The Story: Civil Rights Movement

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We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights. We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings – not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skin. The reasons are deeply imbedded in history and tradition and the nature of man. We can understand – without rancor or hatred – how this all happened. But it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic, forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And the law I will sign tonight forbids it.

Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson - July 2, 1964

1963 March on Washington

President Kennedy’s reputation as a civil rights reformer seemed to increase following his assassination and left his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, with a pair of very large shoes to fill. With less than a year between his presidential appointment and the 1964 election, Johnson was remarkably successful in acquiring the popularity of his predecessor. He worked in full support of Kennedy’s civil rights bill. Combining his skills as a legislator and his understanding of southern politics, Johnson was able to push through legislation that might have otherwise failed.

Johnson’s Texan roots gave him an insider’s perspective on how to win southern acceptance of civil rights legislation. One way in which he put this perspective to use was by speaking to the South’s love of the Constitution. Traditionally, southern politicians limited their affections to the Tenth Amendment and its concern for states’ rights. However, President Johnson demanded that loyalty to the Constitution required that one acknowledge all of its parts, including those that protected social equality. Johnson understood, perhaps better than others, that if the South could be persuaded to view equality as a constitutional right, then an end to racial inequality would be made palatable.

On July 2, 1964 President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. The act opened public accommodations to all Americans and made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race or gender. Before putting pen to paper, President Johnson described the new law’s connection to the nation’s foundation.

Click HERE to learn more and watch a video about Pres. Johnson and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. BBC