2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To commemorate that anniversary, The Missouri Bar Citizenship Education Program and the Missouri Press Association Newspaper in Education Program produced feature articles about the historic timeline of important civil rights advancements.
|In 1964, almost 100 years after the end of the Civil War and an end to slavery, African-Americans were still denied all the rights and privileges they were entitled to as American citizens. They were being denied their right to vote. In many public places, there were separate drinking fountains and separate restrooms for African-Americans. Many hotels, restaurants, and theaters had “Whites Only” signs posted. Educational and employment opportunities were not as good as they were for other people.
After several years of protests and demonstrations by African-Americans, our representatives in the United States Congress recognized that laws were needed to change this unfairness. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and on July 2, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law. Many historians write that this law was arguably the most important law passed in the 20th Century.The Civil Rights Act of 1964 accomplished the following:
Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed voting rights, it took another act by Congress to end discrimination in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
– See a timeline of civil rights advancements in Part 1
The most controversial part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was Title II, which bans racial discrimination in privately owned “public accommodations.” What does the phrase “public accommodations” mean and why was this section so controversial?
Public accommodations are places like hotels, theaters, restaurants and sports arenas that are open to do business with people who come into their places to eat, sleep, see a movie and watch a ballgame. In 1964, some of these businesses did not allow African-Americans to come into their places.
Congress could not rely on the 14th Amendment as a basis to stop discrimination in privately-owned public accommodations because the 14th Amendment only prohibits governments and other public entities like schools from discrimination. Instead, Congress relied on its power to make laws about interstate commerce — business between the states.
In the landmark cases of Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc. v. United States and Katzenbach v. McClung, the Supreme Court held that Congress could use the power granted to it by the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to require private businesses to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It said that any business that held itself out as accommodating the public was open for business from people from any state and, therefore, the business was engaged in interstate commerce.
This article is a great partnership of The Missouri Bar Citizen Education Program and the Missouri Press Association Newspaper in Education Feature.
- See the timeline of important civil rights advancements in Part 1.
- Constitution Day 2014 focused on the importance and impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Learn more in the lesson plan and other materials.
- Read about how St. Louis area high-schoolers celebrated Constitution Day 2014.
- Learn even more about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its impact 50 years later in this video programming from The Missouri Bar and Higher Education Channel’s 2014 Constitution Day programming.