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A Piece of Justice - Civil Rights

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I. Historical Background

a. United States Constitution

b. Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments

c. Legislative Modifications

II. Supreme Court's 1954 decision

a. Brown v. Board of Education

b. Timeline of cases

c. Decisions and impact

III. Political factors

a. Kennedy's input

b. Debate, filibusters, and pressures

c. Final signing

IV. Generational and personal experiences

a. South Texas discrimination

b. Changes--slow in coming

c. An opinion

V. Ultimate results

Civil Rights . . . A Piece of Justice

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 supposedly "was a landmark in legislative attempts to improve the quality of life for African Americans and other minority groups." (Dirksen, 2006, p. 2) This presentation will provide the reader the more important issues and historical impact of this legislation. I will further entice the reader with first-hand civil rights abuse as lived by my own mother. South Texas, of course, dealt with the Americans of Mexican descent. Their struggles were not as prominent to the public in general. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 can arguably simply be a new law. Did its inception truly make an impact on our country? I believe that history dictates that the passage of time has brought about positive changes. Because the fact that a law is enacted does not mean that we can see immediate change.

The story of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is imbedded with much historical interest. The presentation of the law called for collective action in dealing with race, racial segregation and discrimination. (O'Connor, 2008, p. 213) This act literally became part of our nation's heritage. There were two perspectives to civil rights. Civil liberties were mainly centrally focused on protecting freedom of expression against censorship. Whether the government can interfere with speech to protect sensibilities, emotional tranquility, or self-esteem is strongly disfavored. In contrast, "the civil-rights approach, with its roots in anti-discrimination law and social policy, is centrally concerned with injuries of stigma and humiliation to those who are the victims of discrimination--conduct generating 'feelings of inferiority' that damage 'hearts and minds,' in the language of the most famous American civil rights case. [Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 494 (1954)] The point is not so much to protect a sphere of autonomy or personal security from intrusion as to protect potentially marginal members of the community from exclusion--from relegation, that is, to the status of second-class citizens." (Grey, 1992, p. 486)

Upon examination one can further understand the climate of opinion regarding African American rights; however, because this law did not resolve all issues in the political and social scene. It did further our progress by lessening racial restrictions, more job opportunities, empowering our voting laws, and limiting federal monies to any discriminatory aid programs. (Dirksen, 2006, p. 2) Guaranteed under the United States Constitution, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were enacted after the United States Civil War. Post 1865, these Reconstruction Amendments outlawed slavery, former slaves were endowed citizenship and legal rights, and gave former male slaves the right to vote. Of these three amendments, most important for school desegregation was the Fourteenth Amendment. It not only granted slaves citizenship, the Bill of Rights could be applied to State Action. It allowed for expansion of due process above and beyond that found in the earlier Fifth Amendment. Congress, in turn, possessed the power to reduce the number of Representatives if a state was found to be disfranchising Blacks. (Brown, 2004, p. 187) "However, Congress never attempted to use its power to reduce the number of Representatives in Congress for such an offense, and it did not provide for strong enforcement of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment until the 1964 Civil Rights Act to reverse negative decisions by the Supreme Court." (Brown, 2004, p. 187)

Between 1866 through 1875, Congress enacted five pieces of legislation which were geared toward enacting the spirit of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. Further legislative changes and judicial decisions by the United States Supreme Court severely restricted a method to application of the civil rights measures by the early twentieth century. After 1900, the federal government did little to enforce civil rights. At this time, there existed an opinion that did not favor comprehensive legislative action by Congress. Then we experienced an increasing disregard for the rights of African Americans. (Dirksen, 2006, p. 2)

In 1945, the call for civil rights legislation reached historical momentum. Two main influences for this were due to blacks migrating to the north and their World War II experiences. "In 1945, 1947, and 1949, the House of Representatives voted to abolish the poll tax restricting the right to vote. Although the Senate did not join in this effort, the bills signaled a growing interest in protecting civil rights through federal action. The executive branch of government, by Presidential order, likewise became active by ending discrimination in the nation's military forces and in federal employment and work done under government contract." (Dirksen, 2006, p. 2) More historical pressure for dramatic legislation came in the 1950s when the Supreme Court joined civil rights forces. It took its most memorable, and historical stance, when in 1954, it agreed to hear a case of racial segregation in public schools.

"In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), the United States Supreme Court declared that state-imposed racially segregated public elementary and secondary education was unconstitutional." (Brown, 2004, p. 182) This infamous decision recognized that education is an important function of both state and local governments. It declared that segregation negated equal educational opportunities of minority



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