Unheralded act broke the dam

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are largely — and deservedly so — credited with assuring that black Americans could not be denied the right to vote.

Today marks the 61st anniversary of Congress’ passage of the first bill since the reconstruction era that actually championed civil rights. On Aug. 29, 1957, the Senate overcame a 24-hour filibuster to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957. President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law on Sept. 9 of that year.

While some viewed the bill as a toothless tiger, it was the first law passed in 82 years asserting the rights of African-Americans to vote. It gave the U.S. attorney general the ability to file lawsuits on behalf of those who claimed their voting rights had been denied.

The weakness in the law was that those charged with voting rights violations would face jury trials by their peers to establish guilt or innocence. In the South, that meant trial by all-white juries. Critics asserted that convictions in these jurisdictions would be rare, if not impossible.

But backers of the law like Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and President Eisenhower believed that passage of this act after so many years of inaction would ensure more civil rights bills would follow.

They were right. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 followed in the next decade. The long blockade of voting rights for African-Americans was finally ripped away.

(Sources: History.com and Politico.com)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.


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