Fifty Years of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Progress, Problems and the Way Forward

In July 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson would enact Public Law 88-352, an act cited by Congress as the “Civil Rights Act of 1964.” This act would outlaw discrimination in hiring and discharging, and more generally, in many forms and outlets based on race, color, religion sex or national origin.  The desegregation of public education and non-discrimination in federally assisted programs were also provisions within this act – and so was the purported protection of the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 asserted that:

“No person acting under the color of law shall – In determining whether any individual is qualified under state law or laws to vote in any Federal election, apply any standards, practice or procedure different from the standards, applied under such law or laws to other individuals……[and] deny the right of any individual to vote in any Federal election because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting, if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under state law to vote in such election.”

50 years after this landmark legislation, African Americans are active and present participants in major domains of the US labor market unlike ever before, as the percentage of African Americans 25 years or older with at least a high school education has increased from 27 percent in 1964 to 86 percent in 2012 (Pew Research). There have been increases in African-American life expectancies, and accordingly, voter turnout. However, persistent challenges remain with regard to the quality of life of African Americans.

One such challenge to the quality of life of African Americans is the increasing wealth gap in the United States – The median net worth of African Americans remains lower than that of Caucasian and Asian families, while the unemployment rate of African Americans remains higher than the national average. One study conducted by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy found that between the years of 1984-2009, the total wealth gap between the same African American and Caucasian families increased nearly threefold, from $85,000 to $236,500.

Another such challenge comes from the increasing income gap, with African-American families continuously trending lower on adjusted incomes as compared to Caucasian families over the past 50 years. The complex issues around the inability to gain or sustain wealth via home ownership, sustained full employment and income differentials continue to be addressed via our political and public policy forums. But more has to be done.

It can be argued that the manifest purpose of Public Law 88-352 was to engage the public and political polities in establishment of normative rules of cultural rituals. The right to life, liberty and happiness; the right to vote and the right to ones’ intrinsic humanness are not exclusively political, social and/or cultural issues – they are human issues which concern us all as Americans and as human beings. It is time for the humanness of America to demonstrate that we all believe in LBJ’s vision for America, where outlawing discrimination is not an act of the political, but an act imperative of our collective hearts, minds and souls.

Taken holistically, however, fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, America has demonstrated that it is a wiser, stronger and more inclusive nation – but, we must all stand together toensure the protections it guarantees.

For further reading:

Leave a Reply