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The civil rights act of 1964 deeply affected the American society. These laws made sure that there were constitutional rights for African Americans and other minorities. Although these rights were first written in the U.S. Constitution immediately after the Civil War, they had never been enforced. It was only violence, years of highly publicized civil rights demonstrations, and marches that the political leaders acted to enforce these rights across America.
President John F. Kennedy proposed the initial civil rights act. Kennedy faced great personal and political conflicts over this legislation. Kennedy understood that black people deserved the full equality they were demanding. He also knew that racial discrimination in the United States, including public displays of violence and terror against racial minorities, embarrassed the American society as a whole. Moreover, his civil rights legislation generated support among Northern liberals and moderates as well as millions of African-American voters in states where they could vote without difficulty or intimidation. Although Kennedy worried about losing the support of white Southern Democrats, he still maintained political force in that region. Facing a strong Southern opposition, he finally proposed strong civil rights legislation to Congress.
The civil rights laws represent a national commitment to end discrimination in education. The laws mandate bringing the formerly excluded into the mainstream of American education. And these laws also are designed to help deliver the promise that every individual has the right to develop his or her talents to the fullest.
The federal civil rights laws have helped bring about great changes in American education and improved the educational opportunities of millions of students. Many barriers that once prevented minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, and older persons from freely choosing the educational opportunities and careers they would like to pursue have been eliminated.
Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, changed the political dynamics of the civil rights legislation. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded Kennedy and intensified the campaign for a civil rights bill. Although he was Southern politician, he had developed compassion for the struggles of African Americans during the civil rights movement. His personal commitment to ensuring full equality for minority citizens, in fact, surpassed Kennedy’s. President Johnson used key strategy to pass the civil rights bill. He took advantage of the national sympathy and mourning surrounding Kennedy’s tragic death. In public speeches and private talks, he urged passage of the civil rights act as a lasting legacy to the former president. Building public support, he urged religious leaders throughout the nation to use their influence on behalf of the civil rights act.
The actual battle in Congress took all of Johnson’s political skills. The filibuster lasted 83 days, the longest in Senate history. But Johnson managed to get the votes to end it. He worked the telephones himself and lobbied personally, “twisting arms” of legislators still unsure of how to vote. Enlisting White House aides, civil rights and labor leaders, and key congressional civil rights advocates, he pulled out all the stops to gain a legislative victory.
Johnson’s persistence and political talents succeeded. On July 2, 1964, he formally signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, using 72 ceremonial pens. Many dignitaries, including Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and several other national civil rights figures, attended the ceremony. This law banned racial discrimination in several areas, including hotels, restaurants, education, and other public accommodations. This landmark act also guaranteed equal job opportunities, fulfilling one major objective of the historic 1963 March on Washington. Many larger Southern businesses had already desegregated in response to sit-ins and other civil rights protests. But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 added important legal protections to these political and social developments.
Almost immediately, the new civil rights law came under legal challenge. The owner of an Atlanta motel argued that Congress did not have the authority under the U.S. Constitution to ban segregation in public accommodations. This 216-room establishment, which served an interstate clientele, had long refused to rent rooms to African Americans. When Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States reached the Supreme Court, the court rejected the owner’s argument. It ruled that the commerce clause of the Constitution authorized Congress to enact this type of legislation. Civil rights advocates had achieved their most significant legal victory since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision banning school segregation.

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