The Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation aimed at protecting the rights of all peoples, particularly those of African Americans. Under the CRA, segregation was outlawed in public spaces, including public schools, the workplace, and transportation. Additionally, racial discrimination was banned in public accommodations, and African Americans were granted voting rights.

Desegregation

Prior to 1964, segregation prevented the coexistence of whites and blacks in any public setting. There were separate busses, schools, apartment buildings, bathrooms, and even water fountains. Segregation was a pervasive tool used by white legislatures, such as Jim Crow, who hoped to continue the subjugation of African Americans after slavery was outlawed.

Following the CRA however, segregation was outlawed. Blacks were finally allowed the same accommodations as their white counterparts. Desegregated schools were the most controversial part of this legislation. In order to reach the new quota for African Americans, schools had to bus in black children from distant neighborhoods. Initially, this was a rocky process, and law enforcement officials had to be present to prevent fights and riot outbreaks.

Anti-Discrimination

Previous to 1964, blacks were unable to enjoy the same luxuries as whites. For example, owners of establishments intended for public accommodation, such as hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other businesses involved in interstate commerce, were allowed to refuse service based on a customer’s race.

After the CRA, discrimination at facilities designed for public accommodation became illegal. Private clubs retained their ability to discriminate against customers based on whatever premises they chose, however. Additionally, the legislation failed to define exactly what constituted “private.”

Voting Rights

Title I of the Civil Rights Act barred unequal application of voter registration requirements, which, in theory, should have protected African American’s right to vote; however, the application of this was rather vague.

Title I did not outlaw literacy tests, which were the main method of discriminating against African American voters. Although all races had to take the exam, African Americans’ recent history of exploitation made them particularly susceptible to the literacy exam, as most of them received very little education. It was not until 1970 that literacy exams were outlawed.