It is always the strangest thing in the world to me when we celebrate milestone events in this country that are nuanced with a particular group of Americans in mind–especially when that group is African Americans. It is especially peculiar to think of celebrating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the premier pieces of legislation that defined the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. But, today we commemorate it–Happy 50th Anniversary!
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a long and hard battle fought by African Americans to get Congress to pass a strong meaningful piece of legislation that would secure our ability to be treated fairly according to the law, and especially in places of public accommodation. Congress was not super sold on passing this bill as America was ultra polarized and the racial tensions of America were about to reach their boiling points during the decade of the 60s. Prior to Johnson’s passing of the bill, it had been introduced by former president John F. Kennedy. Congress had made attempts to kill this bill and the likes of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Georgia Congressman John Lewis, and organizer A. Phillip Randolph had organized and participated in the August 28th, 1963 March on Washington to underscore the need for African Americans’ fair and equal treatment under the law.
Although revised and arguably watered down by most analyses, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it so hotels that were once suddenly “vacant” when African Americans solicited them could no longer prevent our stays. Those very same Woolworth counters that refused groups like the Greensboro Four (4) of 1960, only four years earlier, now had to open their counters for African American patronage and dine-in participation and not just take out. With the passage of this bill African Americans were not ever going to move the backs of any buses unless we wanted to. And, certainly after this bill was passed, discriminatory practices still prevailed because bad habits and even worse beliefs and practices were not abandoned overnight, but at least they were easier to fight and criminalize due to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2nd.
Take a listen:
On Friday, July 4th, 2014, we will celebrate 238 years of American independence from the control of the British crown and King James. Long before American Independence was a conceivable idea in the mind of European immigrants looking for solace from their nations’ persecution, African Americans were here and even before Columbus–we were merchants, mariners, explorers, and of course, we were the labor that created this “land of the free” and “home of the brave.”
No matter how strange it is to have to even celebrate 50 years of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 victory, especially in a country nearly two and a half centuries old and one that would have never seen the light of victory without its “native sons”, we celebrate this legislation nonetheless.
Happy Birthday Civil Rights Act of 1964!