- In 1964, the United States passed a law to end segregation in public places and not let employers discriminate against someone because of their race or color.
- This law went by the name of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- President John F. Kennedy proposed it, but it became law thanks to Lyndon B. Johnson, who became President after Kennedy died.
- Congress has passed other laws that are related to this one since then too, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965
After the Civil War, three new amendments were put in place.
- One made slaves free (the 13th Amendment).
- One let them become citizens (14th Amendment).
- One let all men have the right to vote no matter their race or color.
But many states, especially in the South, used a poll tax and a literacy test to keep African American people from voting. They also enforced laws that separated people by white and black.
For a while after the Civil War, there were not any new civil rights laws. Finally, in 1957 Congress passed a law about civil rights. This law had two parts:
- One part was the Justice Department’s Civil Rights section
- One part was the Commission on Civil Rights to investigate discriminatory conditions.
In 1890, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which gave judges the ability to assist black people in voting without being harassed. To go through Congress, it was diluted with southern opposition.
The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments made it illegal for slavery. They also said that people are treated fairly under the law. The Supreme Court found it acceptable to have separate facilities if they were equal. This helped discrimination stay legal way into the 20th century.
The Jim Crow Laws
The Jim Crow laws were a set of state and local rules that legalized segregation. The laws were around for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968.
These laws stopped African Americans from voting, getting jobs, going to school, etc. Anyone who did not follow the Jim Crow laws often faced jail time or violence.
Jim Crow laws began in 1865. Black Codes were strict laws that told freed slaves when and where they could work and for how much money. The black codes appeared throughout the south to take voting rights away and control where freed slaves lived. If they had children, their children would be taken from them to work for white people.
The legal system was not fair for black people because white people who were Confederate soldiers worked as police and judges. This meant that African Americans struggled to win court cases and were subject to Black Codes.
These codes went with the labor camps where prisoners were treated like they were slaves. Because of the hard work, most blacks did not live until their entire sentence was over.
The Reconstruction era was a hard time for Black Americans. The violence was getting worse, and they were attacked, tortured, and lynched by white people who wanted them to stop living in the South.
Some terrible laws prevented them from moving on with their lives. One law said that black schools were not as good as white schools, and another said that black people could not live on land owned by whites.
The Ku Klux Klan was a group that was dangerous during the Jim Crow era. It started when Confederate veterans met in Pulaski, Tennessee.
They were a club for veterans. A secret society that terrorized black communities and spread through white Southern culture. Members of the group come from all levels in government and crime.
In the 1960s, people who knew about “equal protection of the laws” thought that the government should protect all Americans. They wanted equal protection for everyone. To create social justice and benefits, they did not want to use racial or gender criteria.
But after some time, we saw that many different areas of life included these types of questions.
When John F. Kennedy started in the White House, he did not support new anti-discrimination measures. But with protests springing up throughout the South (including one in Birmingham), he decided to act.
President John F. Kennedy asked African American leaders to use caution in these demonstrations because new violence might scare away potential supporters. The President also submitted a bill to Congress about civil rights (H.R. 7152).
In June, he proposed a significant civil rights legislation, which has been the best till today. He said that the United States would not be entirely free until all of its citizens were free.
Then, President Kennedy was killed. This happened in November in Dallas. The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, took up the cause right away.
Signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964
In his first State of the Union address, President Johnson said, “let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined.” During debate on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, southerners argued about other things, too, like that this bill was unconstitutional because it would take away some liberties and states’ rights.
Some people in Virginia wanted to stop the bill, so they made a change that would make it illegal for companies not to hire women. That amendment passed, and the other one did not. The House approved the bill by voting 290-130.
The bill then moved to the U.S. Senate, where Southern and Border State Democrats spoke a lot for a long time. Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia spoke for 14 hours.
Some people helped supporters of the bill. They got enough votes to end the debate. One of those supporters was a senator from California, but he was too sick to speak. He said “aye” by pointing to his eye.
The Senate voted 73-27 to let the bill pass. Johnson told his aide, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.”
President Johnson signed this civil rights act with about 75 pens. He gave these to people who helped him or were important, like Hubert Humphrey and Everett Dirksen. And he also gave them to some civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Roy Wilkins.
What Is the Civil Rights Act?
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, segregation was not allowed at all places of public accommodation. This includes courthouses, parks, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas, and hotels. You couldn’t be denied service based on your skin color anymore because this law wouldn’t allow it.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act stands for “equal employment opportunity.” This law prevents discrimination against people because of their religion, race, gender, and country. One crucial part of this law is that it created an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This commission can file lawsuits on behalf of workers who are discriminated against.
The Act said that the government could not use federal funds for any unfair program. It also gave more power to the Office of Education (now called the Department of Education). The Act also said that people should not be treated differently when it comes to voting requirements.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes eleven different sections. Some are about discrimination in public places (Title II), money for schools, colleges, hospitals, and other organizations (Title VI), or jobs at companies (Title VII). These sections have been used in the courts many times.
Importance of the Civil Rights Act
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was like another emancipation for African Americans. The Act has expanded to include disabled people, the elderly, and women in college athletics.
The Act didn’t end discrimination, but it opened the door for more progress to come in the future. This law helped stop racist voting practices, like literacy tests. It also stopped discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of a property. People would now be able to vote because they were not discriminated against. But there was still more work to do.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 expanded rights to voting and housing. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and President Johnson’s War on Poverty attacked economic inequalities that had been with racial discrimination. People who fought for the 1964 act were successful in the end. They wanted to make sure that other groups, like older people, people with disabilities, and pregnant women, could also do things like go to school or work.
Even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has helped, there is still a struggle for equality. The Act helped stop discrimination. Some people want to end it, but it is difficult because it has been around for a while. People will continue to fight about what equality means and how to achieve it. They will do this by lobbying, protesting, and through the courts.
Read more about the Voting Rights Act of 1965
P.S. If you enjoyed what you read and are a teacher or tutor needing resources for your students from kindergarten all the way up to high school senior (or even adults!), check out our partner sites KidsKonnect, SchoolHistory, and HelpTeaching for hundreds of facts, worksheets, activities, quizzes, courses, and more!