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Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 8.36.19 AM.pngWas John F. Kennedy a civil rights hero, or was it Lyndon Johnson? One of the most important things to communicate to students about the Civil Rights Act is why it was needed. Legislation focusing not only on public acts of discrimination, but also on private prejudice. The comprehensive civil rights bill won the endorsement of House and Senate Screen Shot 2017-02-04 at 10.44.43 AM-1.pngRepublican leaders, but it was not passed; however, before 22 November 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. The bill was left in the hands of Lyndon B. Johnson. Before becoming vice president, Johnson had served more than two decades in Congress as a congressman and senator from Texas. He use his connections with southern white congressional leaders, and with the assistance of Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department and the outpouring of emotion after the president’s assassination, the Civil Rights Act was passed as a way to honor President Kennedy.

Screen Shot 2017-02-04 at 10.45.07 AM.pngProvisions of the legislation included: (1) protecting African Americans against discrimination in voter qualification tests; (2) outlawing discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce; (3) authorizing the US Attorney General’s Office to file legal suits to enforce desegregation in public schools; (4) authorizing the withdrawal of federal funds from programs practicing discrimination; and (5) outlawing discrimination in employment in any business exceeding 25 people and creating an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to review complaints.

Screen Shot 2017-02-04 at 10.44.56 AM.pngPassed on 2 July 1964, the Civil Rights Act was a crucial step in achieving the civil rights movement’s initial goal: full legal equality. When John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, African Americans throughout much of the South were denied the right to vote, barred from public facilities, subjected to insults and violence, and could not expect justice from the courts. In the North, black Americans also faced discrimination in housing, employment, education, and many other areas. But the civil rights movement had made important progress, and change was on the way.

Screen Shot 2017-02-04 at 10.45.16 AM.pngBig Universe provides eBooks for the Civil Rights movement. “Black people sympathized with Kennedy’s otherness, with the fact that as a Catholic and having an Irish background, he wasn’t supposed to win,” Wilson said. “He was the underdog. It’s an American story that African Americans could relate to, and we empathized with him because of it.” Kennedy did contribute to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He supported the legislation and went to the public to stump for it when it got bogged down in Congress. His public address on June 11, 1963, was one of the most meaningful speeches he made.“We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution,” Kennedy said. This is where context becomes important, because to understand the need for the Civil Rights Act, students must understand what it meant to live in the Jim Crow South. Jim Crow segregation combined repressive government, racist cultural norms, and extralegal violence to shape not only political relationships between the races, but social and economic ones as well. At its heart, Jim Crow meant imposing absolute white control over the region’s African American population with the specific intent of keeping power in the hands of white southerners, and away from black southerners. Students in the 21st century the outcome of the repressive efforts, plainly put what it was like to be an African American man or woman living in the 60’s. Black people could not vote or hold office. They were exiled to the back of public buses, and could not ride on the same train cars as white people. Moreover, being excluded from public services, amenities, places to eat or sleep, good schools, even public transportation.

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Big Universe provides access to an online library, whereby any device can be easily accessed to read more about the civil rights movement and how legislation helped to change the ways in which Americans live their daily lives and how, although much different from the 60’s, both race and gender discrimination still exist today.

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