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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…When Republican Leaders Stood Against Racism

Lyndon_Johnson_signing_Civil_Rights_Act,_July_2,_1964.jpgPhotograph by white house photographer Cecil Stoughton
In the photo above Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands behind President Lyndon B. Johnson, as he signs the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964 — 50 years ago today. The act desegregated public facilities and began a profound transformation of American society toward racial equality. Credit Dr. King and the movement he led for providing the courageous leadership needed to make it happen. As Sheryll Cashin puts it in today’s New York Times, “And Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would not have advocated for the bill without being pressured to do so by a multiracial grass-roots movement.”
On May 29 the house where Dr. King was staying during the movement to desegregate St. Augustine was riddled with gunfire, but he was out at a speaking engagement. On June 11th he was arrested in a protest at St. Augustine’s Monson Motor Lodge. King returned to St. Augustine after the signing to protest against resistance to the Act and continued violence against the protesters. The Monson Motor Lodge was firebombed on July 24th because the owner complied with the new law. As King’s top aide, Rev. Andrew Young, who was brutally beaten at the town square on June 9th, explained, the St. Augustine campaign was “the only movement where our hospital bills were larger than our bond bills.”
JFK, before he was assassinated, and other Democrats along with LBJ, stood up and took a stand for the legislation, while Dixiecrats opposed the bill. Some Republicans like Senators Everett Dirksen, Jacob Javits and Ken Keating and House Minority Leader Charles Halleck (pictured at far left) and others joined progressive Democrats in supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in stark contrast to today’s GOP, which overwhelmingly supports suppression of minority voters and opposes other measures to reduce racial discrimination.

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