Civil Rights
When the Government Stood Up For Civil Rights "All my life I've been sick
and tired, and now I'm just sick and tired of being sick and tired. No one
can honestly say Negroes are satisfied. We've only been patient, but how
much more patience can we have?" Mrs. Hamer said these words in 1964, a
month and a day before President Lyndon B. Johnson would sign the historic
Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. She speaks for the mood of a race, a
race that for centuries has built the nation of America, literally, with
blood, sweat, and passive acceptance. She speaks for black Americans who
have been second-class citizens in their own home too long. She speaks for
the race that would be patient no longer that would be accepting no more.

Mrs. Hamer speaks for the African Americans who stood up in the 1950's and
refused to sit down. They were the people who led the greatest movement in
modern American history - the civil rights movement. It was a movement that
would be more than a fragment of history; it was a movement that would
become a measure of our lives (Shipler 12). When Martin Luther King Jr.

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stirred up the conscience of a nation, he gave voice to a long lain dormant
morality in America, a voice that the government could no longer ignore.

The government finally answered on July 2nd with the Civil Rights Act of
1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is historically significant because it
stands as a defining piece of civil rights legislation, being the first
time the national government had declared equality for blacks. The civil
rights movement was a campaign led by a number of organizations, supported
by many individuals, to end discrimination and achieve equality for
American Blacks (Mooney 776). The forefront of the struggle came during the
1950's and the 1960's when the feeling of oppression intensified and
efforts increased to gain access to public accommodations, increased voting
rights, and better educational opportunities (Mooney). Civil rights in
America began with the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to
the Constitution, which ended slavery and freed blacks in theory. The Civil
Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875 were passed, guaranteeing the rights of blacks
in the courts and access to public accommodation. These were, however,
declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, who decided that the
fourteenth did not protect blacks from violation of civil rights, by
individuals. This decision allowed white Southern conservative leadership
to make laws and policies regarding blacks that eluded constitutional
guarantees. In the face of this blatant discrimination black Americans
started to gather and form new organizations to further, and in many cases
create civil rights for themselves. Civil rights leadership was assumed by
organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored people (NAACP), and the National Urban League (NUL). The NAACP was
formally organized in 1910, and for half a century was the foremost civil
rights agency, bringing mass amounts of litigation to the courts. In its
commitment to the ideals of democracy the NAACP pursued equality for all in
the eyes of the government. Around the middle of the century gains were
being made in small places, with a few minor changes in state laws. Yet
blacks were still for all conventional purposes second-class citizens
(Mooney 776). World War II and its homecoming black veterans brought back
even more unrest than before. After fighting the Germans and witnessing
Hitler's racial holocaust blacks realized the inequality at home even more.

The problem was helped by the migration of black soldiers out West to take
advantage of wartime prosperity. The civil rights issue was now gaining a
national face. Then the Supreme Court handed down its devastating decision
in Plessey vs. Ferguson (1896), that segregation is constitutional as long
as facilities are "separate but equal." In the words of the one dissenting
justice, "this is the worst decision the court has ever handed down." The
education provided to blacks proved to be, "manifestly unequal by every
yardstick," and blacks, impeded in education, proved to summer in almost
every other area as a result. Meanwhile the government remained silent on
this issue, and other issues of discrimination in employment and voting
restrictions (Mooney 777). The wall would eventually have to come down, and
Chief Justice Warren and the legendary Warren court personally brought
around its destruction. In 1954 the Supreme Court reversed the decision of
Plessey vs. Ferguson that had stood for almost forty-two years, in the
historic case of Brown vs. Board of Education. The court ruled that
facilities were blatantly unequal and such separation was unconstitutional,
and furthermore was actually detrimental to both black and white students.

The court called for desegregation of schools with "all deliberate speed."
The decision was met with resistance from the South, who formed their,
"desegregation never campaigns." A group at odds with the Warren court and
their radical judgments, the Southern contingent protested, "They put the
Negroes in school and now they've driven God out" Slowly, with much
violence and the use of federal marshals, and on occasion federal troops,
segregation was achieved. The South had no choice, Congress had finally
entered the scene with the new Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had
delivered a mandate - desegregate the school system or lose all federal
funding. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first strong piece of civil
rights legislation in almost ninety years. President John F. Kennedy had
been elected and called on Congress to bring forth this new legislation,
yet by the time of his assignation on November 22nd, 1963, nothing had
materialized. Yet Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's successor, has stepped in to
keeps the legislative wheels turning. The bill was met with concrete
resistance in the Senate, with a Southern group debating endlessly in an
attempt to kill the bill, but the pressure of an outraged nation and an
intent administration finally broke the stalemate. Senator Joseph S. Clark
speaking of the Senate and its efforts to kill the bill said, "Heedless of
its mail, allergic to public opinion polls, apparently unaware of the grave
moral issue involved, a minority of this body, day after day, under archaic
rules and procedures existing in no other legislative body in the civilized
world, prevents a majority of this body to act from acting on this civil
rights bill." The Civil Rights Act had finally been enacted. The government
had at last sided with the movement (Mooney 778). The Civil Rights Act of
1964 was signed and passed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July
2nd 1994, after one of the longest running debates in Senate history. It
was an idea that started with President Kennedy, and after his
assassination the civil rights groups had to face the question of whether
legislative strategies would be the same under the new President, but
President Johnson saw them through (Watters 119). The comprehensive
legislation was the most important law passed in civil rights since the
Reconstruction. It was groundbreaking legislation that aimed to end all
forms of discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion or national
origin. Title I removes registration requirements and procedural bias, to
guarantee equal voting rights. Title II, the main leap forward for civil
rights, banns discrimination in places of public accommodation involved in
interstate commerce, which according to Martin Luther King Jr., "is the
most humiliating thing a Negro faces" (Watters 118). Title IV calls for the
desegregation of schools - putting into law the Supreme Court decision of
Brown vs. Board of Education. Title V expands the duties of the Civil
Rights Commission, set up by President Truman after the shame of the
treatment of black Military personnel during World War II (Ginsberg 131).

Title VII establishes a government agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC), to enforce the provision that prohibits discrimination
by employers dealing with the federal government or interstate commerce
(Ash 797). The Act, despite its many strengths was met with much opposition
from many different groups. Immediately after its passage the act was
contested all the way to the Supreme Court in the case of Heart of Atlanta
Motel vs. United States (Ginsberg A55). The Heart of Atlanta Motel was a
whites only establishment, and the owner argued that his property rights
allowed him to choose the people that stayed in his accommodations. The
Supreme Court disagreed in a unanimous ruling that his business was based
on interstate commerce and to discriminate would hinder part of the
national economic system. Other opposition included a backlash of riots
among working class blacks, which felt the bill insulted them. White groups
for segregation responded with demonstrations and and increased support of
pro-segregation candidates in Congress. Groups rushed to point out the
deficiencies in the Act. Title VII, dealing with discrimination in
employment, had the problem that the complaining party had to show that
deliberate discrimination was the cause of failure to get a job, or
position (Ash 801). Women's groups complained that there was too much
emphasis on race discrimination and that there was nothing being done to
prevent discrimination based on gender (Ginsburg 143). Black civil Rights
leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis doubted the
effectiveness of the Act. Holding little faith King said, "If it is rigidly
enforced it will help a lot, but if it is compromised (and this is a
danger) public accommodations will again be the main Southern target"
(Watters 118). The opposition subsided in time and now it is easy to forget
the struggles that made this act so important. The Civil Rights Act of 1964
was the concrete action the movement needed to progress on to other key
legislation. It was not miracle legislation, and it did not solve all the
problems overnight. But after all is said and done, three centuries of
discrimination have created problems that one act of legislation can solve
but a minor part of. This Act was the first step, it allowed the Warren
court the opportunity to take discrimination farther then it had ever been
taken before in the courts, and to strike it down with regulations that
would ensure that it would never rise again. It made way in Congress for
the comprehensive voting act that was to follow. It gave heart to the
fighters, that the government was at a last seeing the new way, the right
way. Revolutionary might be a strong term for the act, an accomplishment
that was born in the government system, but it became a powerful tool for
liberation (Shipler 12). A lot of tension can be directed at the federal
government, and it is responsible for a lot of civil rights grievances, but
in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 relief came as the government took
responsibility for undoing some of the harm (Watters118). The historical
significance on the act can never be denied, just as its effects on race
relations in America can never be underestimated. It was an act whose
impacts swept beyond the movement, but increased the civil rights of all
Americans. Discrimination is a problem of ethics. Discrimination is
unethical. The government has an ethical obligation to make and change laws
to ensure that it does not discriminate. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is
perhaps the best example there is of the American government fulfilling its
ethical obligation (Ash 803). For in the words of Thurgood Marshall, the
great civil rights lawyer, and later first black man to serve on the
Supreme Court, "Far too long, the doors have been shut to the Negro"
(Ginsberg 146). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened them.

Works Cited
- Ash, Philip. "The Implications of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 For
Assessment in Industry." American-Psychologist 6 (1966): 797-

-Ginsberg, Benjamin, and Theodore J. Lowi, eds. American Government-
Freedomand Power. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.

-Mooney, Chase C. "Civil Rights Movement." Encyclopedia Americana.

1996 ed.

-Shipler, David K. "The Marshall Plan." The New York Times Book Review
1June1998: 12-13
-Watters, Pat. "The Spring Offensive." The Nation 3 February 1964: 117-