This year, America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, one of the greatest legislative accomplishments of the twentieth century. The Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The act did not resolve the problems of discrimination. However, it opened the door to further progress by halting the practice of “Jim Crow” laws that imposed racial restrictions on the use of public facilities, job opportunities, and voting, as well as by limiting federal funding for agencies practicing discrimination.
In 1944, upon completion of his wartime service in the United States Army Air Corps, Robert Carter went to work at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In 1948, he became a legal assistant to Thurgood Marshall. Carter later became Marshall’s key aide in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
He recommended using social science research to prove the negative effects of racial segregation, which became a crucial factor in the Brown decision. He also wrote the brief for the Brown case and delivered the argument before the Supreme Court.
In 1956, Carter succeeded Marshall as the general counsel of the NAACP. Over the course of his tenure, Carter argued and won 21 U.S. Supreme Court cases, one of which was the NAACP v. Alabama (1958), convincing the Supreme Court that the NAACP should not be required to make its membership lists public. This removed a tool of intimidation employed by some Southern states.
In celebration of Black History Month, the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Directorate of Research Development and Strategic Initiatives released the February Facts of the Day 2014 as follows:
- The 2014 Black History Month theme is “Civil Rights in America.” This year’s theme, chosen by Study of African American Life and History, celebrates the monumental achievements of those who dedicated their lives to advancing the cause of equal rights for all Americans.
- Known as the “Father of Black History,” Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the celebration he called “Negro History Week” in 1926. He selected the second week of February because it fell between the birthdays of the famed orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, the celebration expanded to include the entire month.
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964—which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin—is considered one of the legislative achievements of the civil rights movement. First proposed by President John F. Kennedy, it survived strong opposition from southern members of Congress and was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Under the Civil Rights Act, segregation based on race, religion, or national origin was banned at all public places such as courthouses, restaurants, sports arenas, and hotels. No longer could minorities be denied service. The act also barred race, religious, national origin, and gender discrimination by employers and labor unions, and it created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the power to file lawsuits on behalf of workers.
- The Civil Rights Act forbade the use of federal funds for any discriminatory program, authorized the Office of Education (now the Department of Education) to assist with school desegregation, gave extra clout to the Commission on Civil Rights, and prohibited the unequal application of voting requirements. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. stated it was nothing less than a “second emancipation.”
- The Mississippi Freedom Summer Project’s mission was to carry out a unified voter registration program in Mississippi. A coalition of four civil rights organizations: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress on Racial Equality, the NAACP, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference participated.
- Roy Wilkins was a prominent civil rights activist in the United States. He testified before Congressional hearings, and conferred with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. During his tenure as executive secretary, the NAACP spearheaded the efforts that led to major civil rights victories, including Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1967, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- The march on Washington represented the “Big Six” civil rights organizations. James Farmer, of the Congress of Racial Equality; Martin Luther King Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; John Lewis, of the SNCC; A. Philip Randolph, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins, of the NAACP; and Whitney Young Jr., of the National Urban League.
- The NAACP is the nation’s largest and strongest civil rights organization. Founded in 1909 in New York City by a group of black and white citizens committed to social justice, the NAACP’s principal objective is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of minority group citizens of the United States and eliminate racial prejudice.
- On this day in 1964, after 10 days of debate, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by a vote of 290 to 130. The bill prohibited any state or local government or public facility from denying access to anyone because of race or ethnic origin.
- Fannie L. Hamer was a civil rights activist whose depiction of her own suffering focused attention on the plight of blacks throughout the South. In 1964, she worked with the SNCC, organizing the Freedom Summer voter registration drive in Mississippi. Hamer’s tombstone is inscribed with her famous quote, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
- In 1941, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, called for a “thunderous march” on Washington, to “wake up and shock white America as it has never been shocked before.” He hoped to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to establish equal opportunity practices in government and defense. Roosevelt issued an executive order eliminating racial discrimination in federal hiring. The march was canceled.
- Mississippi was chosen as the site of the Freedom Summer project due to its historically low levels of African-American voter registration. In 1962, less than seven percent of the state’s eligible black voters were registered to vote.
- In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The unanimous decision overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which allowed for “separate but equal” public facilities. Declaring that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” the decision helped break state-sponsored segregation and provided an intricate piece to the civil rights movement.
- On June 12, 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting interracial marriage was unconstitutional. Sixteen states that still banned interracial marriage at the time were forced to revise their laws.
- In 1962, James Meredith was the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi, a flashpoint in the civil rights movement. Motivated by President Kennedy’s inaugural address, Meredith decided to exercise his constitutional rights and apply to “Ole Miss.” Initially admitted, his admission was withdrawn when the registrar discovered his race. He filed a lawsuit, alleging discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled that Meredith could enroll at the school.
- Medgar W. Evers, after serving in World War II, began organizing local affiliates of the NCAAP. In 1954, he became the organization’s first field secretary in Mississippi. In 1963, after listening to speech on civil rights by President Kennedy, Evers was killed outside his home. Byron De La Beckwith was tried twice in 1964; both trials resulted in hung juries. Thirty years later, he was convicted of murdering Evers.
- On March 7, 1965, a group of demonstrators began a march to Montgomery in support of voting rights. They were stopped by state troopers and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, The lawmen attacked the peaceful demonstrators with billy clubs and bull whips. Networks interrupted telecasts to broadcast footage from the incident they dubbed “Bloody Sunday.” The march was the catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
- From the 1880s into the 1960s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through Jim Crow laws (named after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states and cities imposed legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.
- Bayard Rustin, once called the Socrates of the civil rights movement, was the engineer behind the scenes of the March on Washington, and its success was largely due to his planning. His activism was rooted in his Quaker upbringing and belief in the concept of one human family, with all members of that family being equal. Imprisoned for militant pacifist activities during World War II, he was involved in nearly every major civil rights effort from the 1940s on.
- On May 4, 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality began sending student volunteers on bus trips to test the implementation of new laws prohibiting segregation in interstate travel facilities. One of the first two groups of Freedom Riders encountered its first problem two weeks later when a mob in Alabama set the riders’ bus on fire. The program continued, and by the end of the summer, more than 1,000 volunteers participated.
- On April 5, 1945, the 477th Bombardment Group, the first black bomber group, attempted to integrate an all-white officers’ club at Freeman Field, Indiana. As the officers attempted to enter, they were arrested. By the end of the evening, 103 officers had been arrested. The trials drew national attention. The Freeman Field Mutiny is regarded as an important step toward the integration of the U.S. military.
- On February 1, 1960, four young black men, freshmen at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, entered the Greensboro Woolworth’s and sat down on stools that had, until that moment, been occupied exclusively by white customers. The four—Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond—asked to be served and were refused but they did not get up and leave. Instead, they launched a protest which helped change America.
- On September 15, 1963, four African-American girls—Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair—were killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Riots broke out, and two boys, Virgil Ware and Johnny Robinson, were also killed. In all, 20 people were injured from the bombing and the ensuing riots.
- In 1948, President Harry Truman enacted Executive Order 9981, which directed equality of treatment and opportunity in all of the United States Armed Forces. This order, in time, led to the end of racial segregation in the military forces.
- The 1963 march on Washington was orchestrated by Randolph, a long-time civil rights activist. When he first proposed the march in 1962, he received little response from other civil rights leaders. He knew that cooperation would be difficult because each leader had his own agenda for the movement, competed for funding, and press coverage. Yet he knew that for the march on Washington to be successful, all the civil rights leaders would have to support the event.
- On March 6, 1960, President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, prohibiting discrimination in federal government hiring on the basis of race, religion, or national origin and establishing the EEOC. They were directed to scrutinize and study employment practices of the U.S. government and recommend additional affirmative steps for executive departments and agencies.
- Little Rock Central High School is widely regarded as the first southern school to be integrated, but Clinton High School in Tennessee was integrated a year earlier. In 1957, three years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Bobby Cain graduated from Clinton High as the first black graduate of an integrated high school in the South. In 1958, Gail Ann Epps became the first black female to graduate. In October 1958, Clinton High was bombed and the school was destroyed.