The Civil Rights Act, 50 years later

Jul 2, 2014

Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act
Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act
Credit Wikimedia Commons

“Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our nation whole.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act outlawed discrimination against African Americans and women.

Leslee Fritz, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, joined Stateside to reflect on this moment in history and its connections to Michigan.

“It really is the foundational act of so much of the law that we rely on today,” Fritz said.

Fritz said John F. Kennedy really began the process, and Johnson saw it through. The Civil Rights Act led to the Voting Rights Act the following year, as well as the Fair Housing Act, and the Americans with Disability Act.

When the act became law, it was right in the middle of Freedom Summer, the effort to register black voters in Mississippi. Fritz said that the University of Michigan provided the largest number of volunteers for that effort.

Fritz added that Michigan has a proud history of being very progressive. There are a number of people who played key roles, both in the activist effort as well in the legal efforts to get the Civil Rights Act passed. Michigan voters in 1963 approved a new state constitution that set up the first civil rights commission in American history.

“We should be proud of that legacy and frankly, we should be doing a better job today of living up to it,” Fritz said. 

*Listen to the full interview above. 

- Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom. 

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