Landmark legislation

With the celebration of the Declaration of Independence only four days away, it is well worth noting that Tuesday is the 55th anniversary of another famous date in American history.

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. With one sweep of the pen, the United States outlawed discrimination in hiring on the basis of race, sex or religion. Segregation in schools and other public facilities was no longer legal.

Southern Democrats tried hard to block passage of the measure in the Senate, but moderate and liberal Democrats led by Mike Mansfield were joined by Republicans under Everett Dirksen to provide enough votes for passage.

In large part, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 may have aided the bill’s passage. Kennedy had promised civil rights action in his 1960 campaign. In June of 1963, Kennedy sent his civil rights bill to Congress.

Johnson used Kennedy’s death to twist legislators’ arms to pass a bill. Four days after JFK’s assassination, Johnson told a joint session of Congress, “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.”

While Kennedy’s memory influenced some votes, only skillful maneuvering by Mansfield and Dirksen (including introducing a second version of the bill) garnered enough votes to shut off a weekslong filibuster of the bill in the Senate.

At last, the nonviolent tactics used by Martin Luther King Jr. were vindicated. A Congress composed almost entirely of white males had joined a president from Texas to rid the country of the scourge of legal discrimination.

(Sources: history.com, Wikipedia)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.


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