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DO IT FOR YOUR DEAD PRESIDENT!-The 1964 Civil Rights Act (Part 3) The Final Journey

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    Armed with the Mansfield-Dirksen substitution, Senate civil-rights coalition forces began a series of “counter-filibusters” beginning the week of June 1, in order to reign in the last remaining votes necessary for the cloture petition, which majority leader Mansfield had declared would be filed by the end of the week (Guéron 1995, 1220-1221). According to the Dirksen Congressional campaign, one could summarize that what its namesake had done “was put together a substitute for the House-passed H. R. 7152 that was near enough to the original version that it satisfied the Justice Department and the bipartisan civil rights coalition in Congress, and sufficiently different in tone and emphasis to win a few Republican converts to support cloture.” Now “with the fate of civil rights legislation rested squarely on his shoulders,” the minority leader rose to persuade enough of his reluctant Republican colleagues to cooperate during a June 5 Senate GOP conference, in order to report to the majority leader that he had the votes necessary for cloture (CongressLink: [Congress: The Basics―Lawmaking] Civil Right: Legislative History of H.R. 7152: Senate Floor Debate: "Clean Bill" Substitute, The Dirksen Congressional Center 2006).

    Finally on June 10, Mansfield was able to hold a vote on cloture to end the filibuster (Gittinger and Fisher 2004, Part 2). Senator Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) had just ended an epic, last chance diatribe, lasting “from 7:38 p.m. on June 9 until 9:51 a.m. the morning of June 10.” Then, by a vote of 71 to 29, the petition for cloture passed the Senate (Guéron 1995, 1221). As Manley notes, “the Senate, on eleven separate occasions, had never before voted to end debate on a civil rights measure” (Manley 1965, 10).

    Following the act of cloture, Senate rules allowed one hour for each each member to speak. All additional amendments proposed by the Southern bloc were subsequently vetoed. The Manfield-Dirksen amendment was approved on June 17 by a vote of 76-18, and another attempt at scuttling the bill to Chairman Eastland's Judiciary Committee failed on June 19 (Guéron 1995, 1221). Following this last act of desperation and delay, the Senate passed Dirksen's amended-H.R.7152 by a vote of 73 to 27 (Rodriguez and Weingast 2003, 1473).

    The last gatekeeper of the South now lay ahead; once again Rep. Howard Smith (D-VA), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, was poised to delay or obstruct the final legislative maneuvers required in the House to pass the Dirksen substitute bill. Furthermore, as Rodriguez and Weingast point out, should even one change have had to occur to Senate amended-H.R.7152 in order for it to pass the House, a joint congressional conference committee would be needed to rectify the changes―which would then place the bill in danger of Sen. Eastland's reach, who would be able to participate in the selection of Senate participants, threatening the survival of the bill in the joint committee. As such, the strategy of the leaders of the bipartisan House coalition, Cellar and House minority leader McCulloch was “to concur in the Senate's actions on the bill without revision” (Rodriguez and Weingast 2003, 1473-1474).

    Describing the final showdown, Guéron explains that because four representatives objected to a motion by Rep. Celler for the House to approve the bill unanimously, under normal House rules the bill would then be sent back to the Rules Committee. To avoid the Rules Committee, Larry O'Brien, special assistant to the President, sketched out two options:

    1. Apply for House Rule XI, or

    1. Proceed under suspension rules, “which would allow for only forty minutes of debate on the bill, but would require the support of two-thirds of the House for its suspension.

    Because the earliest date possible for rules suspension, July 6 was impractical for Republicans with the looming Republican National Convention that month, Cellers and McCulloch agreed to proceed with the first option. On Monday, June 22, “H.R. Res. 789, “to provide for the concurrence of the House of Representatives to the Senate amendment to H.R.7152,” while on June 24, three representatives filed for a formal hearing, per Rule XI. Over the next few days, control of the committee would be wrestled away from Smith. First, the committee voted 7 to 4 for the hearings to be conducted in one day, and by 10 to 5 to limit debate to one hour and immediately report the bill to the House upon approval by the committee. As extra insurance, the committee took the power of reporting the bill out of Smith's hands, by adopting a committee rule permitting any member to do so, if the chair refused, effectively stripping Smith of his power as chairman. On June 30, the committee would report H.R. Res. 789 to the House floor. Finally, after a 13 month polarizing political process, on July 2 the House gave final approval to omnibus civil rights legislation, by a vote of 289-126 (Guéron 1995, 1221-1222).

    Upon signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, a few hours after its passage out of the House, Johnson stoically remarked:

    We believe that all men are created equal -- yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain inalienable rights. We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty -- yet millions are being deprived of those blessings, not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skins. The reasons are deeply embedded in history and tradition and the nature of man. We can understand without rancor or hatred how all this happens. But it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic, forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And the law I sign tonight forbids it...” (CongressLink: [Congress: The Basics―Lawmaking] A Case History: The 1964 Civil Rights Act: White House Approval The Dirksen Congressional Center 2006).

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    A left-wing monster has risen up in this nation. It has invaded the government. It has invaded the news media. It has invaded the leadership of many of our churches. It has invaded every phase and aspect of the life of freedom-loving people. It consists of many and various and powerful interests, but it has combined into one massive drive and is held together by the cohesive power of the emotion, setting forth civil rights as supreme to all. But, in reality, it is a drive to destroy the rights of private property, to destroy the freedom and liberty of you and me.” - Gov. George Wallace (D-AL), July 4, 1964 (“The Civil Rights Movement: Fraud, Sham, and Hoax,” George Wallace 2009)

    Perhaps more than any other issue, the 1964 Civil Rights Act is responsible for defining the modern organization of our political parties along ideological lines. Before the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, America's political parties were regionally based, and there was grand ideological overlap between the political parties. While a minority of Republican Congressmen voted against the bill's passage, ten days later the GOP would begin work on nominating one of those dissenting votes as its presidential nominee: Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona (Manley 1965, 13). Goldwater's vote on the Civil Rights Act “represented no condoning of segregation, per se,” but his states rights' philosophical opposition to the “public accommodation” provisions of Title II, and the “equal-opportunity” work places created by Title VII, captured the imagination of southern conservatives looking to defect from the Democratic Party in wake of its gaping divisions over racial equality (Clausen, Converse, and Miller 1965, 328). As Juan Williams notes, “Sen. Thurmond of South Carolina, once a Democrat, threw his support to Goldwater in a show of political solidarity. Thurmond also encouraged a steady stream of southern Democrats to leave their party and join Goldwater and the Republicans. Forty years later, we understand this switch as the first step toward the Republicans' absolute political control of the South. The GOP has made the South its base for the election of every Republican president since 1964” (Williams 2004, 6).

    Mirroring the language of conservatives today, Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC) had this to say about the public accommodations provision (Title II) of the legislation: “Congress has no such power. It is well to remember that there is virtually no limitation on the interstate commerce power other than that expressed in the Constitution itself which simply the power to regulate commerce among the states. If the theory that Congress can regulate activities of the operator of a restaurant because he may use skillets or other utensils or cans of pork and beans which have moved in interstate commerce at some time between the ratification of the Constitution and the present moment, then Congress can regulate all of the activities of all 180 million people residing anywhere in the 50 States. Congress can invade all the homes of our people and regulate the relations of husband and wife and parent” (Sam Ervin 1963, 271).

    Along the same lines, Gov. Farris Bryant (D-FL) offered this: “We have heard a great deal in this last decade about the Fifth amendment, about the Tenth amendment, about the Fourteenth amendment, and surely all of these deserve our respect and our attention. But I call to your attention now to another amendment to our Constitution which has never been modified or superseded. It is the Ninth amendment to the Constitution and reads thusly: 'The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparate others retained by the people.'”

    To the contrary, Roy Wilkins, the Executive Secretary of the NAACP declared: “....our Nation cannot permit racial differentiation in the conduct of places of public accommodation, open to the public and with public patronage invited and solicited. While such establishments may be privately owned, they owe their life and their prosperity not to the personal friends and relatives of the proprietors, but to the American public, which includes today, as it has for generations, all kinds of Americans” (Wilkins 1963, 286).

    Ingeniously, the Under Secretary of Commerce, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. offered this:

    The question is not whether we can invoke the commerce power; the question is whether we should.... I think it is appropriate because I think the free flow of commerce is importantly involved in the segregation issue....Clearly racial discrimination...affects interstate commerce. In the first place, segregation imposes unnatural limitation in the conduct of business which are injurious to the free flow of commerce. It inhibits businessmen in making rational investment decisions; it compels wasteful and uneconomic duplication of resources: it may even spell the failure of marginal businesses, because segregation limits their opportunity to draw fully upon their markets.....In the second place, the current instability and unrest swirling about various places of public accommodation from time to time is directly injurious to interstate commerce. We live in a time of racial unrest, and this unrest is not going to dissipate without assistance. Voluntary efforts have been helpful, but they are not doing the job. I am satisfied that broadly applicable legislation such as this will solve the problem more neatly, more cleanly, and more quickly than half measures, unevenly undertaken. For that reason, I think that by and large our businessmen, North and South, will welcome it” (Roosevelt 1963, 280 and 282).


    MLK's prophetic Last Speech

    RFK: On the Mindless Menace of Violence

    Alexander M. Bickel's “After the Civil Rights Act” is a haunting prophecy of what was to come, following passage of the Civil Rights Act. Predicting the inevitable passage of the bill, nearly two months from the day it was signed, and before the compromise arrived at in mid-May, between Sen. Dirksen and liberal Democratic leadership, Bickel is even more precise in his vision of what was to come after. Recognizing that more needed to be done, Bickel writes, “the condition of the Negro, cruelly neglected for so long, cannot be remedied all at once. Until it is, we deserve no peace” (Bickel 1964, 14) Indeed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not provide the protection of full voting rights for black citizens. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and voter intimidation remained common place in the South; while housing discrimination and police brutality remained a staple of black urban life for many years to come. Even in Southern California, in the land of Disney Land and Hollywood, blacks remained shut out from the American Dream; and in 1965, the worst riot in American history, up until that point, broke out in Watts. Three years later, nearly every major American city would burn when MLK was assassinated. Only in Indianapolis, where RFK had gone to campaign, did the rioting not take hold. Reminding the crowd that his brother had been killed by a white man, reciting Aeschylus, and pleading with blacks to find another way than violence, RFK would endear himself to a nation at war, abroad and with itself; and when he was assassinated three months later, there was nothing holding the forces of chaos back. Shut out of the Democratic National Convention, liberal students raged in the streets, fighting with police, setting fire to Chicago―ruining any chance for Hubert Humphrey to defeat Richard M. Nixon. Running on a platform of “Law and Order,” Nixon pledged to end the chaos in the streets, and following his victory, a crackdown began on dissident voices in the Left. By the end of the decade, nearly every prominent black leader was dead, jailed, or exiled, and in the vacuum that followed “a new element rose up” on the streets of Southern California, called “the Crips” (Crips and Bloods:Made in America, directed by Stacy Peralta, 2008). The worse may have been still to come.

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