National Edition

Civil Rights Act turns 50: 5 things you should read to celebrate

Published: Thursday, July 3 2014 10:30 a.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, July 3 2014 12:07 p.m. MDT

In this July 2, 1964 file photo, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Standing from left, are Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill.; Rep. Clarence Brown, R-Ohio; Sen. Hubert Humphrey, D-Minn.; Rep. Charles Halleck, R-Ind.; Rep. William McCullough, R-Ohio; and Rep. Emanuel Celler, D-N.Y. A $10-million redesign of the LBJ Library and Museum announced in December 2011 is intended to give visitors a better understanding of the landmark reforms Johnson propelled through Congress and is being done even as many of his initiatives are under attack by conservatives. A new exhibit will feature interactive segments on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (AP Photo)

Anonymous, Associated Press

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Wednesday, July 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended decades of racial discrimination in public places like schools, restaurants and even in voting. Here are five things one can do to celebrate the anniversary and learn more about improving race relations today.

1. Read the full text of the bill

Essentially, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion sex or national origin.

2. Understand the meaning

NPR created an online app where people can read the full bill from 1964, annotated by race experts like NYU law professor Richard Epstein; NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg; and Mark Updegrove, director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum.

"In this project, journalists, lawyers and civil rights activists explore the historic legislation — pulling the language out of history and telling us how it's relevant today," NPR reports.

3. Know the history behind the act

The Civil Rights Act was "born in the strife of people of color and their liberal white allies who marched, prayed and endured physical violence trying to bring legal rights to a part of the United States that was still shaking off the legal chains of slavery," Michael Muskal of the L.A. Times reports.

The bill being passed was far from "inevitable," Nicolaus Mills wrote at the Daily Beast. Mills outlines the events that led up to the signing of the act and characterizes them as "a culmination of months of legislative maneuvering shaped by an odd mixture of pragmatism and idealism." Maneuvers like an 14-hour filibuster from Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), a Ku Klux Klan leader at the time, the Wall Street Journal noted.

4. Consider today's political climate: Could the Civil Rights Act pass in 2014?

Many are praising the bipartisan efforts that led up to the passage of the act, and asking, would similar legislation survive the gridlock of Congress today?

"Congress is dead-locked on every big question, from immigration reform to a grand bargain on taxes and spending, so it’s hard to believe the two parties once cooperated to address the single most controversial domestic issue of the day — legal equality for the races — or that Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill 50 years ago Wednesday, in the middle of a presidential election year," Politico's Todd S. Purdum writes.

To be sure, "race relations today ... have evolved considerably since 1964," writes CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin. "An establishment denying someone a place to eat or sleep based on skin color could quickly find itself trending on Twitter, or the subject of many a news website's main page."

"Despite this improved climate, many political players doubt today's Congress and White House could pass the Civil Rights Act. While Johnson urged the nation to 'close the springs of racial poison,'" present-day American politics often seem to run on poison," McLaughlin writes.

5. Be aware of issues in race relations now, 50 years later

In 1966, the poverty rate for African-Americans was 41.66 percent. In 2012, the number has decreased to 27.2 percent. But that's 12 percent higher than the national average in 2012 that was 15 percent for all races, the Wall Street Journal reported. And African-American unemployment rates are double the national average: "For May, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for blacks was 11.5 percent. For whites, it was 5.4 percent," WSJ reports.

Education equality for African-Americans is a hot topic. The Wall Street Journal notes that since 1964 only 25.7 percent of African-Americans age 25 and older have completed four years of high school. In 2012, that number was 85 percent. And the number of African-Americans who finished four years of college increased from 3.9 percent in 1964 to 21.2 percent in 2012, WSJ reports.

The Deseret News reported back in May that by most measures, education segregation still exists. "Seventy-four percent of black students and 80 percent of Latino students attend schools with white students making up 10 percent or less of the population," writes Nicole Shepard.

amcdonald@deseretnews.com

Twitter | @amymcdonald89

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