50 years on

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the US Senate passage of the Civil Rights Act. Arguably the crown jewel of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the act prohibited discrimination based on race, religion or sex at the workplace or in places of public accommodation (this should sound familiar because many of the same provisions were codified into last month’s local non-discrimination ordinance).

The US House had already passed the proposed bill in February of 1964 but it was not until June 19th of that year that the US Senate did the same, 73-27. The wide margin of victory was invaluable for avoiding a filibuster, which before the 1970s could only be ended by a cloture vote of 2/3rds (67 votes). Filibusters had previously been lodged against the 1957 and 1960 proposals, respectively, causing them to be watered down to a point of almost uselessness. Johnson, emboldened with massive public support following the death of his predecessor, sought to pass a comprehensive bill that would truly have come teeth. It also built upon nearly a decade of court rulings by endorsing the complete end of segregation in schools. For what it’s worth, Houston ISD did not finally integrate until 1970.

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