The Senate’s most complete bill on civil rights was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several anti-racism and Jim Crow-era eradication elements were incorporated. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave blacks in the South the right to vote by prohibiting practices like voting laws and proficiency tests that amounted to de facto voting restrictions. This paper aims to examine the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in-depth, including the principal characters from both Acts and the factors leading up to their making.
Civil Rights Bill 1964
A turning point in American history occurred with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA) enactment. With its enactment, decades of entrenched prejudice in many facets of American life were suddenly and completely wiped out. Numerous factors, such as political shifts at the national and state levels and the impact of social movements, contributed to the enactment of the CRA (Hayter, 2018). Thus, the Act was a significant turning point that altered the course of American history. President John F. Kennedy’s initiative of the Civil Rights Act in 1963 immediately ignited fierce discussion in the United States. Johnson’s successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, successfully got a more robust version of the bill through Congress and enacted it into law on 2nd July 1964.
Presidential leadership was among the critical influence in enacting the Civil Rights Act in the U.S. With a new president in charge, 1964 was a watershed year in the nation’s political history. When Eisenhower was in office, he oversaw the passage of two prior civil rights bills in 1957 and 1960 (Hayter, 2018). President Eisenhower considered that some matters are not best addressed by repressive or obligatory Federal law, notwithstanding his strong support for civil rights (Hayter, 2018). In other words, he was open to supporting a civil rights law, but not if doing so would strain his ties with Southern Democrats. John F. Kennedy, Eisenhower’s successor, also campaigned on a sweeping civil rights legislation platform but, once in power, was unable to fully implement that platform out of fear of alienating the party’s Southern supporters.
After a slow start, the bill began to acquire steam in the second half of 1963, thanks to several hopeful and significant tragic events. On August 28, 1963, the historic March on Washington took place in the area around the Lincoln Memorial (Hayter, 2018). After the rally, President Kennedy met with civil rights activists and the King to discuss the legislation. As a result of these developments, support for the bill has grown among some lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee. Disappointment rippled through the movement for civil rights and beyond in the wake of this historic event. On 15th September 1963, The Ku Klux Klan exploded the 16th Street Baptist Church, a church serving African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four teenage girls and injuring twenty-two more (Hayter, 2018). Several members of the House Judiciary Committee were moved to action by this incident. As a result, Title VII, the most prominent part of the Civil Rights Act, was added.
President John F. Kennedy sponsored the original civil rights act that he had to overcome significant internal and external conflicts to pass this law. He felt for the African-American people whose spectacular protests highlighted the disparity between American ideals and realities (Shannon & Hunter Jr, 2020). As far as Kennedy was concerned, black people did indeed deserve the complete equality they were asking for. He was also aware that racial prejudice in the United States, especially extreme acts of terror committed in public against minorities, was a source of international embarrassment for the United States (Hayter, 2018). Furthermore, his civil rights legislation garnered significant support from liberals and moderates in the North and millions of African-American voters in places that allowed them to vote without trouble or harassment (Shannon & Hunter Jr, 2020). Nonetheless, Kennedy was concerned about alienating white Southern Democrats, who remained the region’s most powerful political bloc at the time. Reluctantly at first but then publicly confessing to civil rights groups that street protests had driven him to do so, a president facing heavy resistance from the South offered robust civil rights legislation to Congress.
The political climate surrounding the upcoming civil rights bill shifted with Kennedy’s assassination. After Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson took office as president and immediately ramped up efforts to pass sweeping civil rights legislation. Despite his upbringing in the South, he came to respect and admire the civil rights movement’s brave African American participants. When it came to fighting for minority rights, his dedication rivaled that of even John F. Kennedy. President Johnson employed a second crucial tactic to get the civil rights law through Congress (Hayter, 2018). He capitalized on the outpouring of grief and sorrow felt by the country after Kennedy’s assassination. In public and private, he advocated for adopting the Civil Rights Act to honor the memory of the murdered president (Hayter, 2018). He rallied support for the civil rights act by lobbying religious leaders around the country to utilize their influence in favor of the legislation.
Johnson’s political savvy and persistence were successful, and he endorsed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on 2nd July 1964. Distinguished attendees included civil rights activists like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Public accommodations, including hotels, schools, and restaurants, were all covered by this law’s anti-discrimination provisions (Shannon & Hunter Jr, 2020). One of the critical goals of the historic March on Washington in 1963 was realized by this landmark act, which ensured equal employment opportunities for all (Shannon & Hunter Jr, 2020). Sit-ins and other forms of civil rights activism forced many large businesses in the South to desegregate (Shannon & Hunter Jr, 2020). However, these political and social changes were further protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
There was a strong reaction from white supremacist groups, who were against the legislation in the form of demonstrations, significant support for pro-segregation individuals for public office, and even some acts of racial violence (Shannon & Hunter Jr, 2020). In the landmark case Heart of Atlanta Motel versus the U.S., the validity of the legislation was challenged and ultimately maintained by the Supreme Court (1964). This bill authorized federal agencies to take action against discrimination based on race in areas like hiring, voting, and access to public accommodations. To avoid desegregation and to admit black patrons, some public establishments tried to pass themselves off as exclusive private establishments. The Supreme Court’s ruling confirmed the legality of the Civil Rights Act’s equal opportunities requirements.
Voting Rights Act 1965
After the constitutional Amendment was enacted, President Johnson enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law to ensure that Black Americans did not suffer prejudice in the voting process. The Voting Rights Act is among the most consequential laws ever enacted by the United States Congress regarding its effect on civil rights. Proficiency tests were outlawed, federal inspectors were required in areas where less than 50 percent of the quasi-people were eligible to vote, and the U.S. attorney general was given the authority to investigate the use of voting restrictions in state and local elections (Facchini et al., 2020). When the 24th Amendment was endorsed in 1964, it explicitly banned the use of voting laws in general elections. The following year, the Supreme Court banned them from use in state elections.
Three marches, known collectively as the Selma Marches, took place in 1965 between the Alabama cities of Selma and Montgomery, greatly influencing the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. The focus of these demonstrations was to express discontent with the Jim Crow South’s legal and institutionalized discrimination against African Americans and their efforts to enjoy their right to vote (Facchini et al., 2020). The marches were a watershed moment in the fight for civil rights. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was presented to Senate on 17th March 1965 as a direct result of the influence of the Selma marches.
The Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) worked in the 1950s and 1960s to register black voters in defiance of laws that prevented them from engaging in politics by denying them the right to vote. The White Citizens’ Council, the Ku Klux Klan, and state and local leaders fought against them (Schuit & Rogowski, 2017). The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and James Forman mobilized around 300 African-Americans in Dallas County on October 7, 1963, to visit the Selma, Alabama, voter registration Centre (Schuit & Rogowski, 2017). They queued all day, but only a handful was permitted to complete our applications, and those were all rejected by white administrators.
Local activists redoubled their efforts in fighting for voting rights after listening to Dr. King Jr.’s speech at Brown Chapel AME Church on January 2, 1965. In Selma, protests, and efforts to register new voters resumed. The national spotlight was shone on Selma after Dr. King’s imprisonment on February 1(Emmons, 2018). Protests and sit-ins continued in cities across the country on the same day to show solidarity with the Selma voting rights struggle. In a public statement on February 4th, President Lyndon B. Johnson voiced his full backing for the effort. Dr. King, members of Congress, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) members frequently convened at the residence of Richie Jean Jackson in Selma to plan how best to ensure that African Americans could enjoy their right to vote (Emmons, 2018). Local activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered on February 24 after being brutally assaulted by police on February 18 and assassinated by an Alabama cop on February 24 (Emmons, 2018). The assassination of Jackson spurred increased local activity, and the marches from Selma to Montgomery were organized.
Black Americans in the South had their voting rights strengthened by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Still, these protections were insufficient to stop governments and poll workers from engaging in tactics that effectively denied blacks the vote. Furthermore, civil rights campaigners encountered intense opposition and animosity from Southern white segregationists, who were anchored in leadership positions, when they attempted to promote black voter registration (Schuit & Rogowski, 2017). The issue of voting rights became more prominent in 1964 after a sequence of serene rallies organized by Civil Rights activists were met with a lot of violence (Schuit & Rogowski, 2017). The mass killings of voting rights activists in Mississippi and the strike by white Alabama county police on peaceful protest marchers in Selma, Alabama, were widely covered by the media and eventually led President Johnson and the Senate to pass sweeping voting rights bill at the federal government threshold (Schuit & Rogowski, 2017). Congress passed the Voting Rights Act on August 5, 1965, because people were upset about the violence, and Johnson was a good politician.
In response to the brutal attacks on civil rights workers after adopting the Civil Rights Act, some black activists doubted the efficacy of peaceful, integrationist techniques and shifted toward a more radical stance. Six hundred protesters left Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, and marched peacefully to Montgomery to demonstrate against the ongoing suppression of civil rights for African Americans (Emmons, 2018). After crossing the Alabama River on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, hundreds of law enforcement officers opened fire on the protesters with electric cattle prods, nightsticks, and tear gas (Emmons, 2018). Reports of “Bloody Sunday,” as the media named the tragedy, were carried nationally on television and featured prominently in newspapers and magazines, shocking and scaring readers across the United States (Emmons, 2018). After Bloody Sunday, civil rights activists flocked to Selma to rally in support of the marchers and to urge government intervention (Emmons, 2018). President Johnson did not take long to conclude that more civil rights legislation was required.
In conclusion, the civil rights organizations fought hard for what grew into the Voting Rights Act since the Civil Rights Act accomplished very little to combat the widespread discrimination against voting rights. On 6th August 1965, the Voting Rights Act was enacted into law, outlawing literacy tests and other measures intended to suppress the votes of African Americans. Therefore, the Act became a major milestone for civil rights unions across America.
Emmons, C. S. (2018). Selma’s bloody Sunday: Protest, voting rights, and the struggle for racial equality by Robert A. Pratt. Journal of Southern History, 84(2), 517-518.
Facchini, G., Knight, B. G., & Testa, C. (2020). The franchise, policing, and race: Evidence from arrests data and the Voting Rights Act (No. w27463). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Hayter, J. M. (2018). To end divisions: Reflections on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In Reconstruction and the Arc of Racial (in) Justice (pp. 130-142). Edward Elgar Publishing.
Schuit, S., & Rogowski, J. C. (2017). Race, representation, and the voting rights act. American Journal of Political Science, 61(3), 513-526.
Shannon, J. H., & Hunter Jr, R. J. (2020). The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Beyond race to employment discrimination based on sex: The three-letter word that has continued to vex society and the United States Supreme Court. Journal of Social and Political Sciences, 3(3).