Considered the most significant piece of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, 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.
Next Wednesday, the Library of Congress opens the exhibition “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom,” highlighting 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.
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 – help patrons navigate through the exhibition.
Among the more than 200 items on display are several audio-visual stations featuring more than 70 clips showing dramatic events such as protests, sit-ins, boycotts and other public actions against segregation and discrimination, as well as eyewitness testimony of activists and from participants who helped craft the law. These materials are drawn from the Library’s American Folklife Center’s Civil Rights History Project and from the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.
Here are a few highlights:
The only known sound recording made by Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) features the African American leader and educator reading an excerpt of the famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech that he delivered at the Atlanta Exposition on Sept. 18, 1895. The recording was made on Dec. 5, 1908, for private purposes and was made available commercially by Washington’s son in 1920. In his speech, Washington suggested African Americans should remain socially and politically segregated in return for basic education and improved social and economic relations between the races.
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and leading civil rights activist in Birmingham, Ala., discusses the bombings and beatings he suffered during a May 18, 1961 interview with CBS News. Shuttlesworth’s home was bombed Dec. 25, 1956, and he was later attacked by a mob in 1957 when he and his wife attempted to enroll their children in a former all-white public school.
The thematic section focusing on the legislation itself features several pieces of documentary footage, including 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; and an NBC News clip of Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964 in a nationally televised ceremony at the White House.
“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.