94It was during the debate that Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina held the floor for more than 24 hours in a personal filibuster against the bill. Mann, When Freedom Would Triumph: 40–60. For more on the act, as well as its legal and social legacy, see Gilbert Paul Carrasco, “Civil Rights Act of 1957,” in Major Acts of Congress, Volume 1, Brian K. Landsberg, ed. (New York: Thompson-Gale, 2004): 104–109. For more on Johnson’s role in brokering the 1957 act, consult Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate (New York: Knopf, 2002).
98For a concise overview of the bill and its legal and social significance, see Melanie B. Abbott, “Civil Rights Act of 1964,” in Major Acts of Congress, Volume 1: 109–115.
Little more than a year after President John F. Kennedy's June 11, 1963, call for legislation to end discrimination in many areas of the law, including voting rights, public accommodations, and federally assisted programs, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964. Among those attending were Roy Wilkins, NAACP; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., SCLC.
In the largest protest in the nation's history up to that time, more than 250,000 marchers gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, to demand legislation ending discrimination in education, housing, employment, and the courts. Initiated by A. Philip Randolph, international president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council, and vice president of the AFL-CIO, the march also received leadership support from the heads of the five leading civil rights organizations: Roy Wilkins (1901–1981) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Whitney Young, the National Urban League; James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), who was imprisoned in Louisiana and represented at the march by Floyd McKissick; Martin Luther King Jr. the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); John Lewis, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and Bayard Rustin, who organized the first freedom rides in 1947. The final speaker, Martin Luther King Jr., exhilarated the crowd with his "I Have a Dream" speech.
NAACP Mississippi first field secretary Medgar Evers (1925–1963) was assassinated on June 12, 1963. The tragedy occurred the day after President John Kennedy asked Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the following year.
The link between race and class, however, could not be severed, especially during a Vietnam War that sent largely poor people of color to its bloody front lines. Even Martin Luther King began to see the links between unfettered funding for the war machine and the sea of poverty washing over America's domestic landscape. These insights set the stage for King's infamous "Time to Break Silence" speech of 1967 and his bridging of the gap between civil rights and economic justice.
History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Historian, Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008. “The Civil Rights Movement And The Second Reconstruction, 1945—1968,” (December 06, 2017)
Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, fought hard to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was the most far-reaching and comprehensive civil rights legislation Congress had ever passed. It banned discrimination in public accommodations and the workplace but did not address police brutality or racist voting tests. To fight against black voter discrimination, the SCLC organized a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The six hundred protestors reached the Pettus Bridge but were pushed back by police violence and tear gas. The attack was dubbed Bloody Sunday. President Johnson was ultimately forced into action, calling on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The day after W. E. B. Du Bois died in Ghana, 250,000 people descended on the nation's capital, where King's "I Have a Dream" speech took on mythic proportions. Not a month later, white supremacists bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, leaving four little girls dead. Central Intelligence Agency director J. Edgar Hoover identified the attackers but disliked the Civil Rights movement, so he did nothing.
James Meredith defiantly enrolled at the University of Mississippi in 1962, provoking a vital power struggle between states rights and federal power. Governor Ross Barnett flaunted the dictates of federal law until President Kennedy was pushed to mount a federal military occupation of 31,000 troops to enforce the law. The movement pushed forward and began to focus on the important terrain of voter registration in 1961 and 1962. Harvard graduate student Robert Moses, local volunteer Henry Lee, executive director of the Mississippi NAACP, local activist Fannie Lou Hamer, and Medgar Evers, who pushed to enroll Meredith at the university and investigated the death of Till, played significant roles in voter registration. For their efforts both Lee and Evers were murdered and Hammer and her husband were beaten and lost their jobs, but a voting campaign had been established.
The early 1960s saw civil rights veterans and union organizers joining students to both train people in the discipline of nonviolence and reproduce sit-ins across the country. Under the inspiration of Ella Baker, the SCLC sponsored the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1961 members of SNCC and CORE joined forces to reignite Freedom Rides in the South as a way to test the 1955 Browder decision that officially outlawed segregated interstate transportation. Students faced an overwhelming flourish of violent attacks by whites. Activists were beaten, riders were caught in burning buses, and it was all broadcast across the world. Freedom Riders had achieved success, but white resistance was resilient.
Collier-Thomas, Bettye, and V. P. Franklin, eds. Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement. New York: New York University Press, 2001.