From the Archives: ADL & the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Part 1 » ADL Blogs
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July 2, 2014 0

From the Archives: ADL & the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Part 1

News­pa­pers head­lined accu­sa­tions of police bru­tal­ity. Steel hel­mets became stan­dard daily equip­ment for police­men in a grow­ing net­work of cities besieged by riots … This was the long, hot sum­mer civil rights experts had warned against – a long, hot sum­mer that threat­ened to become the Amer­i­can year-round cli­mate. – ADL Bul­letin, Octo­ber 1964

President_Kennedy_addresses_nation_on_Civil_Rights,_11_June_1963

Pres­i­dent Kennedy addresses the nation on civil rights, June 11, 1963

It was in the midst of this “long, hot sum­mer” that Con­gress passed and Pres­i­dent John­son signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a sweep­ing bill that pro­hib­ited seg­re­ga­tion in pub­lic places and required deseg­re­ga­tion of pub­lic schools. A tumul­tuous period of debate and fil­i­buster in Con­gress was the last hur­dle in the long and ardu­ous process that pre­ceded its passage.

Com­mit­ted to fight­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion since its found­ing, ADL had sup­ported Con­gress’ pas­sage of the first fed­eral civil rights leg­is­la­tion in over eighty years, the Civil Rights Act of 1957. As plans for a new bill began to take shape, ADL joined a coali­tion of civil rights and reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions that fer­vently lob­bied leg­is­la­tors to pass it.

On June 11, 1963, just two months after not­ing ADL’s “tire­less pur­suit of equal­ity of treat­ment for all Amer­i­cans” dur­ing his address at ADL’s 50th annual meet­ing, Pres­i­dent Kennedy addressed the day’s events, which included a dra­matic stand­off with Alabama Gov­er­nor George Wal­lace, and intro­duced the Civil Rights Act in a tele­vised speech. In a last ditch effort to pre­vent the deseg­re­ga­tion of the Uni­ver­sity of Alabama, Gov­er­nor Wal­lace placed him­self in the door of Fos­ter Audi­to­rium to block the enroll­ment of two African Amer­i­can stu­dents, Vivian Mal­one and James Hood. Gov­er­nor Wal­lace relented after a pres­i­den­tial procla­ma­tion com­manded him and any­one else “engaged in unlaw­ful obstruc­tions of jus­tice” to step aside, and Mal­one and Hood suc­cess­fully enrolled in the sum­mer session.

Over the course of that year Amer­i­cans wit­nessed increas­ing momen­tum in the civil rights move­ment and blood shed, includ­ing the assas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Kennedy in November.

To be continued…