On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. This legislation, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ended segregation and unequal voter registration requirements. It also prohibited employment-based discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.1 This legislation would be passed a few weeks before Emmett Till‘s birthday.
The act rectified a systematic circumvention of the post-Civil War constitutional amendments intended to protect recently emancipated African Americans. The Civil Rights Cases of 1883 ruled that the provisions of the 13th and 14th amendments only protected citizens from actions by State Governments, not individuals.2 This meant that States and juries would neither convict nor punish Whites for the beatings, murders, and lynchings that they enacted on African Americans across the country.3 In 1896, Plessy V. Ferguson upheld racial segregation in the South with the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public spaces and facilities, notably schools.4
Proponents of segregation and Jim Crow became increasingly focused on States’ rights with the realization that it would take the federal legislation, and shutting down the Senate filibuster, to pass legal protections for African Americans.5 Look at these timelines to learn more about how the NAACP, Civil Rights Movement leaders, and many individuals protested, litigated, and fought against these obstacles.6 This NPR interview with Todd Purdum about his book, An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, And The Battle For The Civil Rights Act Of 1964, reveals the legislative obstacles and paths to passing the Civil Rights Act.7
This Summer at the Claude Pepper Library with the Digital Library Center, we have been identifying, digitizing and describing records from Florida Political Collections related to the Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights Acts for the Digital Library. From the Claude Pepper Papers, there is a body of correspondence from Americans opposing and supporting Representative Pepper’s favorable vote on the legislation. From the Thomas LeRoy Collins Papers, we have included reviews and case files concerning trials involving Walter Irvin and Charles Greenlee from the Groveland Four.8 From the Justice Glenn Terrell Papers, there is a legal opinion on the case State of Florida ex rel. Virgil D. Hawkins V. Board of Control and a body of pamphlets on segregation.9 Finally, we included Equal Rights Amendment ephemera from the National Organization for Women, Tallahassee Chapter Records.
At the moment, these items are still in process but you can expect to see them online soon. In the meantime, browse the Civil and Human Rights Materials Collection in the Digital Library where they will be in the future alongside items from the Emmett Till Archives.
- “Legal Highlight: The Civil Rights Act of 1964,” United States Department of Labor, accessed July 21, 2021, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/oasam/civil-rights-center/statutes/civil-rights-act-of-1964.
- Robert D Loevy, The Civil Rights Act Of 1964 The Passage Of The Law That Ended Racial Segregation (Albany: State University Of New York Press, 1997), 6-7.
- Ibid, 7.
- Ibid, 9.
- Ibid, 10.
- “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom Timelines,” Timelines – The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom | Exhibitions – Library of Congress, October 10, 2014, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/civil-rights-act/timelines.html. These timelines are not perfect and are intended to illustrate the broad strokes of the Civil Rights Movement.
- https://www.npr.org/2015/02/16/385756875/the-politics-of-passing-1964s-civil-rights-act; Todd Purdum, An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, And The Battle For The Civil Rights Act Of 1964 (London: Picador, 2015).
- For a detailed investigation into the Groveland Four and legal trials, see Gilbert King, The Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (New York: Harper University Press, 2012).
- An examination of this case can be found in Darryl Paulson and Paul Hawkes, “Desegregating The University Of Florida Law School: Virgil Hawkins V. The Florida Board Of Control,” Florida State University Law Review 12, No. 1 (1984): 59-72.