August 8, 2014 "The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom" Exhibition Highlights Legal and Legislative Challenges and Victories

Exhibition Opens Sept. 10

Contact: View the exhibition online.
Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It banned discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters and retail stores. It outlawed segregation in public education. It banned discrimination in employment, and it ended unequal application of voter-registration requirements. The act was a landmark piece of legislation that opened the doors to further progress in the acquisition and protection of civil rights.

The Library of Congress exhibition “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom,” which opens on Wednesday, Sept. 10, will highlight the legal and legislative struggles and victories leading to its passage, shedding light on the individuals—both prominent leaders and private citizens—who participated in the decades-long campaign for equality.

Located in the Southwest Gallery on the second level of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C., the year-long exhibition will be free and open to the public Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It closes on Sept. 12, 2015.

The exhibition will feature more than 200 items, including correspondence and documents from civil rights leaders and organizations, photographs, newspapers, legal briefs, drawings and posters. The materials are drawn primarily from the NAACP Records in the Library’s Manuscript Division and its Prints and Photographs Division.

In addition, audio-visual stations throughout the gallery will feature 77 clips showing dramatic events such as protests, sit-ins, boycotts and other public actions against segregation and discrimination. Eyewitness testimony of activists and from participants who helped craft the law will be included. The audio-visual material will be drawn from the Library’s American Folklife Center’s Civil Rights History Project and from the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

The exhibition will include two videos co-produced with HISTORY®. An introductory film narrated by Julian Bond, a political and civil rights leader and professor at American University and the University of Virginia, will focus on the significance of the Civil Rights Act. The second film will explore the impact of the Civil Rights Act and will feature interviews with Taylor Branch, author and historian; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement; and Risa Goluboff, professor of law at the University of Virginia.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom” is made possible by a generous grant from Newman’s Own Foundation, with additional support from History for both audio-visual and educational outreach.

“By funding this exhibition, we proudly continue Paul Newman’s commitment to the empowerment of individuals,” said Robert H. Forrester, president of Newman’s Own Foundation. “We hope that the strength of the human spirit as reflected in this exhibit will inform people’s understanding of the present and provide inspiration to help create a better world for tomorrow.”

There are six thematic sections in the exhibition: Prologue, Segregation Era, World War II and the Post-War Years, Civil Rights Era, Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Impact.

Exhibition Highlights

Prologue will provide a historical backdrop for the course of race relations in the United States, from the beginning of the Revolutionary War Era (1775-1783) to the first decade of the 20th century. This section covers participation of African Americans in the Revolutionary War, the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, steps taken to grant newly freed African Americans basic civil and political rights, as well as the actions taken after the end of Reconstruction to roll back those rights. Highlights include a dramatic work based on the testimonies of former slaves, written by Ossie Davis and performed by Davis and his wife, Ruby Dee; Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld segregation with the concept “separate but equal.”

Segregation Era explores the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) by a group of black and white activists in 1909. The section also examines the escalation of racial violence. Important artifacts include the 9-foot-by-6-foot lynching flag flown at the headquarters of NAACP in New York City whenever an African American was lynched; a recorded autobiography by W.E.B. Du Bois, co-founder of the NAACP, in which he relates the experience that turned him into an activist.

World War II and the Post-War Years delves into civil rights initiatives, minorities in the military and the founding of civil rights organizations from 1940 to 1949. The section will feature the Fair Employment Practices Committee, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt established during this period. Highlights on display include a letter written by Jackie Robinson to his college friend on breaking the color barrier in professional baseball; a recording of Robinson fielding reporters’ questions after his first season in the major leagues; the Bayard Rustin and George M. Houser report on the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, the first Freedom Ride conducted to test enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Morgan v. Virginia banning segregation in interstate travel; a photograph of the Journey of Reconciliation participants; and President Harry Truman’s two 1948 executive orders banning discrimination in federal employment and in the armed forces.

The Civil Rights Era focuses on the events and achievements of civil rights leaders and citizen-activists from 1950 to 1963. Pivotal events include the March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Highlights include U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren’s reading copy of the Brown v. Board of Education opinion; Rosa Parks’ arrest record from the day she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger; a telegram from Paul Robeson to A. Philip Randolph regarding the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till; an interview with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth on bombings and beatings he suffered; documentary footage and interviews from numerous sites of protest, including Nashville, Tenn., Albany, Ga., Greenwood, Miss., Birmingham, Ala., Cambridge, Md., Oklahoma City, Okla., Jackson, Miss. and Plaquemine, La.; and speeches by John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. written for the March on Washington. Also in this section, a wide variety of civil rights-inspired songs—gospel, folk, jazz, rock and pop—will be heard.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 examines the culmination of efforts from private citizens, organizations, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, the House and Senate leadership and members of the U.S. Congress. After eight months of congressional debate, the bill passed in the U.S. Senate on June 19, 1964. The House voted to adopt the Senate-passed bill on July 2, and that same day President Johnson signed the bill into law. Highlights include film footage of Oval Office deliberations prior to Kennedy’s national television address on civil rights; a debate about Kennedy’s speech among black leaders, including Malcolm X; video interview with key congressional figures, including Robert W. Kastenmeier, William M. McCulloch, John Lindsay, Emanuel Celler and Howard W. Smith; a televised debate on the bill between Senators Hubert Humphrey and Strom Thurmond; Johnson’s draft remarks delivered when he signed the bill; and a number of letters between NAACP officials Clarence Mitchell and Roy Wilkins concerning the legislative progress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Impact section explores how the passage of the act lent the power of the federal government to the ongoing struggle for a more just and inclusive American society. It also looks at the shortcomings of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from the perspective of many civil rights activists and how further grassroots mobilization, judicial precedent and legislative action were needed to further expand civil rights protection.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 158 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at


PR 14-084
ISSN 0731-3527