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

From the Archives: ADL & the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Part 2

Civil_rights_leaders_WH_meeting_22_June_1963

Abbie Rowe. White House Pho­tographs. John F. Kennedy Pres­i­den­tial Library and Museum, Boston Civil rights lead­ers pose with Attor­ney Gen­eral Robert F. Kennedy and Vice Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son at a meet­ing at the White House on 22 June 1963. ADL National Direc­tor Ben­jamin Epstein stands to the right of Rev. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. and Attor­ney Gen­eral Robert F. Kennedy

In Jan­u­ary 1964, two months after Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s death, ADL released its annual report on Con­gress and civil rights, declar­ing that because of Pres­i­dent Johnson’s “unmatched knowl­edge” of Con­gress, “it is now more pos­si­ble to pass” the Civil Rights Act that Pres­i­dent Kennedy had intro­duced in a tele­vised speech the pre­vi­ous year.

On Jan­u­ary 31 Sen­a­tor Edward M. Kennedy, in his first pub­lic appear­ance in New York since the death of his brother, addressed the 51st annual meet­ing of ADL. Sen­a­tor Kennedy told the audi­ence that the civil rights bill “will pass the House unweak­ened” and that only a fil­i­buster could stop a Sen­ate major­ity “ready and will­ing to vote for it.” Ten days later, the House passed the bill by a vote of 290 to 130 and sent it to the Sen­ate, where it met a filibuster.

Soon after the fil­i­buster began, Sen­a­tors Abra­ham Ribi­coff and Jacob Jav­its received ADL’s 1964 Human Rights Award. They spoke about the bill in their accep­tance speech dur­ing the April 9 cer­e­mony, express­ing con­cern about the “‘so-called white back­lash’ on civil rights in the North” and warn­ing that “pas­sage of the Civil Rights Bill would solve no prob­lems unless ‘the ulti­mate respon­si­bil­ity for civil rights’ is accepted by indi­vid­ual Americans.’”

In late April, ADL National Chair­man Dore Schary announced plans to con­vene a meet­ing of 120 Jew­ish busi­ness, pro­fes­sional, and civil lead­ers from all over the United States “to sound an alarm that time was run­ning out” and “to urge that the Bill then under debate be passed with­out weak­en­ing dele­tions and amend­ments.” Said Schary of the Wash­ing­ton, DC, event:

“This meet­ing in the nation’s cap­i­tal is an all-out effort by a group of lead­ing cit­i­zens to aid their coun­try in what they con­sider to be the most crit­i­cal moment in one of the gravest crises in the past cen­tury. They believe that if the Civil Rights Act is not passed soon, the nation faces dan­ger­ous dis­or­der in the com­ing sum­mer months.”

The group, com­prised of judges, munic­i­pal offi­cials, per­form­ers in the arts, finan­cial and indus­trial lead­ers from 30 states, first con­ferred with Admin­is­tra­tion and Sen­ate spokes­men, and then called or met with their home-state leg­is­la­tors. The group also vis­ited Arling­ton National Ceme­tery to “pay their respects to the mem­ory of Pres­i­dent Kennedy and leave a flo­ral spray at the graveside.”

ADL National Direc­tor Ben­jamin R. Epstein later recalled the meet­ing in Not the Work of a Day, not­ing its suc­cess: “[B]y jiminy, it worked, and it was because it was an intel­li­gent approach to lob­by­ing, a per­fectly legit­i­mate way of achiev­ing a pur­pose in a demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety.” Min­nesota Sen­a­tor Hubert Humphrey wrote to say: “I am for­ever grate­ful … for the ADL’s visit to Wash­ing­ton on behalf of the Civil Rights Bill. The busi­ness lead­ers who gave of their valu­able time … per­formed an indis­pen­si­ble ser­vice. I know from con­ver­sa­tions with many Sen­a­tors that their vis­its were truly effective.”

To be continued…