White Political Power and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

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Writing in 1963 James Baldwin declared, “America, of all the Western Nations, has been best placed to prove the uselessness and the obsolescence of the concept of color. But it has not dared to accept this opportunity, or even to conceive of it as an opportunity” (340). It would be James Baldwin’s vision that he would be able to walk into a restaurant or walk the streets of a city and not be called “boy”. This concept should have been achieved by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but through the eyes of many African Americans it wasn’t. The cultural movement during the 1960’s, the civil rights movement, and the changing views and opinions of many Americans brought about the legislative changes of the times, especially the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The white conservative government of the era operated at a sluggish pace on civil rights legislation leading to controversy and criticism. Along with the creeping pace of passing the legislation, the enforcement of the bill was too slow and ineffective for many African Americans, including Baldwin.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 resulted from one of the most litigious House and Senate debates in history. It contained some of the most controversial equal rights legislation since emancipation. The bill actually evolved from previous civil rights bills in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The bill passed through both houses finally on July 2, 1964 and was signed into law at 6:55 P.M. EST by President Lyndon Johnson. The act was originally drawn up in 1962 under President Kennedy before his assassination. President Johnson made a statement after the assassination on the civil rights bill, “Let us continue the ideas and the ideals which [Kennedy] so nobly represented m...

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