This year marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (known as “public accommodations”).
The bill was called for by President John F. Kennedy in his civil rights speech of June 11, 1963, in which he asked for legislation “giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public – hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments”, as well as “greater protection for the right to vote.”
The assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 changed the political situation. Kennedy’s successor as president, Lyndon Johnson, made use of his experience in legislative politics in support of the bill. In his first address to a joint session of Congress on Nov. 27, 1963, Johnson told the legislators, “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.”
On June 19, 1964 the substitute (compromise) bill passed the Senate by a vote of 73–27, and quickly passed through the House-Senate conference committee, which adopted the Senate version of the bill. The conference bill was passed by both houses of Congress, and was signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964.
The history of civil rights in the United States is largely the story of free people of color and then African Americans to define and enumerate what rights pertain to citizens in civil society. It has been the history of enlisting political parties to recognize the need for our governments, state and federal, to codify and protect those rights. Through the years, people of African descent have formed organizations and movements to promote equal rights. The Colored Convention Movement, the Afro-American League, the Niagara Movement, the National Council of Negro Women, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference carried the banner of equality when allies were few. In the modern era, integrated organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, and the Congress of Racial Equality fought for and protected equal rights.
Within this struggle for civil rights, many of the important leaders have been men and women whose rights were subordinated to the general cause. Pauli Murray, Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, and many others litigated, organized, and wrote on behalf of civil rights, believing fully in the path towards equal rights for all. Their struggles accentuate the universality of the movement for equality in America, and form a central part of the 2014 National African American History theme.
On behalf of the National training Center and Fort Irwin we salute the countless African American men, women, and Families who have continued to sacrifice themselves for the betterment and advancement of this great nation.