The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

It was late February, the week between when the Arizona state legislature passed S. 1062, allowing a “religious exception” to provide service to people, presumably gay people, and when Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill. I was watching JEOPARDY!, in real time. A clue popped up about the Greensboro Four, the young black men who, in February 1960, sat in at a Woolworth’s “whites only” lunch counter.

Suddenly, the Daughter started singing this song, about it, Rosa Parks, and the Little Rock Nine like events, which I had never heard before:

“Some young men in Carolina sat down at a counter and asked for something to eat
Cause they had a dream, yes they had a dream
And when no one served them, they just kept sitting, they never missed a beat
Cause they had a dream, yes they had a dream
They had a dream that all our children could live in harmony
And go to school together and work in the land of liberty”

It was actions such as the Greensboro sit-in, several retaliatory incidents of violence against blacks and of whites who supported them, capped by the peaceful August 1963 March on Washington, that prompted Congress to take action. From the Senate Judiariary committee webpage:

The House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation on October 26, 1963, and formally reported it to the full House on November 20, 1963, just two days before President Kennedy was assassinated. On November 27, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson asserted his commitment to President Kennedy’s legislative agenda, particularly civil rights legislation.

“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.”

The House of Representatives passed a final version of the Civil Rights Act on February 10, 1964…

After a 54-day filibuster of the legislation, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced a compromise bill. The legislation… was ultimately passed on June 19, 1964, by a vote of 73 to 27. On July 2, 1964, the House voted to adopt the Senate-passed legislation… President Johnson signed the bill into law that very afternoon. The Civil Rights Act paved the way for future anti-discrimination legislation, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Here’s another narrative from ten years ago. Check out Bryan Cranston on playing President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the play All the Way.

President Obama has been saluting the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and honoring LBJ for his work to make it so. There is no doubt that the Act irrevocably altered the American landscape, and for the better.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Yet the notion that we could, or should, as a nation, not only allow, but tacitly encourage, discrimination, based on sexual orientation, is quite troubling to me. That we should use religion as the basis of that discrimination is abhorrent to me.

Do we need another Greensboro sit-in, say in Mississippi, which passed a bill, signed by the governor, as onerous as the Arizona bill? Not advocating that (yet), but the thought DID cross my mind.

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