The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Difference a Law Can Make

Source: Nancy MacLean, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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… The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the premier legislative victories of American social movements; it also illuminates how a historic reform can advance activism and alter movement strategy. The product of long struggle by African Americans and progressive white allies, particularly Jewish activists, the bill addressed many areas of public life. It sought to end segregation and discrimination in arenas including workplaces, courts, polls, government agencies, municipal facilities, schools, and public accommodations such as restaurants, motels, and transportation. The Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decisions had no bite, for example, until the civil rights act added teeth. Its Title VI, which enabled the withdrawal of federal funds from districts that continued to discriminate, sparked the first school desegregation efforts that went beyond tokenism. But the section of the act that prohibited discrimination on the job —Title VII— had the most far-reaching and enduring impact. …