Civil Rights Act of 1964

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The Civil Rights bill was brought before Congress in 1963. In a televised speech, President John F. Kennedy pointed out that: "The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day; one third as much chance of completing college; one third as much chance of becoming a professional man; twice as much chance of becoming unemployed; about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year; a life expectancy which is seven years shorter; and the prospects of earning only half as much."

Kennedy's Civil Rights bill was still being debated by Congress when he was assassinated in November, 1963. The new president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had a poor record on civil rights issues, took up the cause. Using his influence in Congress, Johnson was able to get the legislation passed.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act made racial discrimination in public places, such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, illegal. It also required employers to provide equal employment opportunities. Projects involving federal funds could now be cut off if there was evidence of discriminated based on colour, race or national origin.

The Civil Rights Act also attempted to deal with the problem of African Americans being denied the vote in the Deep South. The legislation stated that uniform standards must prevail for establishing the right to vote. Schooling to sixth grade constituted legal proof of literacy and the attorney general was given power to initiate legal action in any area where he found a pattern of resistance to the law.

The provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race in hiring, promoting, and firing. The word "sex" was apparently added at the last moment. Many have suggested that Representative Howard W. Smith (D-VA), a conservative Southern opponent of federal civil rights, added the word in an attempt to kill the entire bill. Smith, however, argued that he had amended the bill in keeping with his support of Alice Paul and the National Women's Party with whom he had been working. Martha W. Griffiths (D-MI) led the effort to keep the word "sex" in the bill. In the final legislation, Section 703 (a) made it unlawful for an employer to "fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges or employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." The final bill also allowed sex to be a consideration when sex is a bona fide occupational qualification for the job.

Title VII of the act created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to implement the law.


For the entire text of the Act: text

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Major Features of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

           (Public Law 88-352)               

'Title I'

Barred unequal application of voter registration requirements, but did not abolish literacy tests sometimes used to disqualify African Americans and poor white voters.

'Title II'

Outlawed discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce; exempted private clubs without defining "private," thereby allowing a loophole.

'Title III'

Encouraged the desegregation of public schools and authorized the U. S. Attorney General to file suits to force desegregation, but did not authorize busing as a means to overcome segregation based on residence.

'Title IV'

Authorized but did not require withdrawal of federal funds from programs which practiced discrimination.

'Title V'

Outlawed discrimination in employment in any business exceeding twenty five people and creates an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to review complaints, although it lacked meaningful enforcement powers.

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