The Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the most comprehensive civil rights law Congress had ever enacted. It gave the federal government broad power to prevent discrimination in a number of areas. The law made segregation illegal in most places of public accommodation, and it gave citizens of all races and nationalities equal access to facilities such as restaurants, parks, libraries, and theaters. The law gave the attorney general more power to bring lawsuits to force school desegregation, and it required private employers to end discrimination in the workplace. It also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a permanent agency in the federal government; the commission monitors the ban on job discrimination by race, religion, gender, and national origin. In addition, the act barred unequal application of voter registration requirements, though they still had to take literacy tests. Before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, "Jim Crow" laws, or legalized racial segregation, characterized much of the South. In many states, Jim Crow laws relegated African Americans to the backs of buses and to separate drinking fountains, restrooms, and dining areas. The Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which held that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional, sparked the civil rights movement's push toward desegregation and equal rights. Harsh treatment of peaceful demonstrators throughout the South shocked the nation and led to civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960, but intense opposition in the Senate resulted in laws that, while important milestones, did not give the federal government a strong mandate to enforce its anti-discrimination provisions. After the Birmingham police reacted to a peaceful desegregation demonstration in May 1963 by using fire hoses and unleashing police dogs to break up thousands of demonstrators, President Kennedy introduced...
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