Civil Rights Act of 1964

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Civil Rights Act of 1964

By the summer of 1963, after a series of violent demonstrations in the South, particularly in Birmingham, Alabama, President Kennedy pushed for a very strong civil rights bill through Congress. The first of its kind since the Civil War, this bill drastically called for the end of all segregation in all public places. In the eyes of the civil rights movement leaders, this bill was long over due. Kennedy began by sending the United States Congress a "Special Message on Civil Rights," stating, "Our Constitution is color blind, but the practices of the country do not always conform to the principles of the Constitution. Equality before the law has not always meant equal treatment and opportunity. The harmful, wasteful and wrongful results of racial discrimination and segregation still appear in virtually every aspect of national life, in virtually every part of the nation". Kennedy received praise for his strong and moving words yet was criticized for his weak legislative proposals to remedy the situation. Dr. Martin Luther King began massive protests in the street of Birmingham. To combat these protests, Police Commissioner Bull Conner used any means, including dogs, fire hoses, and electric cattle-prods on the protestors. Making newspapers and television everywhere, the Birmingham atrocity along with Dr. Martin Luther King's famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, ignited the moral conscious of Americans nationwide. While Conner earned a negative reputation, President Kennedy wisely commented, "Bull Connor has done more for civil rights than anyone else. The civil rights movement should thank God for him. He has helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln". The apparent Birmingham defeat for Dr. Martin Luther King in reality was the key point in which the battle to win civil rights became a national fight with the President as one of its strongest allies. Before the Birmingham situation, Kennedy kept a fragile balance with the civil rights activists and the Southern Democrats. While in office, Congress consisted of a great number of Southern Democrats with some liberal Northerners. Kennedy needed the support of these Southern Democrats. To add to this complicated situation, Kennedy knew that while the Southern Democrats would not support civil rights proposals directly, his economic plans, including aid to education and raising the minimum wage, if approved, would benefit the black population. Kennedy also needed the Southern Democrats support in the upcoming 1964 presidential election to secure re-election. Any aggravation to this party would only guarantee a loss for Kennedy. Motivated by the Birmingham situation, by the summer of 1963 Kennedy could no longer appease the Southern Democrats by ignoring the civil rights legislation. Despite the fact that his actions could endanger his chances for re-election, he saw beyond politics and into the moral issues. With public support, Kennedy was willing to wage in the political war. Kennedy and Johnson both were very aware of the walls that Congress would build to stop any proposals in favor of the civil rights movement. Together Kennedy, Johnson, and the civil rights leaders combined efforts to achieve results. By May 31, 1963, Kennedy announced his plans for the civil rights movements to the public. First hand attempts to maintain segregation by the outspoken racist Governor George Wallace of Alabama provided Kennedy with the ideal timing to deliver his message. Before even outlining the details of his new proposal he told the nation, "100 years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free, and this nation, for all it hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizen are free. Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race...
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