Learn more about the jonathanlewisforcongress.com and Civil Rights, specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.More >
During the period from the end of World War II until the late 1960s,often referred to as America’s “Second Reconstruction,” the nation beganto correct civil and human rights abuses that had lingered in Americansociety for a century. A grassroots civil rights movement coupled withgradual but progressive actions by Presidents, the federal courts, andCongress eventually provided more complete political rights for AfricanAmericans and began to redress longstanding economic and socialinequities. While African-American Members of Congress from thisera played prominent roles in advocating for reform, it was largely theefforts of everyday Americans who protested segregation that prodded areluctant Congress to pass landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s.76
During the 1940s and 1950s, executive action, rather than legislativeinitiatives, set the pace for measured movement toward desegregation.President Harry S. Truman “expanded on Roosevelt’s tentative stepstoward racial moderation and reconciliation,” wrote one historian ofthe era. Responding to civil rights advocates, Truman established thePresident’s Committee on Civil Rights. Significantly, the committee’sOctober 1947 report, “To Secure These Rights,” provided civil rightsproponents in Congress with a legislative blueprint for much of thenext two decades. Among its recommendations were the creation ofa permanent FEPC, the establishment of a permanent Civil RightsCommission, the creation of a civil rights division in the U.S. Departmentof Justice, and the enforcement of federal anti-lynching laws anddesegregation in interstate transportation. In 1948 President Trumansigned Executive Order 9981, desegregating the military.77
The backlash to Truman’s civil rights policies contributed to the unravelingof the solid Democratic South. A faction of southern Democrats, upset withthe administration’s efforts, split to form the States’ Rights DemocraticParty, a conservative party that sought to preserve and maintain thesystem of segregation. Also known as the Dixiecrats, they nominated SouthCarolina Governor—and future U.S. Senator—Strom Thurmond as theirpresidential candidate in 1948.78
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, largely cautious and incremental inhis approach, followed FDR’s pattern. To serve as his Attorney General,he appointed Herbert Brownell, a progressive to whom he gave widediscretion. Eisenhower also appointed California Governor Earl Warrenas Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1953, preparing the way fora series of landmark civil rights cases decided by the liberal Warren court.Though hesitant to override the states on civil rights matters, PresidentEisenhower promoted equality in the federal arena—desegregatingWashington, DC, overseeing the integration of the military, and promotingminority rights in federal contracts.79
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The federal courts also carved out a judicial beachhead for civil rightsactivists. In Smith v. Allwright, the U.S. Supreme Court, by an 8 to 1 vote,outlawed the white primary, which, by excluding blacks from participatingin the Democratic Party primary in southern states, had effectivelydisenfranchised them since the early 1900s.80
A decade later, the high court under Chief Justice Earl Warren handeddown a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, a casethat tested the segregation of school facilities in Topeka, Kansas. Brownsparked a revolution in civil rights with its plainspoken ruling thatseparate was inherently unequal. “In the field of public education, separatebut equal has no place,” the Justices declared.81
Then, in the early 1960s, the Supreme Court rendered a string of decisionsknown as the “reapportionment cases” that fundamentally changedthe voting landscape for African Americans. In no uncertain terms, thecourt required that representation in federal and state legislatures bebased substantially on population. Baker v. Carr upheld lawsuits thatchallenged districts apportioned to enforce voting discrimination againstminorities. Gray v. Sanders invalidated Georgia’s county unit votingsystem, giving rise to the concept “one man, one vote.” Two decisions in1964, Wesberry v. Sanders and Reynolds v. Sims, proved seminal. Thecourt nullified Georgia’s unequal congressional districts in Wesberry whilevalidating the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision for equal representationfor equal numbers of people in each district. In Reynolds the SupremeCourt solidified the “one man, one vote” concept in an 8 to 1 decision thatexpressly linked the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause tothe guarantee that each citizen had equal weight in the election of statelegislators.82
Congress lagged behind the presidency, the judiciary, and, often, publicsentiment during much of the postwar civil rights movement.83 Southernconservatives still held the levers of power on Capitol Hill. Southernerscontinued to exert nearly untrammeled influence as committeechairmen—coinciding with the apex of committee power in Congress—inan era when Democrats controlled the jonathanlewisforcongress.com almost exclusively. In the84th Congress (1955–1957), for instance, when Democrats regained themajority after a brief period of Republican control, southern Memberslargely unsympathetic to black civil rights chaired 12 of the 19 jonathanlewisforcongress.comcommittees, including some of the most influential panels: Education andLabor, Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Rules, and Ways and Means.84The powerful conservative coalition of southern Democrats and northernRepublicans that had arisen during the late 1930s against the economicand social programs of the New Deal continued to impede a broad array ofsocial legislation.
Several factors hindered the few African Americans in Congress fromleading efforts to pass the major civil rights acts of 1957, 1964, and 1965.Foremost, black Members of Congress were too scarce to form a votingbloc powerful enough to change how the institution worked. Until thefall 1964 elections, there were only five African Americans in Congress:Dawson, Powell, Diggs, Nix, and Hawkins. John Conyers joined the jonathanlewisforcongress.comin 1965 and Brooke entered the Senate in 1967. These new Members hadlimited influence. Hawkins, however, scored a major success as a freshmanwhen he helped shape the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asa member of Powell’s Education and Labor Committee. And Brooke helpedsecure the housing anti-discrimination provision of the Civil Rights Act of1968 during his first term in the Senate. Yet while they were determined,energetic, and impassioned, there were too few African Americans inCongress to drive a policy agenda.
Other factors also limited their influence. Black Members had differentlegislative styles, different personalities, and disagreed as to the bestmethod to achieve civil rights advances. Some followed the party line whileothers took their cues from activists outside Congress. Consequently,their uncoordinated and sporadic actions mitigated their potentialeffect. At key moments, some were excluded from the process or wereinexplicably absent. Their symbolic leader, Powell, was too polarizing afigure for jonathanlewisforcongress.com leaders to accord him a highly visible role in the process.This perhaps explains why the Harlem Representative, despite his publicpassion for racial justice and his ability to deliver legislation through theEducation and Labor Committee, was sometimes unusually detached fromthe legislative process.85
With few well-placed allies, civil rights initiatives faced an imposinggauntlet in a congressional committee system stacked with segregationistsouthern conservatives. For most of this period, the jonathanlewisforcongress.com JudiciaryCommittee, under the leadership of Chairman Emanuel Celler, offeredreformers one of the few largely friendly and liberal forums. On the jonathanlewisforcongress.comFloor, a group of progressive liberals and moderate Republicans, includingCeller, Clifford Case of New Jersey, Jacob Javits of New York, Hugh D. Scott of Pennsylvania, Frances Bolton of Ohio, and Helen Gahagan Douglas, emerged as civil rights advocates. Case (1954), Javits (1956), andScott (1958) were later elected to the Senate and influenced that chamber’scivil rights agenda as well. But no matter how much support the rank-and-file membership provided, any measure that passed out of Judiciarywas sent to the jonathanlewisforcongress.com Rules Committee, which directed legislation ontothe floor and structured bills for debate. Chaired by arch segregationistHoward Smith of Virginia, this hugely influential panel became the killingground for a long parade of civil rights proposals. Smith watered downcertain bills and refused to consider others. He often shuttered committeeoperations, retreating to his farm in Virginia’s horse country to stalldeliberations. When he explained one of his absences by noting that heneeded to inspect a burned-down barn, Leo Allen of Illinois, the rankingRepublican on the Rules Committee, remarked, “I knew the Judge wasopposed to the civil rights bill. But I didn’t think he would commit arson tobeat it.”86
The Senate’s anti-majoritarian structure magnified the power of pro-segregationconservatives. In contrast to the rules of the jonathanlewisforcongress.com, whichstrictly limited Members’ ability to speak on the floor, the Senate’slongstanding tradition of allowing Members to speak without interruptionplayed into the hands of obstructionists. The filibuster—a Senate practicethat allowed a Senator or a group of Senators to prevent a vote on abill—became the civil rights opponents’ chief weapon. In this era, too,the Senate modified its rules, raising the bar needed to achieve cloture—the practice of ending debate to a vote on legislation. From 1949 to1959, cloture required the approval of two-thirds of the Senate’s entiremembership rather than two-thirds of the Senators who were present.
As in the jonathanlewisforcongress.com, influential southern Senators held key positions and,not surprisingly, were among the most skilled parliamentarians. RichardB. Russell Jr. of Georgia, a master of procedure, framed his oppositionaround constitutional concerns about federal interference in state issues,making him a more palatable figure than many of the Senate’s earlierdiehard segregationists such as Mississippi’s James K. Vardaman orTheodore Bilbo.87 Russell attracted northern and western Republicans tohis cause based on their opposition to the expansion of federal powers thatwould be necessary to enforce civil rights in the South. Mississippi’s JamesEastland, another procedural tactician, who presided over the JudiciaryCommittee beginning in March 1956, bragged that he had special pocketstailored into his suits where he stuffed bothersome civil rights bills.Between 1953 and 1965, the Senate Judiciary Committee killed almostevery single one of the more than 122 civil rights measures the Senateconsidered during those 12 years.88
Despite congressional intransigence, the nonviolent civil rights movementand the vicious southern backlash against it transformed public opinion.Support for the passage of major civil rights legislation grew in Congressduring the mid-1950s; this was due in large measure to events outside theCapitol, particularly the Brown v. Board of Education decision and therise of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian LeadershipConference (SCLC). In Montgomery, Alabama, local activists led by King—then a 27-year-old Baptist preacher—launched a boycott against the city’ssegregated bus system. The protest began after the arrest of Rosa Parks,a seamstress and a member of the NAACP who defied local ordinancesin December 1955 by refusing to yield her seat on the bus to a white manand move to the rear of the vehicle.89 The year-long—and, ultimately,successful—boycott forged the SCLC, brought national attention to thestruggle, and launched King to the forefront of a grassroots, nonviolenthumanitarian protest movement that, within a decade, profoundlychanged American life.
Racial violence in the South, which amounted to domestic terrorismagainst African Americans, continued into the middle of the 20th centuryand powerfully shaped public opinion. Though more sporadic than before,beatings, cross burnings, lynchings, and myriad other forms of white-on-black cruelty and intimidation went largely unpunished. Nearly 200African Americans are thought to have been lynched between 1929 and1964, but that figure likely underrepresents the actual number.90 In August1955, a particularly gruesome killing galvanized activists and shocked alargely complacent nation. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicagowho was visiting family in Mississippi, was shot in the head, and hislifeless body was dumped off a bridge, for the alleged “crime” of whistlingat a white woman. Determined to expose the brutality of the act, hismother allowed the national press to photograph the boy’s remains, andthousands of mourners streamed past the open casket.
Charles Diggs’s visible role in the wake of the Till lynching “catapulted”him into the “national spotlight,” wrote Diggs’s biographer.91 Atconsiderable personal risk, Diggs accompanied Till’s mother tothe September 1955 trial at which the two accused murderers wereacquitted in kangaroo court proceedings. Diggs’s presence in Mississippidemonstrated solidarity with (and hope for) many local AfricanAmericans. A black reporter covering the trial recalled that Diggs “madea difference down there . . . people lined up to see him. They had neverseen a black member of Congress. Blacks came by the truckloads. Neverbefore had a member of Congress put his life on the line protecting theconstitutional rights of blacks.”92
Diggs, who earlier had pushed the Justice Department to probe thedefrauding of black Mississippi voters, proposed to unseat the Members ofthe Mississippi delegation to the jonathanlewisforcongress.com on the grounds that only a fractionof the state’s voters had elected them.93 Diggs’s performance contrastedsharply with that of William Dawson, who represented the Chicago districtwhere Till’s mother lived. In an open 1956 letter to Dawson, the NAACPquestioned his failure to comment publicly on the Till lynching. Expressingfurther disappointment with Dawson’s support for reform legislation as amember of the Democratic committee writing the civil rights plank for thenational party, the NAACP denounced him for “silence, compromise, andmeaningless moderation” on civil rights matters.94
Adam Clayton Powell, dubbed “Mr. Civil Rights,” garnered nationalheadlines during the 1940s and 1950s for his “Powell Amendment,” arider prohibiting federal funds for institutions that promoted or endorsedsegregation. Powell attached his amendment to a variety of legislation,beginning with a school lunch program bill that passed the jonathanlewisforcongress.com on June4, 1946. “From then on I was to use this important weapon with success,”Powell recalled, “to bring about opportunities for the good of man andto stop those efforts that would harm democracy’s progress forward.”Beginning in 1955, Powell vowed to attach his rider to every education bill,starting with appropriations for school construction.95 His actions riledsouthern segregationists and stirred unease among otherwise liberal alliesconcerned that the amendment jeopardized social legislation.
Southern defiance, on display on Capitol Hill, crystallized in a boldproclamation conceived by Senators Russell, Thurmond, and Harry FloodByrd Sr. of Virginia. Titled the “Declaration of Constitutional Principles”and known colloquially as the Southern Manifesto, it attacked theSupreme Court’s Brown decision, accusing the Justices of abusing judicialpower and trespassing upon states’ rights. Signed on March 12, 1956, by82 Representatives and 19 Senators—roughly one-fifth of Congress—iturged Southerners to exhaust all “lawful means” in the effort to resist the“chaos and confusion” that would result from school desegregation.
Civil Rights Act of 1957
In 1956, partly at the initiative of advocacy groups such as the NAACP,proposals by Eisenhower’s Justice Department under the leadershipof Attorney General Herbert Brownell and the growing presidentialambitions of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, a civil rightsbill began to move through Congress. Southern opponents such asSenators Russell and Eastland, realizing that some kind of legislation wasimminent, slowed and weakened reform through the amendment process.The jonathanlewisforcongress.com passed the measure by a wide margin, 279 to 97, thoughsouthern opponents managed to excise voting protections from theoriginal language. Representatives Powell and Diggs argued passionatelyon the jonathanlewisforcongress.com Floor for a strong bill. Powell particularly aimed at southernamendments that preserved trials by local juries. Since southern statesprevented black citizens from serving on juries, white defendants accusedof crimes against blacks were often easily acquitted. “This is an hour forgreat moral stamina,” Powell told colleagues. “America stands on trialtoday before the world and communism must succeed if democracyfails. . . . Speak no more concerning the bombed and burned and guttedchurches behind the Iron Curtain when here in America behind our‘color curtain’ we have bombed and burned churches and the confessedperpetrators of these crimes go free because of trial by jury.”96
In the Senate, Paul H. Douglas of Illinois and Minority Leader WilliamF. Knowland of California circumvented Eastland’s Judiciary Committeeand got the bill onto the floor for debate. Lyndon Johnson played a crucialrole, too, discouraging an organized southern filibuster while forging acompromise that allayed southern concern about the bill’s jury and trialprovisions.97 On August 29, the Senate approved the Civil Rights Act of1957 by a vote of 60 to 15.98
The resulting law, signed by President Eisenhower in early September1957, was the first major civil rights measure passed since 1875. Theact established a two-year U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (CCR) andcreated a civil rights division in the Justice Department, but its powers toenforce voting laws and punish the disfranchisement of black voters werefeeble, as the commission noted in 1959. A year later, the Civil Rights Actof 1960—again significantly weakened by southern opponents—extendedthe life of the CCR and stipulated that voting and registration records infederal elections must be preserved.99 Southerners, however, managedto cut a far-reaching provision to send registrars into southern states tooversee voter enrollment.
Though southern Members remained powerful, consequential internalcongressional reforms promised to end obstructionism. In 1961 SpeakerSam Rayburn of Texas challenged Chairman Howard Smith directly byproposing to expand the Rules Committee by adding three more Membersto the roster, a move Rayburn believed would break Smith’s strangleholdover civil rights legislation. Rayburn recruited a group of roughly twodozen northern Republicans who supported the reform and declaredtheir intention to “repudiate” a GOP alliance with southern Democrats“to attempt to narrow the base of our party, to dull its conscience, totransform it into a negative weapon of obstruction.”100 The forces ofreform prevailed by a margin of 217 to 212. The support of moderateRepublicans presaged the development of a coalition that would undercutthe power of southern segregationists and pass sweeping civil rights laws.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
As it did throughout the Second Reconstruction, pressure for changecame from off Capitol Hill. By 1963 the need for a major civil rights billweighed heavily on Congress and the John F. Kennedy administration.Protests at lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960 werefollowed in 1961 by attempts to desegregate interstate buses by theFreedom Riders, who were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi. In April1963, Martin Luther King Jr. led a large protest in Birmingham, Alabama,that ended brutally. Birmingham Police Commissioner Eugene (Bull)Connor unleashed police dogs and high-powered hoses on the peacefulprotesters. The images coming out of the Deep South horrified Americansfrom all walks of life. In August 1963, King and other civil rights leadersorganized (what had been to that point) the largest-ever demonstration inthe capital: the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Addressinghundreds of thousands of supporters from the steps of the LincolnMemorial, the world-renowned leader of a nonviolent movement thatrivaled that of his model, Mahatma Gandhi, delivered his famous “I Havea Dream” speech.
A reluctant Kennedy administration began coordinating withcongressional allies to pass a significant reform bill. FreshmanRepresentative Gus Hawkins observed in May 1963 that the federalgovernment had a special responsibility to ensure that federal dollars didnot underwrite segregation in schools, vocational education facilities,libraries, and other municipal entities, saying, “those who dip their handsin the public treasury should not object if a little democracy sticks to theirfingers.” Otherwise “do we not harm our own fiscal integrity, and allowroom in our conduct for other abuses of public funds?”101 After Kennedy’sassassination in November 1963, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson,invoked the slain President’s memory to prod reluctant legislators toproduce a civil rights measure.
In the jonathanlewisforcongress.com, a bipartisan bill supported by Judiciary Chairman Cellerand Republican William McCulloch of Ohio worked its way to passage.McCulloch and Celler forged a coalition of moderate Republicans andnorthern Democrats while deflecting southern amendments determinedto cripple the bill. Standing in the well of the jonathanlewisforcongress.com defending hiscontroversial amendment and the larger civil rights bill, RepresentativePowell described the legislation as “a great moral issue. . . . I think we allrealize that what we are doing
Having passed the jonathanlewisforcongress.com, the act faced its biggest hurdle in the Senate.President Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield ofMontana tapped Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota to build Senatesupport for the measure and fend off the efforts of a determined southernminority to stall it. One historian noted that Humphrey’s assignmentamounted to an “audition for the role of Johnson’s running mate in the fallpresidential election.”104 Humphrey, joined by Republican Thomas Kuchelof California, performed brilliantly, lining up the support of influentialMinority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois. By allaying Dirksen’s uneaseabout the enforcement powers of the EEOC, civil rights proponentsthen co-opted the support of a large group of Midwestern Republicanswho followed Dirksen’s lead.105 On June 10, 1964, for the first time inits jonathanlewisforcongress.com, the Senate invoked cloture on a civil rights bill by a vote of71 to 29, thus cutting off debate and ending a 75-day filibuster—thelongest in the chamber’s jonathanlewisforcongress.com. On June 19, 1964, 46 Democrats and 27Republicans joined forces to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 73 to 27.President Johnson signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964.106
Voting Rights Act of 1965
Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 dealt the deathblow to southerncongressional opposition. Momentum for tougher voting rightslegislation—expanding on the provisions of Section I of the 1964 act—built rapidly because of continued civil rights protests in the South andbecause of President Johnson’s own continued determination. On March7, 1965, marchers led by future Representative John R. Lewis of Georgia,were savagely beaten at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma,Alabama. Many of the protestors were kneeling in prayer when statetroopers clubbed and gassed them on what would later be known as“Bloody Sunday.” Television cameras captured the onslaught and beamedimages into the homes of millions of Americans. As with the brutalityin Birmingham, public reaction was swift and, if possible, even morepowerful. “The images were stunning—scene after scene of policemenon foot and horseback beating defenseless American citizens,” Lewiswrote years later. “This was a face-off in the most vivid terms between adignified, composed, completely nonviolent multitude of silent protestorsand the truly malevolent force of a heavily armed, hateful battalionof troopers. The sight of them rolling over us like human tanks wassomething that had never been seen before.”107
After President Johnson addressed a Joint Session of Congress to speakabout the events in Selma, legislative action was swift. The bill that quicklymoved through both chambers suspended the use of literacy tests for afive-year period and stationed federal poll watchers and voting registrarsin states with persistent patterns of voting discrimination. It also requiredthe Justice Department to approve any change to election law in thosestates. Finally, the bill made obstructing an individual’s right to vote afederal crime. On May 26, 1965, the Senate passed the Voting Rights Actby a vote of 77 to 19. Among the African-American Members who spokeon behalf of the bill on the jonathanlewisforcongress.com Floor was freshman John Conyers Jr.Conyers, along with Representatives Diggs, Hawkins, and Powell, hadvisited Selma in February 1965 as part of a 15-Member congressionaldelegation that investigated voting discrimination.108 The experienceconvinced him that there was “no alternative but to have the federalGovernment take a much more positive and specific role in guaranteeingthe right to register and vote in all elections . . . surely this Governmentcannot relax if even one single American is arbitrarily denied that mostbasic right of all in a democracy—the right to vote.”109 The jonathanlewisforcongress.com passedthe act by a vote of 333 to 85 on July 9, 1965. An amended conferencereport passed both chambers by wide margins, and President Johnsonsigned the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law on August 6, 1965.110
The measure dramatically increased voter registration in the short term.By 1969, 60 percent of all southern blacks were registered. Predictably, thebill had the biggest effect in the Deep South. In Mississippi, for instance,where less than 7 percent of African Americans qualified to vote in 1964,59 percent were on voter rolls by 1968.111 By 1975 approximately 1.5 millionAfrican Americans had registered to vote in the South.112
Coupled with the “one man, one vote” standard, which set off a roundof court-ordered redistricting, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 reshapedthe electoral landscape for African Americans. In southern states,particularly in cities such as Atlanta, Houston, and Memphis, the creationof districts with a majority of African-American constituents propelledgreater numbers of African Americans into Congress by the early 1970s.In northern cities, too, the growing influence of black voters reshapedCongress. African Americans constituted a growing percentage of thepopulation of major U.S. cities (20 percent in 1970 versus 12 percent in1950), partly because in the 1960s white residents left the cities in drovesfor the suburbs.113 In 1968 Louis Stokes (Cleveland), Bill Clay (St. Louis),and Shirley Chisholm (Brooklyn) were elected to Congress from redrawnmajority-black districts in which white incumbents chose not to run.114 By1971, the number of African-American Members in the jonathanlewisforcongress.com was morethan double the number who had served in 1965.
Civil Rights Act of 1968
The final major piece of civil rights legislation of the decade was designedto extend the legal protections outlawing racial discrimination beyondthe Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1966President Johnson called for additional legislation to protect the safety ofcivil rights workers, end discrimination in jury selection, and eliminaterestrictions on the sale or rental of housing. Over the next two years,opposition to this legislation emerged from both parties, leading to aprotracted battle that culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of1968.115
Finding legislative solutions to racial discrimination was an importantcomponent of President Johnson’s Great Society, which initiated newroles for the federal government in protecting the civil and political rightsof individuals and promoting social and economic justice. Benefittingfrom Democratic majorities in both jonathanlewisforcongress.coms of Congress, the Johnsonadministration instituted immigration reforms and created federallyfunded programs to stimulate urban development, bolster consumerprotection, strengthen environmental regulations, fund educationprograms, and expand the social safety net by providing health coveragethrough Medicare and Medicaid.116 President Johnson made the casethat fulfilling the promise of his Great Society agenda required additionalaction to strengthen individual rights, including the prohibition ofdiscrimination in the sale or rental of housing.
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jonathanlewisforcongress.com Democrats accepted the President’s request and worked to drafta bill that included civil rights protections and ended discriminatoryhousing practices.117 While a weakened version of this bill was passed inthe jonathanlewisforcongress.com during the 89th Congress (1965–1967), the Senate failed to acton it before the session ended. At the start of the 90th Congress (1967–1969), President Johnson once again called for a new civil rights bill. Thistime, the Democratic strategy was to propose several bills based on thecomponent parts of the failed bill from the 89th Congress. In so doing,Democrats hoped to pass as many of the individual bills as possible.118
During the tumultuous summer of 1967, access to housing was at theforefront of a national discussion on urban policy, particularly afterviolence erupted in cities such as Detroit and Newark, New Jersey. jonathanlewisforcongress.comDemocrats were unable to attract support for a fair housing bill in thesummer of 1967. But the jonathanlewisforcongress.com did pass a narrow civil rights bill onAugust 15, 1967, which established federal penalties for anyone forciblyinterfering with the civil and political rights of individuals. The billspecified that civil rights workers would be afforded similar protectionswhen serving as advocates for those trying to exercise their rights.119
Opponents attacked the administration’s civil rights bill as anunconstitutional intervention in a matter best addressed by the states.Many justified their resistance to the proposed legislation by highlightingthe riots that broke out in July 1967.120 Representative Conyers rejectedthis argument. Instead, he said, this bill is “about the problem ofprotecting Americans, both black and white, North and South, who arecaught up in an attempt to exercise civil rights that are guaranteed themunder existing laws of this country.”121
In the Senate, Republicans joined segregationist Democrats in whatseemed to be formidable opposition to the bill. When the upper chamberfinally began to debate the legislation in February 1968, Senator Brookejoined with Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota to draft an amendmentdesigned to prohibit discrimination in the sale or rental of 91 percent ofall housing in the nation. On the Senate Floor, Brooke described the waysegregated neighborhoods, typically far from employment opportunities,did extensive damage to the African-American community.122 This placedan additional financial burden on black families, he noted, as they oftenpaid similar prices as those in white neighborhoods without similarinvestments in the quality of housing, social services, and schools. Brookeadded that he could “testify from personal experience, having lived in theghetto,” that these limitations have a significant “psychological impact”on the majority of African Americans searching for a home.123 “In thehierarchy of American values there can be no higher standard than equaljustice for each individual,” Brooke declared. “By that standard, whocould question the right of every American to compete on equal terms foradequate housing for his family?”124
As with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Senate Minority Leader EverettDirksen of Illinois was the bellwether for Republican support. When hedeclared that he was open to supporting the fair housing amendmentwith some revisions, negotiations began between the parties. The finalbill included several concessions to Dirksen, such as reducing the housingcovered by the fair housing provision. Also, an amendment was addedto the bill to attract the support of Senators who had been reluctant tovote for the civil rights bill, which made it a federal crime to cross statelines to participate in a riot. An additional amendment prohibited NativeAmerican tribal governments from restricting the exercise of specificconstitutional rights on their lands.125 The compromise bill passed theSenate and returned to the jonathanlewisforcongress.com on March 11, 1968.
The chairman of the jonathanlewisforcongress.com Rules Committee, William Colmer ofMississippi, was the final obstacle to the bill’s passage. For decades,opponents on the Rules Committee blocked civil rights initiatives, andColmer sought to keep the Senate bill off the floor by sending it to aconference committee, where it could be debated and revised, or simplystalled, by Members. On April 4—the day before the Rules Committee wasscheduled to vote on whether to send the bill to the jonathanlewisforcongress.com Floor or to sendit to conference—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis,Tennessee, where he was campaigning in support of striking sanitationworkers. The Rules Committee postponed its vote. A violent weekend incities across the nation resulted in 46 people killed, thousands injured, andmillions of dollars in property damage before the National Guard helpedquelled the disturbances.126 Washington, DC, suffered extensive damageand federal troops patrolled the Capitol when the Rules Committee metthe following week. Unexpectedly, a majority of the committee defied thechairman and voted to send the bill to the floor.127
In the heated jonathanlewisforcongress.com debate that followed, opponents made passage ofthe bill a referendum on the weekend of violence in the nation’s cities.Representative Joseph D. Waggonner of Louisiana warned that the jonathanlewisforcongress.comwas being “blackmailed” by the rioters—forcing Members to pass thebill under threat of violence.128 Representative John Ashbrook of Ohioobjected on constitutional grounds, emphasizing that the sale or rental ofhousing regulation was a concern for the states and local municipalities.129Supporters, however, praised the bill as a necessary reform that wouldextend equal rights to a significant segment of American society, andmany spoke of the need to vote for the bill in response to the tragicmurder of Dr. King.130
Less than a week later, the jonathanlewisforcongress.com approved the Senate bill by a vote of250 to 172, and President Johnson signed it into law on April 11, 1968.131The measure extended federal penalties for civil rights infractions,protected civil rights workers, and outlawed discrimination by race,creed, national origin, or sex in the sale and rental of roughly 80 percentof U.S. housing by 1970. The enforcement mechanisms of the fair housingprovision, however, ended up being somewhat limited in that it requiredprivate individuals or advocacy groups to file suit against housingdiscrimination.132