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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Robert Strauss, 1918-2014

I am a little late to recognize this, but it was a very important event that deserves recognition nonetheless. Robert Strauss, the former Chairman of the Democratic National Convention and a truly larger than life figure for Texas Democrats, died on Tuesday at the age of 95. A product of rural Texas, Strauss attended UT and quickly befriended a fellow student named John Connolly. He, of course, would go on to serve as Governor in the 1960s, when Strauss served as a key adviser to both him and President Lyndon Johnson.

Beginning in 1972, Strauss served as the Chairman of the Democratic National Convention. He continued to serve in that capacity until Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as President in 1977. In fact, for two of those years, fellow Texan George H.W. Bush served as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, prompting Texas Monthly to run this cover in 1974.

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Reuben Senterfitt, 1917-2013

The Beaumont Enterprise reports that Reuben Senterfitt, a prominent former State Representative who served as the Speaker of the Texas House, has passed away at the age of 96.

Senterfitt, a native of San Saba County, is perhaps best known for helping to create the MD Anderson Cancer Center during his first term in office. At that time, 1941, he was only 23 years old, one of the youngest members of the State Legislature. Among his other accomplishments listed by the Enterprise are his support for Veterans welfare, Education reform and the creation of the Legislative Budget Board.

Heeding the call to his country, Senterfitt fought in World War II while in the Legislature, a tradition later followed by other State Representatives. After the war, he continued rising through the ranks until he became the Speaker of the House. For the second time in the State’s history, he served in the office for multiple consecutive terms.

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