still be in the forefront of American policy. But the opposite occurred. The people of this nation wanted to carry out what Kennedy was going to do as President if he would not have been slain. Citizens went out, made their communities aware of the Bill and persuaded many to support it. The movement attracted people of all races and genders, and due to King’s nonviolent leadership, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on July 2nd.
Without Martin Luther King’s Dream Speech, it is doubtful that the Act would have ever passed. King gave the speech in a visual way to give the listener a more personal feeling toward the movement, and that was genius. Dr. King defied many to carry on the march, including Malcolm X, who called it a “farce on Washington”. King was the leader of the people on the right side of history, and never gave up hope that people who love their country can change it to benefit all. He also knew that the movement must continue, because the hatred that many thought was eradicated in the 1960’s would still be around as strong as ever. He couldn’t have been more correct.
The one line that sticks out at me most from the Dream speech is: “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote” Our job now is to make sure that all people can vote and have something to vote for. I have written a book on voting rights (not yet published), and I found in my research that Voter ID laws today could take the ability to vote away from over 23 million Americans. This is unacceptable, and we need to work, write, and peacefully protest these laws so that all of our brothers and sisters can exercise their most precious right. We need to encourage people to run for offices that will give Americans what they deserve. We need people who will lead, and will represent the people as they are supposed to. Dr. King needs to be remembered, and we need to take up the torch to continue to defend the rights of all people.
(Credit goes to Wikipedia for all photos except for bottom one, which is from my own collection)