The civil rights act of 1964 was mentioned by John F. Kennedy in 1964 and passed into law, the same year. It dealt mainly with freedom and right of association, of all races more specifically the African Americans although within it there were clauses that dealt with discrimination due to sex. It had regulations concerning the unequal application of voter requirements, discrimination due to race, access to public facilities like schools, places of work, restaurants, and clubs, although it still allowed private clubs to restrict access.
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The passage of this act had far-reaching consequences and changed the lives of many. It is for this reason that I decided to interview a few to establish just how much it changed their lives.
The first person I interviewed was Albert, a 57-year-old African American, who is currently retired but used to work for a sales company, in California. Albert was just a thirteen year old when the act was passed but says there are two names he will never forget, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the African American heroes of the 1960s, he says that if today’s leaders were even half as brave as the two were America would indeed be a model of an ideal society.
He sits back and quite pensively looks on when I ask him what it was like before the passage of this act, horrible, he says, after about a minute of reflection, you can see the pain in his eyes while he talks about the occurrences of almost five decades ago. He says he was teased and bullied a lot at school, but that, that was nothing compared to how much his father was mistreated by his boss simply because he was a black man. Live was tough back then and if my father were to resurrect today and see America as it is today he would die again of a heart attack, that is how much the act changed the lives of Americans he sums it up in a few words.
The second person I spoke to was Magdalene an 82-year-old grandmother of six and mother of four, although only two sons are currently alive. Magdalene is white, and although you would expect that she would not have experienced any form of trouble, that is far from the truth. Her husband now deceased had employed quite a several African Americans to help with work on their farm, but the bone of contention between them and their white neighbors was how they treated their employees.
In those days she says, a white man and a black man were not supposed to be in the same room let alone sit on the same table unless the black servant was providing a service after which the servant would immediately retreat to whence they came from. But being the staunch Christians they were they believed that man was created equal before God and treated their servants as equals and ideal that cost his husband his life as he shot while hunting, presumably by the diehard racists. “Things have gotten a lot better after that legislation” (the act of 1964), she says “and I can take heart from that aspect knowing that that is what my husband would have wanted”.
Christine is a 76-year-old African American woman, who saw her house torched, by clandestine gangs which had arisen during the struggle for the passage of the civil rights act. She says she had suffered discrimination on two levels before, and for some time after the passage of the act; she had been discriminated against for being black and for being a woman. “People thought that being a black woman made you easy prey and a toy they could play with whenever they liked”, she says, “they expected you to treat them as if they were your god”, she continues in disdain. Point taken she also states that discrimination for being a woman came from both quarters of men and that the act certainly was a double blessing, that changed America for the better.
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- Graham, Hugh, The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960-1972, Oxford U P, 1990.
- Harrison, Cynthia, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women’s Issues 1945-1968, U. California Press, 1988.