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Civil Rights Act
- Share an infographic that calls for progress in ending workplace segregation.
- Read LDF attorney Jin Hee Lee's op-ed in the Kentucky Courier-Journal on the challenges that remain.
- Watch Sherrilyn Ifill on Andrea Mitchell talk about the importance of the Civil Rights Act.
- Read LDF attorney Veronica Joice’s backgrounder on Title VII
- Learn more about LDF’s heavy caseload in 1966 to enforce the Civil Rights Act.
Fifty years ago, the United States Congress passed a singular piece of legislation -- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- which enshrined unprecedented protections against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in accommodations, facilities, employment, education and federally funded programs. The law also enforced desegregation of schools and the right to vote.
The Act, which was ultimately muscled through Congress by President Lyndon Johnson and signed on July 2, 1064, was borne from immense struggle and sacrifice over hundreds of years. Although the Civil Rights Movement burst into national consciousness during the 50s and 60s, black people have always fought for their civil rights. A black Louisianan activist responded to an interviewer who asked, in the 1990s, when he first joined the civil rights movement "Been involved in the movement all my life."
In his book Crusaders in the Courts, LDF’s second President and Director-Counsel Jack Greenberg wrote: "It is well known that Johnson became a great civil rights president, but contrary to the perceptions of some, his commitment existed even before he inherited the presidency. Though coming from one of the states of the old Confederacy, he contrived while still in the Senate to bring about the defeat of legislation that would have limited the Supreme Court's jurisdiction in retaliation for Brown and other controversial decisions, and Johnson was one of but three Southern senators who refused to sign the congressional manifesto denouncing the Brown decision."
As Greenberg describes, LDF immediately sprang into action after the Civil Rights Act was passed:
"Interpreting and enforcing all those laws became a fresh battleground for LDF, but at least the foundation for further progress had been laid," Greenberg said. Although the federal government actively enforced the Act's prohibition of discrimination in public accommodations and against the most virulent voter discrimination, LDF "remained alone in giving meaning to the fair employment statue for many years."
"We learned that as in the past we had to proceed independently, not rely on the Justice Department, which, even in Kennedy-Johnson years, sometimes had an agenda different from ours,” Greenberg reflects. “In many cases, we took initiatives that Justice wouldn't; on some occasions it came to adopt our position, although on some issues we remained apart. When the Nixon administration came in with a program hostile to our aspirations, LDF litigation, independent of government enforcement of civil rights laws, became absolutely essential."