WHAT CHANGED AFTER THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT?
Written by James M. Russell
Some will say “not much!” has changed since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – others will say “too damn much!” Of course we can’t begin to discuss the changes brought about by the Civil Rights Act without mentioning some of the events that immediately preceded the Act and forced its difficult and precedent-setting birth. Let’s begin two decades before the Act….
1943 - Detroit Race Riot – What happened over two days beginning on June 20 made America wet its pants. Thirty-four dead, 433 wounded, millions of dollars in destroyed property. It took an army of 6000 troops to ‘calm the natives’ – black and white.
1955 - Rosa Parks refusal to sit at the back of the bus spawned the Montgomery bus boycott which eventually led to the federal court’s Browder v. Gayle ruling in 1955 declaring bus segregation laws unconstitutional.
1963 - Medgar Wiley Evers murdered – Mr. Evers, a civil rights worker, war vet, and secretary of the NAACP was shot in the back while standing in his driveway by Byron De La Beckwith, a KKK member. The murder of Mr. Evers spawned marches, songs by Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and Phil Ochs, statues and navy ships dedicated to his honour, and in 1996, a movie about his assassination. Beckwith wasn’t convicted until thirty years after killing Mr. Evers.
1963 - Four black children killed in church bombing – just months after the murder of Mr. Evers four members of the KKK planted dynamite under the front steps of a church in Alabama. The explosion killed four children and wounded nearly two dozen others. One of the murderers was finally tried and convicted fourteen years later while the other three were not convicted until forty years later.
1963 – March on Washington – this was one of the largest and certainly the most famous marches in the history of America. And Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech is one of the most quoted in the history of the world. Organised by civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the march drew a quarter of a million people.
1964 - Three voter registration workers murdered – Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner were abducted, shot at close range and buried by white supremacists. Eighteen men were charged in connection with the murders, only one man, Edgar Ray Killen was ever convicted, forty-one years later. Public outrage over the killings directly led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
1964 – the Civil Rights Act – outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public. The Act – introduced many changes in the American social and legal landscape, the most notable being:
Voter registration of black people in Mississippi – a bastion of oppression – increased from under seven percent to more than seventy percent by 1967.
Although it was President John Kennedy who issued Executive Order 10925 (in 1961) it was not until after his assassination and Lyndon Johnson became president in 1963 that the bill was enforced. The bill required government contractors to "consider and recommend additional affirmative steps which should be taken by executive departments and agencies to realize more fully the national policy of non-discrimination…. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin"
Women were also afforded protection under the Civil Rights Act thereby freeing them of the ancient “Head and Master” Laws which excluded them from legal rights to their husbands earnings or property and forced women to prove their husband’s wrongdoing in order to obtain a divorce.
The Act created important protections for Asian American and Latin voters.
The Civil Rights Act spawned the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which ended immigration discrimination based on race or national origin
Recently, The Economic Policy Institute reported “black unemployment rate has consistently been roughly twice the white rate for the past half century.” The Washington Post says of a Census Bureau report “The black poverty rate of 55.1 percent was just over three times the white rate in 1959. It dropped to 32.2 percent in 1972. But since then, progress has been slow. In 2011, 27.6 percent of black households were in poverty — nearly triple the 9.8 percent white rate.” Looking at the numbers for every societal indicator – education, employment, standard of living, family cohesion, and health – black people continue to fall far behind whites.
Were Malcolm and Marcus correct when they said (and I am paraphrasing here) …”We don’t need integration – we need separation.”