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The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Foundational Influence

Published on June 9, 2016

By Debra Kirby

I listen to National Public Radio (NPR) on my daily commute. A series on All Things Considered called Generational Politics, which aired in June and which explored the events that shaped the political views of three different generations – 25, 45, and 65 year olds – got me thinking about what most influenced my views, political and beyond. Looking back it is no surprise that having spent some of my most formative years in the 1960s in Detroit, the events related to the Civil Rights Movement played a major role in shaping my beliefs, ideas and character. To this day, I feel privileged to have witnessed that exciting and often turbulent time – even though my parents refused, despite my most earnest and compelling arguments, to let their pre-teen daughter travel by bus to Washington, DC to actually participate in the historic events.  The anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 this July 2 provides the perfect opportunity to go beyond the more commonly known facts surrounding this historic act and the events and people who made it happen.

For example, did you know?

  • John Robert Lewis, civil rights movement veteran and U.S. Congressman from Georgia since 1986, was the only living speaker from the March on Washington present at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. After the ceremony, Lewis asked Obama to sign a commemorative photograph for him. The new president signed the photo with the message, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.” — Biography In Context.

  • The Montgomery Bus Boycott, sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955, lasted for 11 months, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public bus segregation was unconstitutional. (Browder v. Gayle, 352 U.S. 903) – Opposing Viewpoints In Context.
  • The establishment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was a central part of the 1964 legislation. By granting the ability to file grievances and lawsuits against companies that violated the new law, African Americans and women legally gained standing in the courts when faced with labor discrimination. — U.S.History In Context.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had a close working relationship with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). From its founding in 1920s, the ACLU made the issue of racial justice a major focus of its efforts. In the 1940s ACLU leaders developed a proposal for a broad legal attack on institutionalized segregation, which eventually became the basis for NAACP attorney, and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s successful legal fight against segregation and led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. – Research In Context.

Find details on these and many, many other fascinating facts on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related topics in the Gale resources cited above.


[alert-info]Megan McCarthy

About the Author

When Debra, a 30-year veteran of the publishing industry, is not working or reading, she can be found gardening, running, swimming, or “motivating” the students attending her early morning spinning classes at the local YMCA by sharing lame puns and quiz questions.



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