From the Archives: ADL & the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Part 1

  • July 2, 2014

Newspapers headlined accusations of police brutality. Steel helmets became standard daily equipment for policemen in a growing network of cities besieged by riots … This was the long, hot summer civil rights experts had warned against – a long, hot summer that threatened to become the American year-round climate. – ADL Bulletin, October 1964


President Kennedy addresses the nation on civil rights, June 11, 1963

It was in the midst of this “long, hot summer” that Congress passed and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a sweeping bill that prohibited segregation in public places and required desegregation of public schools. A tumultuous period of debate and filibuster in Congress was the last hurdle in the long and arduous process that preceded its passage.

Committed to fighting discrimination since its founding, ADL had supported Congress’ passage of the first federal civil rights legislation in over eighty years, the Civil Rights Act of 1957. As plans for a new bill began to take shape, ADL joined a coalition of civil rights and religious organizations that fervently lobbied legislators to pass it.

On June 11, 1963, just two months after noting ADL’s “tireless pursuit of equality of treatment for all Americans” during his address at ADL’s 50th annual meeting, President Kennedy addressed the day’s events, which included a dramatic standoff with Alabama Governor George Wallace, and introduced the Civil Rights Act in a televised speech. In a last ditch effort to prevent the desegregation of the University of Alabama, Governor Wallace placed himself in the door of Foster Auditorium to block the enrollment of two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood. Governor Wallace relented after a presidential proclamation commanded him and anyone else “engaged in unlawful obstructions of justice” to step aside, and Malone and Hood successfully enrolled in the summer session.

Over the course of that year Americans witnessed increasing momentum in the civil rights movement and blood shed, including the assassination of President Kennedy in November.

To be continued…