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The Stuff They Didn’t Tell You #CivilRightsActOf1964

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As an African American woman enjoying her civil liberties in this melting pot known as America, I consider it an honor to help us all remember this important day. Well, not really. I mean, not really in the way that you might assume. While the legislation is most notable for banning discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, I find it more of an honor (and more interesting) to highlight “the stuff they didn’t tell you.” I assume this post will be most helpful to those of us who did not live through the life and time of the civil rights era, but I hope the “over 50 and Fabulous” club will find it useful as well.

What you may not know is that the call for a comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation was first made by President John F. Kennedy, not the President whose signature actually enacted the law on July 2, 1964, Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy made the request almost a year prior to the passage of the Act in his civil rights speech on June 11, 1963. After the assassination of President Kennedy, Johnson implored Congress to act, suggesting that this would be the most appropriate way to memorialize President Kennedy’s hard work.

The road that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would take through Congress, and eventually to President Johnson’s desk would be long, and I’m sure slow for most during that time. Let’s recap the timeline:

  • June 11, 1963: President Kennedy meets with Republican leaders to discuss the legislation and sends a draft bill (H.R. 7152) to Congress.
  • November 20, 1963: An amended version of the bill is sent to the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives from the Judiciary Committee before it can be considered on the floor.
  • January 30, 1964: The bill is cleared from the Rules Committee after being held up by Howard W. Smith, the committee chair and a civil rights opponent.
  • February 10, 1964: After 70 days of public hearing, 275 witnesses, and 5,792 pages of testimony the bill passes out of the House of Representatives and moves to the Senate.
  • March 26, 1964: Senate decides to formally consider the bill on the floor after bypassing the Judiciary Committee.
  • May 13, 1964: After 52 days of filibuster, 5 negotiation sessions, and input from an estimated 100,000 citizens, Senate leaders agree to propose a “clean bill” that would amend parts of the House version of the bill.
  • June 19, 1964: The Senate passes the bill by a 73 to 18 roll call vote.
  • July 2, 1964: After being sent back to the House of Representatives for review of the amendments made in the Senate, the bill passes out of the House by a 289-126 vote. Hours later, the bill is signed by President Johnson.

In total, the debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964 lasted 83 days, more than 730 hours, and had taken up almost 3,000 pages of the Congressional Record. Let’s not forget the years of protest that preceded this legislation and the Supreme Court hearings that would follow its enactment.

Is anyone else having flashbacks to the long and widespread debate over the Affordable Care Act? The change created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and similarly the ACA) did not come without challenge and opposition [insert Republican and/or Tea Party comment about the ACA here].

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The point, however, is that change did come. The lesson that we should all remember about this historic piece of legislation 50 years later is that change is a process. Big change, huge change, necessary change is a process. A process that is long and slow. Long and slow. Long and slow. But it’s worth it. Happy Anniversary!

For a complete summary of the tumultuous road of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, click here.

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