Following a series of demonstrations and protests caused by the Civil Rights Movement between 1950s and 1960s, President John F. Kennedy proposed a bill in June 11, 1963, in the Report to the American People on Civil Rights. Through the report, President Kennedy proposed legislations that would allow all Americans to access equal rights such as open access to public facilities – hotels, theaters, retail stores, railway stations, and restaurants. Despite initial opposition in the Senate, the bill was finally signed into law on July 2, 1964, and abolished all forms of discrimination on the basis of color, religion, race, nationality or sex (Bourne 1198). The law has also prohibited the use of unequal voter registration rules, and outlawed segregation in schools and employment. The Civil Rights Act finally guaranteed government protection of people’s civil rights; increased the participation of people of color and women in employment, politics, and other socioeconomic activities; led to improved liberties and freedom in the United States; and enhanced political, economic, social and cultural equality and progress.
Pressure from the Civil Rights Movement and other civil society groups caused the government to initiate new laws that would improve the rights, liberties and freedoms of people of color. Specifically, the civil rights movement involved a countrywide mass protest against racial discrimination and discrimination, especially in southern states (Bourne 1202). The Movement originated from African slaves who resisted racial oppressions in the United States for centuries. Although African American and other slaves were given basic rights through the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. constitution after the Civil War, various racial groups continued to struggle for federal protection of such rights for several years. The Civil Rights Movement of 1950s and 1960s included nonviolent protests against racial segregations in public spaces (Bourne 1200). Despite the constitutional protection of individual rights, the U.S. had continued to institutionalize segregation in public places, and Blacks would not be allowed into hotels, transport facilities, and schools occupied by Whites.
The Civil Rights Act came to the House of Representatives as a bill in 1963, where it was discussed by the Judiciary Committee. The Committee improved the Act as initially constituted in the President’s report by adding sections that banned racial discrimination in work and employment, and giving Blacks more rights to vote, and added clauses to ban segregation in all publicly owned facilities (Grofman 23). The law also included the powers to the Attorney General to prosecute individuals who violate the new rules to increase protection of the civil rights. Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, the incoming President Lyndon Johnson argued that the passage of the bill was the greatest gift for Kennedy (Grofman 64). As a result, the dissenting opinion on the Civil Rights Act declined, leading to majority support in the Congress with a vote of 73-27 that passed the bill into law.
The initial stages of the Civil Rights Act were tumultuous because it was not enforced effectively. However, Congress and the Supreme Court exercised their legislative powers to enforce the law for several years through legislations and court rules respectively (Grofman 43). The legislation of the Civil Rights Act was a victory to the movement, not only because it enhanced civil rights reforms, but also because it gave hope to several Americans who had endured economic, cultural, and political consequences of racial oppression for centuries.
One of the greatest contributions of the Civil Rights Act until today is the promotion of women’s rights. Together with the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act prohibited sex discrimination in various economic and social aspects of life, including employment opportunities, politics and wages. Democrat Howard W. Smith introduced the provision of women rights to the Civil Rights Act, leading to the genuine inclusion of sex in protected civil rights for the first time (Guy and Fenley 48). The prohibition of sex discrimination in employment was opposed by several people. For instance, feminist Martha Griffiths argued that the amendment protected black women only, leaving out women in the protected civil rights. Griffiths also suggested that the new law would protect women from taking some “unpleasant jobs”, allowing men to dominate such jobs (Grofman 12). Nonetheless, the amendment to include sex in civil rights protection was passed with the support of Republicans and Southern Democrats.
Although the Act was originally intended to end discrimination against Black people, women benefited through the inclusion of sex discrimination in Title VII. According to Rosenberg (1148), the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex was a result of miscalculated move by those who opposed the civil rights bill. Howard Smith who introduced the prohibition was a strong opponent of the Civil Rights bill, and Rosenberg (1149) suggests that the legislator introduced the provision to make the bill look weak and not pass the house. Nonetheless, Smith made a strong statement that women deserved more dignity. Indeed, the Act has promoted women’s dignity in all aspects of life. Through the bill, women accessed equal rights with men, and prohibition of sex discrimination in employment became an important anti-discrimination law in the country.
The Civil Rights Act also led to the formation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce the provisions of Title VII. Apart from outlawing the discrimination based on sex, Title VII prohibited discrimination by schools, trade unions, and employers (Guy and Fenley 50). The Civil Rights Act established the EEOC to uphold equality of opportunity by enforcing the Act’s provisions against discrimination in employment, especially laws prohibiting employment on the basis of color, race, sex, disability, and national origin. Despite the great opposition of the inclusion of sex in the protected employment rights, the EEOC has evolved significantly to the modern era when the agency is significantly intolerant of discrimination against sex. In the early stages of the Civil Rights Act, the EEOC treated the prohibition of sex discrimination in employment as a joke; and as long as women did not protest, the federal government did not take any action against employment discrimination based on sex (Rosenberg 1149). Between 1965 and 1970, the Department of Justice did not file any law suit on sex discrimination. The Justice Department lawyer told the President’s task force on the status of women that the Justice Department responded only to social unrests, and because women failed to protest against any injustice, they seem not to be taking the employment discrimination seriously. However, women’s movement intensified in the years that followed.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) which was formed in 1966 hoped that the banning of sex discrimination in employment would end women’s discrimination, but the negative response to Title VII caused the group to react (Rosenberg 1152). The movement and other women’s groups pressurized lawyers and judges to address sex discrimination. The groups used mass demonstrations, lobbying, and protests to increase public debate on sex discrimination, leading to immediate response by the courts and the legislature. The Congress passed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution in 1972, and the Supreme Court reacted through various court cases. In General Electric Company v. Gilbert, the Supreme Court faced the question on whether the exclusion of coverage on pregnant women violated Title VII of the Act (Rosenberg 1152). The Court ruled that the exclusion did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. However, under recommendations from the court, the Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 to protect pregnant women. Pregnant women continue to benefit from the legal protection until today, and no employer is able to discriminate against pregnant women today. Thus, the Civil Rights Act set the pace for various court decisions and legislative developments that increased the liberties of women in all public places, especially in employment.
Apart from providing equal employment opportunities for women, the EEOC offered protection to labor unions, individuals and communities against any form of discrimination at the workplace. The EEOC investigates issues of discrimination on the bases outlined in the Civil Rights Act, and offers mediation between the employer and the employee (Guy and Fenley 47). If the arbitration efforts fail, EEOC files a law suit against the employer. Since the agency’s foundation in 1965 following the Civil Rights Act, it has evolved significantly, and currently covers educational and technical assistance programs to ensure that all members of society have access to enhance equal and non-discriminatory employment practices in all sectors of the economy.
The EEOC has played a significant role in the implementation of the Civil Rights Act. The agency addresses all issues of sexual harassment, violence, physical assault, unequal recruitment practices, favoritism, unequal pay, and unfair dismissal at the workplace (National Archives n.d.). Before the enactment of the Equal Employment Act of 1972, the EEOC received and investigated cases of employment discrimination without the power to effectuate change. In its early stages, the EEOC lacked proper structural mechanisms, with inadequate staffing and other administrative challenges. However, the organization is currently able to bring actions against employers who violate the Civil Rights Act and other related employment legislations. Brown (528) suggests that EEOC has investigated almost one million cases of employment discrimination within the past 10 years. Accordingly, the EEOC stops unfair and unequal employment practices, and promotes individual rights regardless of age, sex, race, nationality, or disability as envisioned in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Due to growing opportunities caused by the law, real wages of working class Black Americans increased sharply in the 1960s and 1970s (Bourne 1195). Thus, the Civil Rights Act improved the economic potential of minority racial groups.
The Civil Rights Act also led to the Affirmative Action which gave minority groups increased opportunities in business and employment. Following the enactment of the Act in 1964, President Johnson introduced policies to create opportunities for African Americans, including the allocation of federal contract funding to minority businesses (Van 988). Through his commencement address at the Howard University, President Johnson congratulated the University for creating opportunities for Black Americans to receive higher education (Brown 541). The President also commented that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the beginning of freedom for Blacks in America.
The affirmative action is based on the idea of paying for the consequences suffered by African Americans in centuries of suffering the atrocities of slavery and oppression under White supremacy. President Johnson suggested that the oppression of African Americans had caused significant scars that prevents Black people from competing fairly with other people in the country (Brown 541). Thus, the President introduced the affirmative action to increase funding for Black people and give them opportunities in business and employment. Rather than pursuing legal equality, the Civil Rights Act introduced human ability and opportunity; and equality as an end rather than a means. Through the Philadelphia Plan, the U.S. federal government’s contractors were required to award government contracts to companies that provided clear guidelines on how they will use the affirmative action to employ minority workers (Brown 542). Universities also provided open opportunities for minority students to acquire education through the affirmative action. For instance, the University of California changed its admissions process in 1971 by setting aside 16 out of 100 seats for minority students to in increase the number of minority students that receive education from the university.
Despite the initial steps taken through the Affirmative Action, several courts have made decisions that undermine the program. For instance, Justice O’Connor reviewed the admission process of Michigan University in 1999, and ruled that the school’s affirmative action program which awarded points to minority groups did not hold up to strict scrutiny. The judge of the court predicted that the protection of minority actions through the affirmative action would not be necessary after 25 years. Indeed, 25 years later the court ruled in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action that the ban on affirmative action by the Michigan State was constitutional. However, the dissent of Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg highlighted the significance and the history of the affirmative action (Farhang 15). Justice Sotomayor argued that racial discriminations are historic facts in the United States, but they still playing a significant role in present society. She also added that the affirmative action is one of the ways of achieving the dreams of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Furthermore, Brown (545) suggests that the Civil Rights Act has the potential of eliminating discrimination against race and sex.
The Civil Rights Act also played a vital role in promoting the U.S. political democracy by providing and protecting voting rights for all Americans. In Title I, the Act banned various techniques that were previously used to prevent the participation of minority groups in the voting process. Title I prohibited the use of inconsistent requirements, immaterial errors and omissions, and literacy tests to disenfranchise voters. John F. Kennedy introduced the Civil Rights bill with the suggestion that American people should be able to register and vote in free and fair elections regardless of their color (Landsberg 4). As a result of the expanded inclusion of people of color in the voting process, all racial groups had the opportunity to take part in the democratic process and elect leaders of their choice to represent their interests. In fact, the first African American president, Barack Obama, was elected as president of America in 2010. The elimination of racial discrimination in the voting process encouraged many people of color to gain political freedom and power to contribute to policy and decision making in America’s government.
Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not end voting disenfranchisement directly, it set the pace for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which protected the voting rights of all people of color (Hayter 511). The Southern electoral process was characterized by high disenfranchisement before the Civil Rights Act. Blacks were intentionally granted limited access to the political process, and Whites were overrepresented in the governing bodies of the Southern political systems. The voting process required voters to carry out literacy tests, pay poll taxes, and show their grandfather’s origin. Despite the efforts to prohibit these restrictions, the political processes in the South continued to exclude Blacks. For instance, only 7% of the voting-age Black population in Mississippi was registered to vote (Hayter 512). Approximately 27% of Black voters were registered in Georgia, and 19% were registered in Alabama in the same year. Nonetheless, Title I provided the basis for the protection of minority voters in the democratic process of voting, leading to increased participation of people of color in the voting process until today.
One of the key contributions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the increased participation of minority racial groups in public space. Discrimination and segregation of Black Americans was common in all public places before the Civil Rights Movement. Black Americans attended segregated schools and were not allowed in other public spaces such as hotels, public transport, and theaters where Whites attended. According to Hersch and Shinall (440), public accommodations is one of the aspects of the Civil Rights Act that has achieved the greatest success. In the present day, any American can access services from any hotel, theater, or public transport across the country without any segregation or discrimination.
Title II of the Act prohibited racial segregation in private facilities that offered interstate commerce and open public. On the other hand, Title III of the Act banned racial segregations in local and state facilities (Hersch and Shinall 440). Due to these prohibitions, the Act promoted increased public accommodation for African Americans and other minority racial groups. Swift implementations through Congress and the Supreme Court ensured that segregations in all public spaces were significantly reduced by 1965. Two hours after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, the owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel filed a legal suit to challenge the law (Tomaskovic-Devey 54). The Court later dismissed the case, arguing that the decision to desegregate interstate businesses was constitutional. Thus, the Civil Rights Act created an opportunity for people of color to enjoy freedom of movement and access to services in all public places without racial restrictions and discrimination.
Indeed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been significant in addressing the issues of equality, freedom, and liberty in the United Sates. Apart from ending the Civil Rights Movement, the Act allowed African Americans to participate in the voting rights, leading to increased protection of voting rights. The Act also promoted equality and fairness in employment, and reduced racial discrimination in employment practices in the United States. Furthermore, the Act has encouraged increased participation and public accommodation of Black Americans, reducing segregation to low levels and promoting the freedom and dignity of people of color. The law has also empowered women and gave them equal opportunities in employment, business and politics.
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