The civil rights policy entails legislations and struggle to abolish racial discrimination against African Americans particularly those living in the Southern parts of America and other less advantaged groups in the country. This movement is at times referred to as the reconstruction era. It was a major breakthrough in 1964 when the policy was finally signed into law.
The issue of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 helps in appreciation of the struggle that the African Americans and other less advantaged groups had to go through to ensure that their civil rights were taken care of. The story behind this great achievement is quite an interesting one. This policy has finally taken America through great changes in social, democratic and economic life.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 came to birth during the reign of John F. Kennedy as the president of the United States of America. Kennedy was elected into the post in 1960. Formerly, Kennedy was not a big supporter of the issue of civil rights. In 1957, he opposed Eisenhower’s act (Wright).
As the new president, Kennedy was challenged by the facts that were undoubtedly indisputable. These facts were presented by an organization that was formed in 1960 to analyze Civil Rights issue in the U.S; that was the Civil Rights Commission. This commission discovered that African American Housing was considered unacceptable. They found out that African American life expectancy was less than compared to the whites by seven years. Another finding was that African American infant mortality rate was twice that of the white people. Moreover, it was very hard for African Americans to get mortgages from mortgage lenders. As a matter of fact, value of property was considered to go substantially down if a family of an African American moved in a neighborhood that was not a ghetto.
John F. Kennedy gave a very passionate speech and made these alarming facts known to the American public. On the background, the people of Eastern Europe were being subjected to bad treatment when Soviet government was in charge. Americans had constantly condemned the Russians over this matter of inhumane act against people of Eastern Europe, yet in their backyard issues of unfairness in terms of race and skin color have been taking place. The irony of the situation is that same issues of inequality that Americans condemned in Russia were clearly present in the United States.
At this time, Cuban missile crisis had taken much of Kennedy’s time and issues like Civil Rights were not a priority for the government. At some point this issue had been voted at the bottom of the important issues that the government was expected to attend to. Indeed there was a challenge for Kennedy in terms of proceeding with the solution to the discrimination problem while this matter was so unpopular among politicians. Another problem was that Kennedy had won the election by a very small margin and therefore did not have a popular mandate to make any decision. Also there was the time of the Vietnam War issue though not officially assented. This consumed the government’s time (Wright).
Kennedy’s assassination was a shocker to the world. Lyndon Johnson, who was Kennedy’s vice president, was sworn in as president. Johnson had fought against full implementation of the Civil Rights Act in 1957, despite this fact he came to understanding that something needed to be done to improve the lives of the African Americans within the American society He used this occasion to push forward the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This cause was a part of Johnson’s vision for America.
The seeds of this Act were planted by Kennedy; Johnson strongly believed that he had to ensure that this Act was pushed forward to celebrate Kennedy’s life Moreover, during this period the rise of strong activism from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, as well as similar persons, who believed that the gain of Civil Rights needed to have a more militant approach. During the 1950s this issue was given a passive approach. The ghettos of the Northern Cities were beginning to move towards militancy. The society had undergone transformation in a very short time. Johnson took notice of this and step into action to prevent any occurrence of unrest in the country.
The passing of this bill was owed partially to the death of Kennedy. Apparently, no one could have attempted to block Kennedy’s bill at this time because the act would have gone against the mood of the public. Despite this fact, the bill had to actually survive the test of attempts to stop it in the congress. Johnson took to the fore front to fight for this bill. It would be inappropriate for anybody to fight against the wishes of the late president. Everyone was challenged on their patriotism. Johnson appealed to the public that was still traumatized by the murder of their president to gain their support. In order to win over the hard Southerners, he promised them that he would not allow the bill to accommodate anyone who would try to use it as an excuse to live an easy life irrespective of their color. By the beginning of 1964, the public opinion about Civil Rights had begun to change. 68% of the public now substantially supported the Civil Rights Act. The Act was signed by President Johnson in July 1964 (Wright).
Many people from the southern regions were dubious about the Act. It is probable that Johnson could reach the people of South because he originally was from the South. Ironically, the African Americans were at the fore front criticizing the act. They claimed that the act did not address everything they had been fighting for. There were riots organized by African Americans in the northern region. Long after they formed a party called Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, they demanded for seats in the Democratic Party convention. Johnson was worried with the fact that African Americans failed to support this act.
Despite the protests, it is now believed that the 1964 Act was a very important ingredient to the American social and political advancement. This act is considered the greatest achievement made by Johnson during his term. Johnson always tried to justify the morality of his acts and condemned the immorality of any form of discrimination. His main wish and dream was to improve the American society and the Civil Rights Act was certainly the way forward.
The events that led to establishment of the Act date back to the earlier years when Europeans settled in North America. Black people were oppressed and enslaved by white people. Despite the revocation of slavery after the civil war, whites continued to be superior. At the beginning of the 20th century, African Americans were not allowed to associate with Whites in various institutions and accommodation areas. They were not to mix in public places like schools, hotels, restaurants, cars, beaches, recreational facilities, as well as many other places. Africans were considered lesser people and were constantly intimidated. In some public places, there were notices like, “Africans and dogs not allowed”. There were also cases of assault; workers for employment were selected on the basis of racial identity. Blacks were not offered same opportunities as the whites. Rights of citizenship like voting were not availed to the African Americans.
White and black liberal reformers strived to abolish these acts of oppression. In 1940, a renewed effort to fight for black rights was started. Philip Randolph threatened to organize a march of the blacks if President Roosevelt did not act to stop racial discrimination in the military forces and employment. Roosevelt agreed and formed a committee to look into employment practices.
Another contributing factor was the movement of blacks to the Northern and Western cities to work at the defense-related jobs. This movement increased in the 1950s and 1960s and highly boosted thevoting power of African Americans. The black soldiers who were serving abroad during the World War II witness less discrimination on racial ground. They therefore came back home determined to fight discrimination. After the war, civil rights supporters encouraged further signs of liberal reform. President Truman recognized that racial discrimination at home contradicted the claims of Americans to foster free world. In order to address the black votes, he ordered desegregation of the armed forces and called on the federal laws to improve civil rights.
Activists operated from the grassroots in an attempt to end school segregation. This was faced by challenges like the attempts to assassinate black leaders, as well as other problems. One ruling that is considered a landmark in the American racial relations was the ruling of 1954. In 1954, grass root activists like Rosa Parks started a large scale bus boycott. Rosa was arrested for defying the rule that blacks had to move to the back when the whites did not get a seat at the front. Montgomery movement catalyzed the rise of rev Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the civil rights movement. Escalating violence against blacks in the south disheartened supporters of the racial justice during the year 1950, courts joined rights activists while adding the pressure to speed up the establishment of civil rights act.
The nature of the society in the United States also hastened the adoption of the civil rights act legislation. The minority groups began to be more vocal about and convincing in their demands. This made the Whites to begin to see the need to grant the way to civil rights law.
Historical pressure had a big influence on the government to enact the law. Dating from the slavery times, the rights of the blacks had been placed under the feet. It took a long time for activists to pump enough pressure on the authorities to see to the assent of the civil rights law (Wright).
Political factors influenced various groups of people in different ways. The way John F. Kennedy struggle to make this point sensible to distinct groups had a great impact on the way people responded to the call to support the civil rights act. Being a presidential aspirant, Kennedy had to carefully touch on some issues concerning the Civil Rights Act. In order to address the African American votes, Lyndon Johnson had to move on with the Kennedy legacy which was to ensure that what he started was finished (Wright)
The civil movement is an issue that was of gradual application from the 19th century. The activities of the civil rights leaders were heightened in 1945 -1950. The adoption attempts and rulings of 1957 to 1964 can be termed as the times the civil rights issue was widely spoken of in the public domain. When John F. Kennedy became the president in 1960, this issue took the center stage and by 1964, the new law was unveiled to the public. One thing led to another until the bill was finally assented to.
The Civil Rights Act became considerably effective after the time of implementation. All the statements that condemn the racial discrimination were put forward. The act did not come in effect immediately, for instance, there was a complaint from the African American community that the act did not fully address the crucial issues that affected them. The act had to undergo a number of amendments to accommodate all the needs of the citizens. Example is the 1991 amendment which tried to address, among others, employment discrimination cases. It is clear that the act had to go through gradual processes of adoption before it was finally suitable for every person. Some schools still have issues after the implementation, for instance in the south, , only 1% racial balance was achieved.
Main Statements of the Act
These are the main statements that constituted the civil rights act of 1964. They were fighting for equality in all aspects of the citizens’ life and needs.
Title 1: Voting rights; this intended to stop any unequal application of requirements of a voter to register as a viable voter. A literacy test, which was the main basis for sidelining blacks and the poor whites from the south, was also included in this section. This act required that the rules of voting and the procedure to be done equally and fairly to everyone irrespective of color or race.
Despite the fact of its positivity, the act did not address the following issues: economic retaliation, repression by police or physical violence wailed against voters who are not whites. While the act advocated for equal voter attention, it did not address the aspect of voter qualification besides citizenship (Wright).
Title II: The act condemned discrimination based on race, color, religion or nationality in recreational facilities, motels, hotels and all other public amenities that were involved in public business.
Title III: This prohibits the municipal government from barring access to public utility on the basis of color, race, religion, or nationality.
Title IV: This act advocated for desegregation of public schools on the ground of race, color, religion or national origin. It therefore gave the authority to the U.S attorney General to file suits to ensure that this act is enforced.
Title V: Civil rights commission - this addressed the procedures that the commission was endowed with. It expanded the duties of the commission and extended its life through top 1968.
Title VI: Nondiscrimination in federal assisted programs- this authorized but avoided funds withdrawal from programs that engaged discrimination.
Title VII: Equality in criteria used to select applicants for employment- it condemned discrimination in business exceeding 25 people and created equal employment opportunities.
Title VIII: Registration and voting statistics- directed census bureau to conduct a registration and voter statistics but not to compel any one to give information they are not comfortable with.
Title IX: Reviewing of cases- it made the remanding of civil rights cases reviewable in high federal courts and gave authority to the attorney General to act in some cases.
Title X: Community relations service, which created the service to aide communities in resolving cases that involved racial discrimination
Title XI: Miscellaneous. (Wright)
Setting it in Motion
Despite the need and pressure to set the civil rights act working, many challenges and controversies were experienced. Some wanted the rights to be implemented yet some opposed to it. At some point, it was considered an issue of least national importance. There was a great opposition from the south, but the president tried to ward them toward accepting this bill. He also advised the African leaders to control any negative demonstrations so as not to scare away potential supporters of the act. Kennedy likewise sought for support by holding meetings with various leaders and groups. He did this to ensure that there was support so that the congress would be under pressure to assent to the bill, yet at the same time he was jeopardizing the dwindling togetherness of politicians needed to see the bill through.
The fear of filibusters was another factor that contributed to the controversies and setbacks experienced by the act. Both the Judiciary and Commerce committees were headed by conservative senators from the south, thus passing the bill would prove to be a challenge.
Another factor was the Republican Party. The house needed the republican majority to support the bill in order for it to pass, but apparently they would not find any good reason to support it. This called for a little compromise by the president though it surprised the civil right activists but there was no otherwise solution if the support was to be yielded.
For the bill to be brought to consideration by the entire floor, it had to pass through the rules committee. The rules committee was at that time chaired by Howard W. Smith who had been an opponent of civil rights for a long time. He refused to grant the bill before the end of 1963. This led to delay in the whole process. In order to avoid the filibuster long speeches and hence delaying the process, it was proposed that two thirds of the senators present were to vote the cloture.
Senate committee was bypassed to avoid any delay or pigeonholing of the bill but the senate committee was manned by conservatives. Most of the southern conservatives did not want to support the civil rights bill because they feared that they would be voted out by their constituents if they voted in the bill allowing Africans and Whites equal opportunities. The filibuster issue brought more damage to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party because only one Republican joined this controversial group (Wright).
The policy was assented to as a bill in the year 1964 by presidency of Lyndon Johnson. Until today, the policy is still in effect. There has been a great deal of transformations since this act was incepted.
Along the way, a number of amendments were added to the bill to fully accommodate everyone’s rights owing to the change of times and needs. The 1991 amendment was reaffirmation of the government’s commitment to affirmative action. In 2007, a supreme court ruled that the extent to which school districts could use race to avoid segregation was limited.
The bill of rights had positive effects on the American socio-economic state. Many improvements took place. African Americans have been appointed to big posts, there have been many success stories in business, education and government sector. In 1996, Gen. Collin Powell was the most preferred Republican presidential candidate but he declined to run for the seat. Currently, the White House occupants bear the blood of African origin (Wright, 9-33).
In conclusion, the civil rights activism in the United States went through great challenge. When we talk about equality today in terms of races, color and national origin, we have the reason to uphold and cherish them, given the paths it had to follow in order to eventually materialize. This act is still surviving and I strongly believe that no one will have the audacity to change it. There have arisen even more activism worldwide and human right is always in the forefront. America’s change to the positive and the dreams of activists who struggled to see equality descend were richly fulfilled.