Introduction (Major Objectives)
This unit is intended to make the middle school and the high school student more aware of the effects that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has had on their lives. Most of these students are unaware of the origins of this civil rights bill.
I think that there is much truth and merit in the belief that we tend to cherish and appreciate things more when we work for them. Present day students fail to realize that segregation and discrimination in public accommodations (theaters, motels, hotels, etc,) ended less than 20 years ago.
Since the student population in New Haven public schools is made up of a large percentage of minority students, it is very important that these students understand how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came into being and the great social change it would foster in American society with respect to equality.
In order to study the Civil Rights Act of 1964 , the student will have to examine the role and position taken by the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations towards civil rights for the American Negro. Their contribution can not be overlooked in a comprehensive study of this act.
In addition, the students must understand the effects that the death of John F. Kennedy, the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the reactions to civil right protests in the South, and Johnson’s attitude towards civil rights upon becoming President had on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
When the students finish this unit they should be able to explain or describe the following:
1. The position and contributions of the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations towards civil rights for the American Negro and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
2. The need for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
3. The effect of the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders on the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
4. The major contribution of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to American society with respect to equality.
5. The ten Titles which compose the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This unit will examine the content and origins of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (C.R.A. of 1964). It will also explain why it was necessary to enact this 1964 legislation when Congress had previously enacted two civil rights bills under the Eisenhower administration, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960.
This unit will also analyze the influence the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders had on the actions and attitudes of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in formulating the C.R.A. of 1964.
When the first African set foot on American soil he was considered as property, thus only having the rights his owner decided he should have. This idea and concept was even supported by the Supreme Court with its decision in the Dred Scott Case.
Accompanying this idea of the Negro being property was the idea that the American Negro was inferior in every way and form to white Americans.
Even after the Civil War was over and slavery was abolished, the idea about the inferiority of the Negro persisted. It was this concept of inferiority which provided the rationale for the doctrine ‘separate but equal’. This concept was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case Plessy vs. Ferguson. This doctrine was not to meet its legal death until 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled in ‘Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka”, that ‘separate but equal’ was unconstitutional.
However, the bigotry and racism against the American Negro had become embedded in many institutions in American society by the time of the Brown ruling. ‘Jim Crow’ laws segregating public facilities, had become established in the South. In addition to public facilities, the Negro felt the pain of discrimination in the area of housing, the armed forces and transportation.
These patterns of discrimination coupled with the idea of the inferiority of the Negro were the main stumbling blocks of the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations in trying to improve the civil rights of the Negro.
In order to take a comprehensive look at the origins of the C.R.A. of 1964, it is necessary to examine the three previous administrations’ actions towards civil rights.
Even though there were no major concerted efforts by the Roosevelt administration in the area of civil rights, the American Negro benefited from the ‘New Deal’ programs. The ‘New Deal’ programs were directed at the low income groups of which Negro constituted a large part. It is sad to state, but local relief programs often operated on a segregated basis. For example, local bread lines and soup kitchens were segregated.
Discrimination in housing, transportation, public accommodations and the armed services went virtually unchecked by the Roosevelt administration. Roosevelt was forced to issue an executive order banning discrimination in employment in the defense industries in 1941. He did this to avert a march on Washington, D. C. led by A. Philip Randolph (of the A. Philip Randolph Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) protesting discrimination in the defense industries. Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practice Commission (F. E. P. C.) to see that this order was carried out.
In 1939, Attorney General Frank Murphy established a Civil Liberties Section in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. It was later known as the Civil Rights Section. This was one of three major contributions made by the Roosevelt administration which future administrations could use as precedent in their fight for civil rights for the American Negro. The other two contributions were: (1) setting precedent for a president to use innovative and creative ideas (which were not directly stated in the constitution) to deal with situations never confronted in American society previously and (2) establishment of the F. E. P. C.
The Truman administration was marked with several attempts to improve the conditions of the Negro. Truman established the Committee on Government Contract Compliance (C. C. G. C. C.) to replace the F.E.P.C. which Congress abolished shortly after World War II. These two committees had the same functions, stop discrimination in the defense industries.
It was also under the Truman administration that the President’s Commission on Civil Rights (P. C. C. R.) was created. Truman adopted some of the recommendations of the P. C. C. R. as his own and tried to get them enacted into law. These proposals concerned lynching, the poll tax and fair employment, Truman was unsuccessful in his attempts.
Unable to affectuate a change by means of legislation. Truman used his power of ‘executive order’ in 1948 to desegregate the armed forces. This order dealt with segregation in the armed forces but did little to remedy the discriminatory practices which existed in off base housing facilities and in the local communities near the bases.
Truman, after taking over upon Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, alienated the South with his civil rights actions. His election in 1948 proved that it wasn’t necessary to have the support of the South to win the Presidency. This served as a key for Kennedy and Johnson in their formulating a strategy to become president.
Discrimination still existed in housing*, in federal government employment and in transportation during Truman’s administration. Even though the Supreme Court in 1946 ruled in Morgan vs. Virginia(325 U.S. 373, 1946) that segregation in interstate transportation was unconstitutional, it still persisted.
Before looking at the civil rights actions of the Eisenhower administration, it is important to look at Eisenhower’s attitude concerning civil rights.
Eisenhower had a laissez-faire attitude about civil rights. He believed that the racial situation could be solved by local communities without the federal government intervening, in particular the Executive Branch. It is thus understandable that Eisenhower refused to throw the full power and moral support of his office behind the Brown Decision of 1954. However, in 1957, Eisenhower showed his support of the 1954 ruling when he sent Federal Troops into Little Rock, Arkansas to uphold the court’s desegregation order.
Under the Eisenhower administration, the desegregation of the armed services was completed and two civil rights bills were enacted. As far as the desegregation of the armed forces, Eisenhower was following through on a commitment made by Truman.
The Civil Right Acts of 1957 and 1960 dealt primarily with voting rights. The two people responsible for these bills are Attorneys General Brownell and Rogers. There were several factors which influenced the initiation of this civil rights legislation. The first was a large shift in the number of Negroes away from the Republican Party. Second, many Democrats felt that it was a mistake of its Southern members to oppose civil rights legislation because they could lose more of the Negro and liberal votes.
* On December 2, 1949 U.S. Solicitor General Philip B. Perlam announced that the Federal Housing Administration would refuse to finance any new housing whose occupancy was based on a restriction. This did little to stop discrimination in housing.
Third, both parties could benefit from a strong position on civil rights. Fourth, some Congressmen started to realize the growing importance of Africa in World affairs and how its attitude with the U. S. would depend on their handling of the civil rights issue.
With the adoption of the C. R. A.’s of 1957 and 1960, the following were accomplished:
1. U. S. Civil Rights Commission created
2. A new Assistant Attorney General was created to deal with civil rights.
3. U. S. Department of Justice could file civil rights suite because of cost.
4. Federal District Courts in civil rights cases involving voting before state remedies were exhausted.
As can be readily seen, the C. R. A.’s of 1957 and 1960 did nothing to eliminate discrimination in public accommodations or employment. These types of discrimination were to be dealt with in the C. R. A. of 1964.
Eisenhower also used executive action in his low key involvement in civil rights. He appointed prominent Negroes to important government positions, such as:
1. J. Ernest Wilkens—Assistant Secretary of Labor
2. Scovel Richardson—Chairman, U. S. Board of Parole
3, Charles Mahoney—First Negro to be a full delegate to the U. N. from the U.S.
4. Fredrick Morrow—Administrative Officer on White House Staff
5. Clifton R. Wharton-Appointed Minister to Rumania
6. George M. Johnson—and J. Ernest Wilkens—Were members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Eisenhower was setting an example for the rest of the nation to follow in fair employment.
As far as housing, under the Eisenhower administration the FHA revised its ‘Underwriting Manuel’ so as to eliminate homogeneity or heterogeneity as a consideration for eligibility for mortgage insurance. Also, the Housing Administration refused to insure mortgages of homes with restricted covenants after February 15, 1960.
With the start of the 1960’s the restlessness of the American Negro started to become more evident. The Negro was no longer content to wait and let others fight for his civil rights. It was almost 100 years since The Immancipation Proclamation and the Negro still did not enjoy all the privileges and rights of an American citizen.
The 1960’s would be marked by sit-ins (protests aimed at public places that refused to serve Blacks), freedom rides (a form of protest aimed at desegregating interstate transportation), protest marches and also Voter Registration Projects.
The Civil Rights Movement and the reactions it caused would lead to the birth of the strongest civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.
Before analyzing the Kennedy administration it is important to look at the Democratic Platform of 1960 as it relates to civil rights.
The sit-ins which began in 1960 in North Carolina were well publicized by the media. This was to have a tremendous effect on the Democratic Convention. As a result, the Democrats came up with a very liberal platform with respect to civil rights.
As far as voting, the convention stated that the Executive Branch would use its full power under the C. R. A.’s of 1957 and 1960 to insure all Americans of their right to vote.
The Democrats stated that they would end discrimination in public education, federal housing programs and federally assisted housing.
A pledge was made to support legislation establishing a fair employment practice commission. In addition to this, the Democrats pledged to make the P. C. C. C. a permanent body.
It is important to note that the Republican Platform was similar to the Democratic Platform except in one area. The only difference seemed to be that the Democrats wanted to eliminate the literacy and poll taxes completely whereas the Republican favored a literacy qualification (completion of 6 primary grades in a state accredited school).
The influence of the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders wasn’t just restricted to the Democratic Platform of 1960. The media coverage of the civil rights protests in the South made the nation as well as the elected officials aware of the restlessness of the American Negro in his quest for his civil rights.
Under the leadership of such men as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jessie Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson, to name a few, the Civil Rights Movement would be influential in the passage of the C.R.A. of 1964.
The use of passive resistance by these Negro leaders and Black organizations such as, the NAACP, CORE and SCLC, was very effective. Often times, as in Alabama with ‘Bull’ Conners, passive resistance was met by brutal actions by local authorities in breaking up these protests.
The televised coverage of these brutal confrontations disturbed the nation. Pressure was being put on elected officials to do something to help the American Negro obtain his civil rights.
The Civil Rights Movement would have a great effect throughout the Kennedy and the Johnson administrations in developing civil rights legislation, in particular the C.R.A. of 1964.
The stage was now set for the Presidential election of 1960. Kennedy won a very close race. Let’s analyze how Kennedy became President.
Kennedy knew that it was possible to win in 1960 without the support of the Southern states, for Truman had done it in 1948.
Kennedy realized if he could win the Negro vote in the big cities of the key states of New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he would win the election. An incident which involved Dr. King was to give Kennedy the key Negro vote he needed.
On October 19, 1960, Dr. King was jailed because of a sit-in in an Atlanta department store. On hearing of this J. F. Kennedy called King’s wife, Corretta to reassure her. Later the same day Robert Kennedy called the judge presiding over the case, soon after King was released. As a result, Kennedy won the Negro vote.
After the 1960 election, the Kennedy administration began its attack on discrimination in the U.S. The attack would be directed from the Justice Department by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He would be ably assisted by Burke Marshall, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division, and John Doar in the field.
President Kennedy realized that even though he didn’t need the support of the Southern states to get elected, he did need their support in order to get legislation passed in Congress. Key chairmanships were held by Southern Congressmen and Senators in both houses. This is why legislation wasn’t an immediate and viable alternative of the Kennedy administration to improve the civil rights of the American Negro. The need of Southern support to enact any legislation always played an important role in formulating civil rights policies.
When legislation wasn’t a viable approach for gaining civil rights for the Negro, Kennedy decided to use executive action to bring about change. He began appointing prominent Negroes to major federal positions as Eisenhower had. A few of Kennedy’s appointments were:
1. Robert C. Weaver-Head of Housing and Home Finance Agency
2. Carl T. Rowan-Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
3. Clifton Wharton-Ambassador to Norway
4. Thurgood Marshall-appointed Judge of Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kennedy also ordered his cabinet members and top advisors to avoid segregated facilities, functions and clubs. Kennedy (as Eisenhower) tried to make his administration set an example for the rest of the country to follow.
When violence broke out as a result of the freedom rides in the Spring of 1961, the Attorney General petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to remedy segregation in interstate terminals. The ICC did this by issuing an order banning segregation in interstate terminals.
In the area of public housing, on November 20, 1962 President Kennedy issued an order which stated that it wasn’t proper to deny any American citizen the benefits of federally owned or federally financed housing.
The Kennedy administration regarded the Negro’s right to vote as a vehicle in which other rights could be obtained. Thus, the administration encouraged Black organizations such as; CORE, NAACP, and the SCLC to run voter registration drives in the South. The civil rights workers who worked on these drives were given the false impression that they would have the support and protection of the Kennedy administration. When these civil rights workers reported physical abuses they had incurred, little or nothing was done in most cases. The Justice Department failed to prosecute in many cases, claiming a lack of evidence. This lack of evidence was due to the FBI.
The FBI didn’t investigate civil rights complaints with the same vigor and effectiveness it did other criminal cases, such as those involving organized crime.
If the Justice Department wasn’t explicit with its directions to what it wanted the FBI to do, it would receive a memo from the FBI to clarify their instructions. In the mean time valuable time would be lost.
In order to get the FBI to investigate civil rights complaints properly, the Attorney General’s office had to prepare detailed lists of questions for the FBI to ask in civil rights disputes.
The President’s Commission on Civil Rights experienced similar difficulty when it tried to get the assistance of the FBI in civil rights matters.
The in-action of the Justice Department to civil rights complaints made civil rights workers doubt the Kennedy administration’s commitment to civil rights.
The Justice Department, during its first few years under Robert Kennedy, didn’t have a concrete plan devised for civil rights. The Department acted like a crisis center, solving civil rights problems as they occurred or reached the breaking point. For example, after Bull Connor’s brutal confrontation with student demonstrators (which was aired on T.V.) in Birmingham, Alabama, Burke Marshall was sent to Alabama to cool things down.
This piecemeal approach to solving civil rights problems could not cope with the rising number of protest in the U.S. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough Burke Marshalls and John Doars to solve or handle the multitude of problems that were occurring. For in 1963 the Southern Regional Council states that 930 protest demonstrations in 115 Southern cities had been made.
When the cameras showed the police brutality that was used against young civil rights protectors in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, President Kennedy concluded that a new approach to civil rights was needed. It was at this point President Kennedy decided that civil rights legislation was needed. The Justice Department began work on a civil rights bill. Due to an assassin’s bullet, John Kennedy would not live to see the passage of this bill.
Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would be left up to the Johnson administration. It is important to note that President Johnson made a 360— turn in his civil rights position when he became President. For, from 1940 to 1960 Johnson voted with the South 78% on civil rights issues. Prior to 1957, Johnson voted with the South 100% on civil rights issues. He also voted against the C.R.A. of 1957 and 1960.
There are several reasons to explain Johnson’s sudden and dramatic change in his position on civil rights.
Johnson wanted to keep the Kennedy staff intact after the assassination, Johnson realized that if he were to change the direction that Kennedy had set in motion to deal with Civil rights the staff would not stay. An exodus at this time would have destroyed the confidence that Johnson was trying to establish.
Johnson wanted to run for the Presidency in 1964. He didn’t want to do anything that would offend the Negro or liberal vote. It is doubtful that the American Negro would have endorsed Barry Goldwater, the Republican conservative, if Johnson failed to support the Civil Rights Movement. After the 1964 election, Johnson would continue to support the Civil Rights Movement with his support of the passage of the Voting Right a Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
As far as Johnson’s voting record while in Congress on civil rights, one must keep in mind that most of Johnson’s constituency shared similar attitudes with the South towards civil rights for Negroes. In order to remain in office, Johnson voted according to his voters’ beliefs. Although Johnson voted against the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, he never used his power on Capital Hill either to stop or slow down the passage of these acts.
However, there were more than just political reasons that motivated Johnson’s strong support of civil rights. Johnson had a strong desire to become one of the greatest domestic Presidents in the history of the U. S. He believed that the U. S. could not be considered as the ‘Great Society’ if it denied civil rights to American Negroes.
When Johnson addressed the Congress and the nation on November 27, 1963 from the House of Representatives, he set the tone for civil rights under his administration. ‘Let us continue’, the most important phrase in his speech followed by a plea to pass the civil rights legislation on the hill as a tribute to John Kennedy signaled to all Americans that Johnson wasn’t going to put civil rights on a back burner.
In fact, Johnson kept Congress in session to work on the civil rights act after the assassination when the winter recess was long overdue. Johnson wanted to prove two things by this action. One, the Executive Branch could control the Legislative Branch. Second, he wanted to prove to world leaders that a capable leader was in control again.
Johnson’s main contribution was the fact that he refused to compromise on the civil rights bill. As a result, Part III (of C. R. A. of 1957) which would allow the federal government to intervene in civil rights cases was not eliminated. Neither was the provision which would have established the F.E.P.C. as a permanent body.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law on July 2, 1964 when it was signed by President Johnson. The Act contained 10 Titles. A brief description of each title is stated below.
This title required courts to give high priority to voting cases. It also provided for uniform voting tests and established a 6th grade education as proof of literacy.
Title II-Public Accommodations
This title prohibited discrimination in public accommodations. The only exception being owner-occupied hotels or motels with 5 rooms or less.
Title III-Desegregation of Public Facilities
This title authorized the Attorney General to file suits to desegregate public facilities.
Title IV-Desegregation of Public Education
This title authorized the Commission of Education to provide technical and financial assistance to help deal with problems resulting from desegregation. The Attorney General was also allowed to institute suits in the name of the government for students or parents who are unable to bring suit.
Title V-Civil Rights Commission
This title made the Commission on Civil Rights a permanent body.
Title VI-Nondiscrimination in Federally Assisted Programs
This title prohibited discrimination by any programs or activities receiving financial assistance. It also authorized the appropriate departments to take action to carry out this policy.
Title VII-Equal Employment Opportunity
This title established the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity to eliminate unlawful employment practices.
Title VIII-Registration and Voting Statistics
This title directed the Secretary of Commerce to compile a list of registration and voting statistics in areas recommended by the Commission on Civil Rights.
Titles IX and X deal with procedures to follow appeals from federal court orders.
It is ridiculous to think that with the passage of the C. R. A. of 1964 that the problems of the Negro had been solved. For it is impossible to change attitudes which have existed in American society for over 200 years with one or even a series of civil rights legislations.
What the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did was to create an environment in which attitudes would be able to change. It is not unrealistic to believe that once the American Negro was allowed access to public accommodations that the myths and misconceptions would dissipate in time. Thus, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has laid the ground work for an environment in which equality can develop.