Civil Rights Act celebrates 50th anniversary

Rebekah Davis, Staff Writer

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On Tuesday, Oct. 14, men and women from all over the state of South Carolina gathered to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

The Francis Marion University (FMU) African American Faculty and Staff Coalition, as well as the Robert E. McNair Center for Research and Service, organized the event.

The first half of the evening was spent with Theresa Cosby, a Furman University professor of constitutional law and racial and ethical politics; Jonathan Edwards, General Council for FMU; Don Fowler, a University of South Carolina professor of American government and Former South Carolina Democrat’s Executive Director and Chair; and an adjunct professor of business law at FMU.

The event was moderated by history professor Dr. Louis Venters, discussing the importance of the Civil Rights Act, what it meant for America, why it was necessary and attacks of the law after it was passed.

The act outlawed discrimination in public places, government facilities, federally funded facilities and labor unions, as well as called for national desegregation.

Fowler recounted the first time that he felt the impact of the passing of the Civil Rights Act.

“I came to USC in March of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act was passed that summer,” Fowler said. “Never in social settings, education, business or extra curricular activities was an African American a peer. The first time was in the U.S. Army.”

 

He mentioned that recently a reporter was interviewing him and she asked him what it felt to be segregated. He thought, “How wonderful she didn’t have to experience that political change.”

The panel explored the historical struggles and triumphs of the act. Possibly the largest challenge that faced the legislation was that if the piece passed, the government would regulate private business. So the question became, “Is it legal for the government to regulate what happens behind private doors?”

The trump card that constituted the passing of the legislation was the effect on commerce. If commerce, a government related issue, was affected by a private business’s discrimination, the government had the authority to regulate and become involved. It was with this idea that the Civil Rights Act was passed.

After a short interlude for refreshments, the evening continued with a keynote address from Mark K. Undergrove, a renowned journalist, American Presidential Scholar and Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library.

Undergrove spoke on a program called “The Civil Rights Act at 50: A Legacy Remembered.” He introduced President L.B. Johnson as a man who came to political power being very influenced by Roosevelt’s New Deal.

“He came to prominence in politics under the FDR Administration,” Undergrove said.  “And he saw what government could do to lift up those who were disenfranchised, who were impoverished, who were on the losing end of American society. And that stayed with him.”

 

Thanks to LBJ’s courage and determination, citizens of the United States can live as equals. People of all ethnicities can join together and celebrate the passing of the Civil Rights Act, a positive and influential piece of legislation that forever changed the future of our nation.