Impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with insights from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rep. John R. Lewis (D-GA-5th), author Taylor Branch, and lead advisor Risa Goluboff, co-produced by History ® and the Library of Congress for this exhibition
Testimonies of former slaves form the basis of stories recounted by Ossie Davis (1917–2005) and Ruby Dee (1922–1914) in the dramatic and choral work “Slavery,” broadcast October 28, 1965, on National Educational Television as part of the History of the Negro People series. Davis wrote the piece, which includes Negro spirituals sung by Voices, Inc.
Former slave Fountain Hughes (1848 or 1854–1957) describes his life during the final years of slavery and after Emancipation in an interview conducted by Hermond Norwood, a Library of Congress employee, in Baltimore in 1949.
In this, the only known sound recording made by Booker T. Washington (1856–1915), the African American leader and educator, reads an excerpt of the famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech that he delivered at the Atlanta Exposition on September 18, 1895. The recording was made on December 5, 1908, for private purposes and was made available commercially by Washington’s son in 1920.
Excerpts from the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson U.S. Supreme Court decision were delivered in an episode of the educational television program Omnibus devoted to the Constitution, broadcast March 4, 1956, over the CBS network. G. Albert Smith as Justice Henry B. Brown reads the majority opinion, and Noel Leslie as Justice John M. Harlan reads the dissenting opinion.
The pioneer civil rights leader, scholar, and author W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) recorded an autobiographical interview for Folkways Records in 1961. In this excerpt, Du Bois relates the experience that turned him into an activist, his criticism of Booker T. Washington, and the beginning of his association with the NAACP, for which he was a founding member.
The Segregation Era (1900–1939)
Author Toni Morrison (b. 1931) describes the ordeals of her parents in the segregated South and why they fled to Ohio in an interview conducted by Camille O. Cosby for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2004.
Civil rights leader and labor activist A. Philip Randolph (1889–1979) recalls the appeal after World War I of the “Back to Africa” movement of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey (1887–1940). The excerpt was included in NBC’s The American Revolution of ‘63, broadcast September 2, 1963.
Blues musician "Big" Bill Broonzy (1893–1958) recalls the brutal racism that African American veterans of World War I faced when they returned home from fighting for their country in an interview conducted by Alan Lomax (1915–2002) in 1947.
NAACP leader Walter White (1893–1955), interviewed by NBC radio host Mary Margaret McBride, tells of the death of his father in an Atlanta Jim Crow hospital and his inspiring last words. The program was broadcast live on December 26, 1947.
World War II and Post War (1940–1949)
Civil rights leader and labor activist A. Philip Randolph (1889–1979) relates an Oval Office encounter in 1941 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt that resulted in Roosevelt issuing Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in government and defense industry employment. The excerpt was included in A. Philip Randolph’s 50th Anniversary, a satellite news feed produced by the Labor Institute of Public Affairs (AFL-CIO), ca. 1991.
Tuskegee Airman Lee Archer (1919–2010) recalls an army study that tried to prove African Americans could not be pilots during World War II in an interview conducted by Camille O. Cosby (b. 1945) for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2002.
U.S. Senator Edward Brooke (b. 1919) (R-MA) explains the segregation he faced in the army during World War II in an interview conducted by Renee Poussaint for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2001.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson (1919–1972) became the first African American to play baseball on a major league team in the modern era. After the season ended, he answered reporters' questions in this interview from the Library’s Bob Wolff Collection.
Lawyer and U.S. Assistant Attorney General Roger Wilkins (b. 1932) describes his hero, Jackie Robinson, in an interview conducted by Renee Poussaint for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2007.
Korean War veteran Samuel Tucker (b. 1932) describes fighting for freedom overseas and being denied those same rights at home in an interview conducted by Bill Tressler for the Veterans History Project in 2007.
Korean War veteran Bill Saunders (b. 1935) discusses the blatant racial prejudice he and other comrades faced while serving the country in the armed forces in the Korean War in an interview conducted by Kieran Walsh Taylor for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Civil Rights Era (1950–1963)
Longtime secretary of the NAACP Mildred Bond Roxborough (b. 1926) discusses the achievements of the organization in an interview conducted by Julian Bond (b. 1940) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2010.
In this live television discussion, broadcast on May 23, 1954, Illinois Senator Paul Douglas (1892–1976) and Texas Senator Price Daniel (1910–1988) answer questions about the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision handed down six days earlier. In response to Brown v. Board, Daniel, along with 100 other lawmakers, signed the Southern Manifesto two years later, protesting the Supreme Court’s “abuse of judicial power.” This excerpt is from American Forum of the Air: The Supreme Court’s Desegregation Decision, broadcast on NBC.
NAACP lawyer and minister Benjamin Hooks (1925–2010) explains the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case in an interview conducted by Renee Poussaint for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2003.
In response to the Brown v. Board decision, Georgia passed legislation requiring the closing of public schools that had been forced to integrate by court orders and their conversion to private schools. After a federal judge ordered the Atlanta School Board to submit a desegregation plan, Governor Ernest Vandiver established a committee to hold public forums on the issue. The March 1960 hearings in Atlanta, portions of which were broadcast nationally in CBS Reports: Who Speaks for the South? on May 27, 1960, drew a large crowd and speakers with diverse opinions. In 1961, the Georgia legislature revoked its school segregation law. A court-ordered desegregation plan did not take effect, however, for another decade.
NAACP field secretary in Mississippi Medgar Evers (1925–1963) was assassinated at his home in Jackson, Mississippi, a few hours after President Kennedy made a nationally televised speech in which he announced he soon would ask Congress to enact civil rights legislation. A portion of a speech by Evers during a direct action campaign to desegregate Jackson was featured in this excerpt from NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963, which also includes footage of sit-ins, beatings, and arrests of protesters in Jackson.
Civil rights activist Joyce Ladner (b. 1943) discusses post-war Southern black youth in the movement in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Civil rights activist Ruby Sales (b. 1948) describes the central role and importance of Rosa Parks and other working women for the freedom struggle in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) discusses the tactic and philosophy of nonviolence in excerpts from an interview conducted by Martin Agronsky at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King was the pastor. The interview was broadcast on October 27, 1957, in the NBC television Look Here series.
In an interview broadcast May 18, 1961, on CBS Reports: Who Speaks for Birmingham? Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (1922–2011), one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the leading civil rights figure in Birmingham, Alabama, discusses the violence he suffered in 1955 and 1957 (shown in archival footage).
Civil rights activist Chuck McDew (b. 1938) recounts the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and disagreements about nonviolent philosophy in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
On April 18, 1959, Kenyan labor leader Tom Mboya (1930–1969) addressed a crowd of more than 20,000 who had marched to the Washington Monument to urge implementation of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision. The Youth March for Integrated Schools was organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. Other speakers included Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) Roy Wilkins (1901–1981), and Harry Belafonte (b. 1927). Mboya, later a government official after Kenya achieved independence, was assassinated in 1969. He had been a mentor to the father of President Barack Obama. This excerpt is from the film Integration: Report 1, produced in 1960 by Andover Productions, Inc.
History teacher Clara Luper (1923–2011) and the NAACP Youth Council in Oklahoma City that she advised initiated some of the first sit-ins in the civil rights movement, beginning in 1958. The efforts of Luper and the Youth Council succeeded in desegregating lunch counters at all the stores of a major drug store chain in four states and nearly all the restaurants in Oklahoma City. In this excerpt from NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963, Luper challenges the opinion of the owner of a segregated amusement park that Oklahoma City is not ready for integration.
Shortly after the Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-in began on February 1, 1960, Nashville students, who had initiated “test sit-ins” in 1959, followed suit. Despite beatings, arrests, jailing of protesters, and a bombing, six stores agreed in May to desegregate their lunch counters. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) called the Nashville movement “the best organized and most disciplined in the Southland.” In this excerpt from NBC White Paper: Sit-In, broadcast December 20, 1960, protesters, including John Lewis (b. 1940), describe the experience.
Diane Nash (b. 1938), one of the unofficial leaders of the Nashville sit-ins, and Mayor Ben West (1911–1974) describe a confrontation occurring on April 19, 1960, on the steps of City Hall that was captured by television cameras and broadcast December 20, 1960, as part of the documentary NBC White Paper: Sit-In. Many believed this incident to be a turning point that led to the desegregation of six lunch counters in Nashville stores a few weeks later.
Civil rights activist Marilyn Luper (b. 1947) discusses her mother Clara's leadership in the NAACP Youth Group in Oklahoma City in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Journalist Moses Newson (b. 1927) remembers the terror of taking part in the first bus ride of Freedom Riders in 1961 in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Prominent civil rights lawyer and activist Percy Sutton (1920–2009) describes psychological aspects of participating in the Freedom Rides in this television interview included in the documentary Walk in My Shoes, broadcast on September 19, 1961, over the ABC network in the Bell & Howell Close-Up! series.
Activist Courtland Cox (b. 1941) remembers a 1962 protest with Stokely Carmichael at Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's office in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
The Albany Movement formed in 1961 in Albany, Georgia, as a collaboration between local activists, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). It became the first major initiative of the civil rights movement to try to desegregate an entire city. In this excerpt from CBS News Eyewitness: The Albany Movement, broadcast on August 3, 1962, teenage demonstrators are arrested for singing and praying in front of the public library—the SNCC Freedom Singers originated in this movement—and SCLC’s executive director, Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker (b. 1929), discusses the intent of nonviolent direct action.
In July 1963, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sent a task force to Plaquemine, Louisiana, to initiate a voter registration drive, responding to the request of a local schoolteacher and activist for help. The summer drive was documented in Louisiana Diary, broadcast March 16, 1964, on National Educational Television. In these excerpts, Ronnie Moore, CORE’s field secretary for Louisiana, explains that through voter registration, they hope to achieve laws to protect African Americans from violence and ensure justice and fair law enforcement. CORE executive director James Farmer (1920–1999), who speaks to activists in one excerpt, arrived in Plaquemine in August for a mass march to City Hall after demands were ignored by officials. Farmer’s arrest at the march prevented him from attending the March on Washington.
James Forman (1928–2005), the executive director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), describes to interviewer Kenneth Clark the goals, tactics, and dangers of SNCC voter registration drives in the rural South in this excerpt from the television documentary We Shall Overcome, broadcast August 14, 1963, on National Educational Television.
In 1962, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began a voter registration drive in Greenwood, Mississippi, the county seat of Leflore County, which was more than two-thirds black, but only five percent of the voting-age African American population was registered to vote. African American poverty in the area was widespread and threatened to intensify, which Bob Moses (b. 1935), the leader of SNCC in Mississippi, notes in this excerpt from the documentary The Streets of Greenwood (1964). SNCC organizers in Greenwood were shot and arrested, as the city was the state headquarters for the White Citizens’ Council, which Moses also discusses.
Professor Freeman Hrabowski (b. 1950), President of UMBC, remembers joining the Birmingham Children's Crusade at the age of 12 in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
In May 1963, police in Birmingham, Alabama, responded to marching African American youth with fire hoses and police dogs to disperse the protesters, as the Birmingham jails already were filled to capacity with other civil rights protesters. Televised footage of the attacks shocked the nation, just as newspaper coverage shocked the world. This excerpt from CBS Eyewitness: Breakthrough in Birmingham, broadcast on May 10, 1963, includes televised footage seen by millions, as well as a brief interview with Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968), one of the leaders of the movement in Birmingham, who discusses the importance of achieving success there.
Ralph McGill (1898–1969), the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and columnist of the Atlanta Constitution and supporter of the civil rights movement, discusses the momentous effect of televised coverage of police brutality during the Birmingham protests. The interview was included in NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963. In the months following the protests in Birmingham, nearly 800 racial demonstrations occurred in cities throughout the U.S.
The Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) formed in 1962 to target segregation and racial inequality in the Eastern Shore of Maryland city of Cambridge. This excerpt from NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963, documents violent encounters that led in June 1963 to a declaration of martial law. Intervention by the Kennedy Administration to resolve the crisis with CNAC leader Gloria Richardson (b. 1922) resulted in what became known as the “Treaty of Cambridge,” but that failed to last, and conflicts continued in Cambridge for many years.
On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) delivered a major televised address to the nation announcing that he soon would ask Congress to enact civil rights legislation. Kennedy allowed documentary filmmaker Robert Drew unprecedented access to Oval Office discussions with his advisors, which were included in the film Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, first broadcast October 21, 1963, on ABC, and rebroadcast in this re-edited version, Kennedy v. Wallace: A Crisis Up Close, twenty-five years later on the PBS series The American Experience, which included new interviews with participants.
In his civil rights address of June 11, 1963, delivered to the nation over radio and television, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) announced that he soon would ask Congress to enact landmark civil rights legislation. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) called the speech “one of the most eloquent, profound, and unequivocal pleas for Justice and Freedom of all men ever made by any President.” This excerpt of the speech appeared in CBS News Eyewitness: The President Faces the Racial Crisis, broadcast June 14, 1963.
On the morning after President John F. Kennedy’s (1917–1963) June 11, 1963, televised address to the nation, announcing that he soon would ask Congress to enact landmark civil rights legislation, Minister Malcolm X (1925–1965), a Nation of Islam leader; Allan Morrison (1916–1968), New York editor of Ebony magazine; and James Farmer (1920–1999), executive director of the Congress of Racial Equality, debated the speech on a panel moderated by Richard D. Heffner (1925–2013) for The American Experience, broadcast June 16, 1963, on Metromedia Broadcasting Television. SCLC’s executive director, Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker (not shown in this clip) also participated in the discussion.
Roy Wilkins (1901–1981), executive secretary of the NAACP, spoke about pending civil rights legislation at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.
NAACP lawyer Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005) discusses her surprise at crowds at the March on Washington and how it led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in an interview conducted by Renee Poussaint for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2002.
For NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963, white supremacist W. J. Simmons (1916–2007), head of the Citizens’ Council of America, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi, gave his evaluation of the civil rights “revolution.”
Robert W. Kastenmeier (D-WI), William M. McCulloch (R-OH), and Robert Kennedy on the Subcommittee Bill
On September 15, 1963, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed, killing four African American girls during their Sunday school classes. In response to the attack and to the recent March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, liberal members of the House Judiciary subcommittee responsible for crafting the civil rights bill, strengthened the bill that the Kennedy Administration had sent to Congress in June to the displeasure of those who believed it now could not pass. In this excerpt from CBS Reports: Filibuster—Birth Struggle of a Law, broadcast March 18, 1964, Representatives Robert W. Kastenmeier (1924–2015), Democrat of Wisconsin and William M. McCulloch (1901–1980), Republican of Ohio, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925–1968) discuss the revised bill.
In May 1963, during the Birmingham, Alabama, protests, novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet James Baldwin (1924–1987) visited San Francisco to interview African American youth. The encounters, occurring a few months after the publication of The Fire Next Time, Baldwin’s foreboding analysis of race in America, were filmed for the documentary Take This Hammer, broadcast in January 1964 on National Educational Television.
In this excerpt from the documentary Confronted, examining northern whites who felt personally confronted by African Americans demanding freedom, residents of a suburban town near Philadelphia react with violence when a black family moves into the neighborhood. Confronted was broadcast in December 1963 on National Educational Television.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
As the 88th Congress began its second session early in January 1964, hearings on proposed civil rights legislation were about to commence in the House Rules Committee. Clarence Mitchell, Jr., (1911–1984), Washington Bureau director for the NAACP, explains the reason that the legislation has taken so long to reach this stage and calls for “a real showdown on civil rights” in this interview for At Issue: Countdown on Civil Rights, broadcast January 15, 1964, on National Educational Television.
As the 88th Congress began its second session early in January 1964, hearings on proposed civil rights legislation were about to commence in the House Rules Committee. Rep. Howard W. Smith (1883–1976) of Virginia, chairman of the Rules Committee, discusses his opinion of the bill in an interview with Robert Novak for At Issue: Countdown on Civil Rights, broadcast January 15, 1964, on National Educational Television.
Lawyer Clifford Alexander, Jr., (b. 1933), chairman of the U.S. Equal Emplyment Opportunity Commission (1967–1968), explains the meaning of the Civil Rights Act and how both blacks and whites in government pushed for change in an interview conducted by Camille O. Cosby (b. 1945) for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2006.
On October 29, 1963, the House Judiciary Committee voted to report out a compromise civil rights bill to the full House. Representatives John Lindsay (1921–2000), Republican of New York, who helped craft the compromise bill after a stronger bill had been attacked by the Kennedy Administration and others as having no chance of passing, and Emanuel Celler (1888–1981), Democrat of New York and chairman of the committee, discuss the two bills in this excerpt from At Issue: Countdown on Civil Rights, broadcast January 15, 1964, on National Educational Television.
NAACP lawyer Jack Greenberg (b. 1924) discusses the NAACP's strategy after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011..
As southern senators opposed to the civil rights bill filibustered to prevent it from reaching the Senate floor for consideration, two senators on opposite sides of the issue participated in a live televised debate—Senator Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978), Democrat of Minnesota, the majority whip and floor manager of the fight to pass the bill; and Senator Strom Thurmond (1902–2003), then Democrat of South Carolina, who was fervently opposed to the bill. The debate was broadcast on March 18, 1964, on CBS Reports: Filibuster—Birth Struggle of a Law.
Senator Everett Dirksen (1896–1969), Republican from Illinois and Senate minority leader, comments on his amendments to Title VII, the employment section of the civil rights bill. The interview for The Great Divide: Civil Rights and the Bill, broadcast on ABC, May 22, 1964, was recorded earlier that week. After a compromise with Democratic Party leaders in the Senate, Dirksen was instrumental in persuading fellow Republicans to support the bill, and the filibuster that had held up passage ended.
Civil rights activist Gwendolyn Simmons (b. 1944) discusses Freedom Summer and her shock that Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were murdered in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Radio Coverage of President’s Johnson’s Remarks upon Signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Complete Speech
President Johnson’s speech was delivered just two days before the 188th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In it the president cited the phrase “all men are created equal” and pointed out that historically many Americans were denied equal treatment. The Civil Rights Act, he said, provides that “those who are equal before God shall now all be equal” in all aspects of American life. As President Johnson said, this was a long journey to freedom.
Television Coverage of President’s Johnson’s Remarks upon Signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Excerpts from the Speech
President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964, in a nationally televised ceremony in the East Room of the White House before Congressional leaders and civil rights leaders instrumental in the bill’s passage. This excerpt of the speech he made before signing the bill was included in H. R. 7152—The Civil Rights Bill, broadcast July 3, 1964, on NBC.
Immediate Impact of the Civil Rights Act
Civil rights activist Sam Mahone ( b. 1945) remembers testing the Civil Rights Act at a restaurant in Albany, Georgia, the day after it passed in an interview conducted by Hasan Kwame Jeffries (b. 1973) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2013.
Civil rights activist Purcell Conway (b. 1948) discusses testing the Civil Rights Act immediately after it was passed at the beaches in St. Augustine, Florida, in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding federal agency. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 extended the life of the commission and allowed it to investigate alleged vote fraud. In these excerpts from a documentary produced for the commission on hearings conducted February 16–20, 1965, in Jackson, Mississippi, the commission, after being welcomed by Mississippi Governor Paul B. Johnson, Jr., (D-MS) questions the registrar of a county where no African American had successfully registered to vote during his tenure. Civil rights activist Unita Blackwell (b. 1933), who later became the first African American woman mayor in Mississippi, also testifies.
Clifford Alexander, Jr., (b. 1933), chairman from 1967–1969 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), created by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discusses limitations of the commission’s power resulting from an amendment to the bill authored by Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL). The interview was broadcast May 26, 1969, on Black Journal over National Educational Television, shortly after Alexander had resigned as EEOC chairman, while remaining on the commission.
Eleanor Holmes Norton (b. 1937), chair from 1977–1981 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), created by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, answers questions about Title VII from columnist George Will on Meet the Press, broadcast July 2, 1978, on NBC and discusses the responsibilities of employers for ending discrimination.
Civil rights activist Ruby Sales (b. 1948) discusses the meaning of the "Freedom Movement" instead of the "Civil Rights Movement" in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Lawyer Derrick Bell (1930–2011) discusses the limits of civil rights law and ending segregation in an interview conducted by Camille O. Cosby (b. 1945) for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2005.
Haywood Burns (1940–1996), director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, discusses structural inequality and other limitations of the civil rights law in a panel discussion broadcast February 15, 1972, on Black Journal on National Educational Television.