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Equality for All: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act



The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted on July 2, 1964 outlawing discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The full title of the act reads:

“An act to enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States of America to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.”

This act put a stop to discriminatory use of voter registration requirements and segregation within schools, at the workplace, and in public accommodations.

On June 11, 1963 President John F. Kennedy made his famous “Civil Rights Announcement” spurring change towards equality in the public spectrum. Kennedy questioned the ethics of the United States preaching freedom when citizens within its own borders suffered from the bonds of injustice. He said,

“The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he can not send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would be content with the counsels of patience and delay?”

Kennedy’s address was an integral step in taking the issue of Civil Rights from a seemingly legal one into a debate of morals. Martin Luther King Jr. himself applauded the president’s initiative.

Image credit: Steve Schapiro (American, b. 1936), Andrew Young, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis, Selma, Alabama, 1965, gelatin silver print, High Museum of Art, purchase with funds from the H. B. and Doris Massey Charitable Trust, 2007.219.  © Steve Schapiro.

Steve Schapiro (American, b. 1936), Andrew Young, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis, Selma, Alabama, 1965, gelatin silver print, High Museum of Art, purchase with funds from the H. B. and Doris Massey Charitable Trust, 2007.219. © Steve Schapiro.

After Kennedy’s assassination, his successor Lyndon B. Johnson continued the fight for civil rights in the United States. In 1960, Johnson spoke about his own interpretation of the origins of discrimination to a colleague. He said,

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Johnson broke a filibusterer by Southern Democrats in March of 1964 and was able to sign a stronger version of Kennedy’s bill into law by June 2, 1964.

The Cummer celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement with the exhibition A Commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement: Photography from the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. The photographs in this exhibition capture the courage and perseverance of individuals who challenged the status quo, armed only with a philosophy of nonviolence and the strength of their convictions. The images were made by committed artists, activists, and journalists, who risked injury, arrest, and even death to document this critical moment of growth in our nation. The tenacity of these dedicated and gifted individuals—on both sides of the camera—continues to inspire social justice advocates today. Be sure to check out this exciting and beautiful exhibition that highlights this important time in history.

Click HERE to find out more about the Museum’s Civil Rights programming!

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