The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Everything You Need to Know

In the month of June, 1963, President John F. Kennedy asked Congress for an all-inclusive civil rights bill. His move was induced by enormous resistance to desegregation and Medgar Evers’ murder. However, Kennedy was unable to get this bill passed in Congress. Following his assassination in November, President Johnson pressed hard with a stronger version of the bill. Thanks to the support of Clarence Mitchell and Roy Wilkins, the bill was finally passed on July 2, 1964, after the Senate witnessed one of the longest debates in its history.

The Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination on the basis of color, race, religion, national origin, or sex. Provisions of this Act forbade discrimination based on race and sex in hiring, promoting, and firing. This Act also prohibited discrimination in federally funded programs and public accommodations. It strengthened the desegregation of schools as well as the enforcement of voting rights too.

This Act is the country’s benchmark civil rights legislation, and it continues to resonate to date. Once the Act was passed, it put a stop to the application of “Jim Crow” laws, which had been upheld earlier by the Supreme Court in the Plessy v. Ferguson case (1896). In that case, the court decreed that racial segregation claimed to be “separate but equal” was legitimate. Congress ultimately expanded the Civil Rights Act to strengthen the enforcement of citizen’s fundamental civil rights.

Title IV of the Act prohibits discrimination in public schools based on color, race, religion, national origin, or sex. Public schools include secondary schools, elementary schools, and public universities and colleges. But it was a decade later when the legal framework for anti-discrimination laws concerning public school students was laid.

The Civil Rights Act (1964) also made school desegregation a much easier process. This forced schools to stop segregation because the consequence of not doing so would be to lose funding. This significantly reduced the number of segregated schools in the U.S. and established federal criteria that were used to evaluate schools to detect any form of segregation. Schools that were discovered to be in noncompliance were forced to participate in desegregation plans.

Although the Act was quite effective in reducing segregation, it did not change how the staff and students in formerly white-only schools felt about having African-American students in their schools. This has continued in many ways to this day, and though things are noticeably better, the effects of racism and segregation still linger.

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