Eight months later, on July 2, after the defeat of the longest filibuster in
But of course the real heavy lifting had been done by civil rights leaders such as the Rev.
Jim Crow segregation had endured because of local violence on the ground and political ruthlessness in Washington. For almost a century, a coalition of Southern Democrats (the Dixiecrats) and Midwestern Republicans had beaten back every attempt to fulfill the promise of the 14th and 15th Amendments. The lone exception, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, passed under LBJ's stewardship as Senate majority leader, was declared a victory by the New York Times, but the
Not so the 1964 bill. The courtly and unreconstructed segregationist Sen. Richard Russell, leader of the Dixiecrats, recognized the very real threat the bill represented and vowed that his forces would fight "with our boots on, to the last ditch!" They lost, but LBJ recognized the political price that his side would pay, telling one of his aides, "The Democratic Party just lost the South for the rest of my lifetime and maybe yours."
But Jim Crow began to die, in part because LBJ well understood that passing laws was one thing and enforcing them quite another. Just as he had been determined to muscle the bill through
Title II (public accommodations) of the act overturned state and local segregation laws, and the Supreme Court helped by upholding its application to the private sector through the commerce clause.
There had been chilling resistance in some quarters. In Jonesboro, La., that summer, the public library and swimming pool remained off-limits to blacks, and when local youths protested, 40 of them, and some of their parents, were arrested. To drive the point home, the
Both sides began to arm themselves, and a very real race war was only averted by a federal injunction and the personal intervention of administration officials, including Humphrey, who by then was vice president.
Title VII (workplace discrimination) created the
Title VI (discrimination in government-funded activities) was even more immediately successful. Swift directives from the White House to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to cease giving federal dollars to segregated hospitals transformed facilities overnight. Where moral suasion had failed, the threat of defunding worked wonders.
Similarly, a quick ruling by U.S. Commissioner of Education Francis Keppel announced the withholding of federal funds ($4 billion) from school districts in 17 long-segregated states. In one year, there were more public school desegregation commitments than had been achieved over the previous decade. To ensure this was more than lip-service, the Office of Education developed objective, quantifiable measures to evaluate progress.
In 1965, the
The South, once solidly Democratic, would become a Republican stronghold. And the civil rights movement would meet its Waterloo not in Southern cities but in Boston and Chicago, where Northerners would discover that the limits of their racial tolerance ended in their own neighborhoods. Politicians who could no longer get away with using the vilest excesses of racial language communicated in coded but comfortable phrases like "law and order" and the "intrusive federal government."
Today, even after the election of a black president, men and women of color still suffer disproportionally against almost every measure of American life. So how should we feel about the 1964 Civil Rights Act? We should feel proud of an achievement that brought us closer to the founding ideals of this country. We should feel humbled by the sacrifice of millions of people over decades of hard and painful work to bring that change about. And we should feel challenged because the work is not yet complete.