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Rob Horowitz: The Civil Rights Act, 50 Years Later

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 celebrates the incredible progress the nation has made.

Last week President Obama and former Presidents George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton came together at a Civil Rights Summit held at the LBJ library to mark the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and to celebrate the man who was instrumental in bringing it about.

As Robert Caro describes in The Passage of Power, the fourth volume of his epic and authoritative Johnson biography, the newly sworn-in president—just 4 days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy—was determined to make passage of the Civil Rights Act, put forward by Kennedy, his highest legislative priority. He did so over the strong objections of most of his advisers, who argued there was little chance of success and that he would put the rest of his legislative agenda at risk by antagonizing the powerful southerners who controlled most of the committees.

In a speech the next day Johnson said, "No memorial oration or elegy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory then the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long. We have talked long enough in this county about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.”

Six months later—in large measure due to Johnson’s expert handing of Congress—the Civil Rights Act overcame its toughest hurdle, the US Senate. He mustered an overwhelming bi-partisan majority of 71 Senators to end a 57-day filibuster, the longest in Senate history. LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law in early July, making equal access to public accommodations and equal opportunity in employment the law of the land.

Great strides made and to be made

Taken together with the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened the doors of opportunity and the potential to fully exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship to African Americans. Of course, these two strokes of the Presidential pen did not instantly end ingrained prejudice or somehow magically undo the lingering and destructive impacts of generations of disgraceful treatment, including Jim Crow laws and slavery. Still, this law put our nation on the right road. And while there is still a long way to go, the impact has been positive and substantial.

The presence of the first African-American president at the event is an obvious case in point, and President Obama did not shy away from the symbolic significance of his election in his remarks. “Because of the Civil Rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody—not all at once, but they swung open. Not just blacks and whites, but also women and Latinos, and Asians and Native Americans, and gay Americans and Americans with a disability. They swung open for you, and they swung open for me. And that’s why I’m standing here today—because of those efforts, because of that legacy.”

Adding a bi-partisan note, President Bush said, "America is a more just and generous country because Lyndon Johnson set his mind to the cause of civil rights."

Both Presidents asserted that the Civil Rights agenda remains unfinished. Obama focused on the need to expand economic opportunities and Bush focused on the need to step up the fight to close the gap in school performance between African-American children and white children.

A huge milestone

LBJ was critical to the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he was far from the only important actor. By challenging the nation to live up to its professed ideals, the Civil Rights Movement—with its hundreds of thousands of marchers, countless acts of individual courage, and farsighted leaders such as Martin Luther King—created the political environment that made success possible. President Kennedy took the decisive step of putting the legislation forward and many other elected officials provided vocal support. Still, LBJ’s willingness to risk political capital and his masterful handling of Congress loom large.

Todd Purdum, author of a book on the topic, called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 “the most important laws of the twentieth century and a high-water mark of shared civic purpose, national unity, and hope that the nation might yet live up to its founding creed.”

It is important to call attention to this 50th anniversary, to celebrate this huge and hard won success that brought us closer to ‘a more perfect union’, and to draw strength for all the big challenges that remain in front of us. The LBJ library is a fitting location.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


Related Slideshow: Large American Cities With Black Mayors

Using data from BlackDemographics.com and 2010 Census data, GoLocal compiled the 20 American cities with a population of 100,000 or more that currently have black mayors

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Wichita, KS

Carl Brewer

Population: 382,368
Percent Black: 11.50%
Mayor Since: 2007
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Sacramento, CA

Kevin Johnson

Population: 466,488
Percent Black: 14.60%
Mayor Since: 2008
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Alexandria, VA

William D. Eullie

Population: 139,966
Percent Black: 21.80%
Mayor Since: 2003
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Columbus, OH

Michael B. Coleman

Population: 787,033
Percent Black: 28.00%
Mayor Since: 2000
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Jacksonville, FL

Alvin Brown

Population: 821,784
Percent Black: 30.70%
Mayor Since: 2011
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Tallahassee, FL

John Marks

Population: 181,376
Percent Black: 35.00%
Mayor Since: 2003
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Buffalo, NY

Byron W. Brown

Population: 261,310
Percent Black: 38.60%
Mayor Since: 2005
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Durham, NC

William V. Bell

Population: 228,330
Percent Black: 41.00%
Mayor Since: 2001
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Inglewood, CA

James T. Butts

Population: 109,376
Percent Black: 42.90%
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Philadelphia, PA

Michael A. Nutter

Population: 1,526,006
Percent Black: 43.40%
Mayor Since: 2008
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Richmond, VA

Dwight C. Jones

Population: 204,214
Percent Black: 50.60%
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Washington, DC

Vincent C. Gray

Population: 601,723
Percent Black: 50.70%
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Cleveland, OH

Frank Jackson

Population: 396,815

Percent Black: 53.3%

Mayor Since: 2005

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Atlanta, GA

Kasim Reed

Population: 420,003 
Percent Black: 54.00%
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Baton Rouge, LA

Melvin "Kip" Holden

Population: 229,493
Percent Black: 54.50%
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Shreveport, LA

Cedric B. Glover

Population: 199,311
Percent Black: 54.70%
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Savannah, GA

Edna Jackson

Population: 136,286
Percent Black: 55.40%
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Memphis, TN

A.C. Wharton, Jr.

Population: 646,889
Percent Black: 63.30%
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Baltimore, MD

Stephanie Rowlings-Blake

Population: 620,961
Percent Black: 63.70%
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Birmingham, AL

William A. Bell, Sr.

Population: 212,237
Percent Black: 73.40%
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Righties just love to rewrite history. The battle for civil rights in the 60's was conservatives vs liberals, NOT DEMOCRATS VS REPUBLICANS .In those days the Democrat party was infested with vile and repulsive racist conservatives (who later joined the Republican party) after passage of the voting rights act , and the GOP had and many liberal or moderate "Rockefeller" Republicans, it was conservatives in BOTH parties opposed civil rights and voting rights for black and brown people . Just as conservatives were against women's suffrage years before. Conservatives were also against the creation of MLK holiday and opposed financial sanctions against the brutal conservative apartheid government in South Africa

Never forget it was "Mr Hollywood" Ronald Reagan who vetoed sanctions against his conservative racist friends in South Africa

Comment #1 by Sammy Arizona on 2014 04 15

Sammy is a liar, the democrat party is 100% racist to the core

Comment #2 by llik amabo on 2014 04 15

-In the 60's when they didn't get their way. the conservatives burned churches (with children inside) and murdered civil rights workers like, Martin Luther King Jr and many others.
Nowadays they burn abortion clinics, murder doctors and nurses, bomb gay bars and nightclubs, and attack Jewish centers. They have turned their hate agaist some other religions. While a high-profile battle raged over a Muslim mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, heated confrontations instigated by conservative Tea Party folks broke-out in communities across the country from Maine to California where mosques were proposed for far LESS HALLOWED locations.

It is a responsibility of all Americans to recognize the hate and vile anger that the CONSERVATVES represent and to show to the world that these screaming ill-informed folks do NOT represent America or Americans in anyway, shape of form. They are simply the bad seeds

Comment #3 by Sammy Arizona on 2014 04 15

1)Actually the KKK was founded by Southern Democrats.

2) If Conservatives are so evil why did Robert Kennedy wire tap MLK? If you read any of the writings of MLK, he detested the Kennedy's because they were so opposed to Civil Rights looking down from their ivory tower.

3)Sammy what about FDR imprisoning an entire race of people during WWII? The only vile and hatred is coming from the left.

Deal with it.

Comment #4 by Silence Dogood on 2014 04 16

Mr.. Ms Silence Dogood..I wrote
.In those days the Democrat party was infested with vile and repulsive racist conservatives (who later joined the Republican party) after passage of the voting rights act

The Democrats from the KKK were conservatives LOL

I might recommend that you read the conservative's favorite Fox News guest Michelle Malkin's book "In Defense of Interment"

Comment #5 by Sammy Arizona on 2014 04 16

"In Defense of Internment"

Comment #6 by Sammy Arizona on 2014 04 16

1) I have read her book and I still think it was wrong. What it does support is that you are completely in line with the Bush era policies towards domestic spying and imprisonment, which in a roundabout way actually proves my point, nice one.

2) you cannot even for one second claim that both parties simply “switched” sides and now the south is still evil and the north is good case in point (check out John Brown). Also all those “racist” GOP members were the jerks behind the 1960 civil rights act, one that NORTHERN and southern democrats fought against (Al Gore's father comes to mind to and West Virginia's Robert Byrd's used a 14 hour filibuster-oh wait he WAS a Klansman)

one more point: By 1935, every black federal legislator was Republican, and it was Republicans who appointed the first black Air Force and Army four-star generals, established Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday, and named the first black national-security adviser, secretary of state, the research reveals.

But they are all racist- you are nothing more than a clown shilling for the “good guys”

and really LOL- debate like an adult if you dare.

Comment #7 by Silence Dogood on 2014 04 17

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