The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Modern Society, the New Freedoms, and the Benefits and Harms Caused to Society

By Elizabeth Hall

Civil Rights Act of 1964
Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not the first legislation of its kind, as there were Civil Rights Acts as far back as 1866, this act established the pathways for all people to gain education (Black Americans in Congress, n.d.).  The establishment of education for all people regardless of race, creed, nationality, sex, or religion provides the path to equality in this country.  The passage of this act has had a profound effect on my life, educational, and career choices.  Globally this act has had a profound effect as well, as it has prompted many immigrants to make the sometimes-arduous journey to the United States to take part in this education.  Although there is still more yet needing done, this piece of legislation is one of the most important legislation this country has passed since the Constitution and has affected each one of us in one manner or another. 
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
Throughout the history of the United States, at various times reaching as far back as the 1776 letter from Abigail Adams the people of this country have been pushing for equal rights for everyone at one time or another as noted by The National Women’s Project (2002).  Abigail Adams wrote this letter to remind her husband to “Remember the ladies” when forming policy for this country.  This was the beginnings of anyone having the notion that anyone but white men deserves rights.  This letter was also the beginning of a struggle among people of the United States that would culminate 188 years later with a new beginning. 
Many people contributed to this cause over the years, some giving their time to promote freedom for all, some by going to jail, however some gave with their very lives.  What it caused is civil rights for everyone regardless of race, creed, sex, national origin, color, or religion, to be strictly enforced in the United States today (Farber, 1994).  Throughout history, several notable events made the enactment
English: President Lyndon B. Johnson at the si...
English: President Lyndon B. Johnson at the signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. White House East Room. People watching include Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Senator Hubert Humphrey, First Lady "Lady Bird" Johnson, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover, Speaker of the House John McCormack. Television cameras are broadcasting the ceremony. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 a possibility, such as the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments abolishing slavery establishing citizenship for people born or naturalized in the United States, and the right to vote for all citizens.  Six Civil Rights Acts came into law from the time of Abigail Adams’ letter until the Act of 1964 became the law of the land (Black Americans in Congress, n.d.). 
The first of these, enacted in 1866 by the 41st congress gave white men the right to buy or lease land.  The legislation did not state that it was for white men, however at the time, they were the only subset of people that this country considered having rights at all.  The next five Civil Rights Acts all primarily ensured freedom of discrimination by race, color, creed, sex, religion, or national origins, and the right to vote (Black Americans in Congress, n.d.).  While these are important, the one thing that they did not ensure was the right to an education, which meant, that everyone, except white men of means did not receive the same educational benefits.  When congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for the first time education, mandated as a right to everyone, came with integration enforcement by law, so that anyone attending public school was federally entitled to the same education in the same facilities as everyone else (Farber,1994). 
Effects on My Life
As a white female born in Louisiana in 1970, I saw subtle nuances of racism around me every day, but nobody talked about it.  However, during my lifetime, because of the passage of this legislation, I 
Portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
have had many opportunities that would not have happened, such as going to college, managing a restaurant, and even thinking about entering the criminal justice field.  These were all male dominated jobs, and my role would have been to stay at home, clean the house, raise the kids, and take care of my husband.  College would not have been considered, as I would have been married soon after high school.  This is because that was how things were before the 1960’s. 
Effects on Choice of Scholastic Opportunity and Course of Study
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it possible for me to go to school and learn tolerance from the beginning of my educational pursuits, because in 1975, the rights that people would protest, sit-in, boycott, and get themselves arrested, beaten, or both for were already put into place.  Schools mixed with people from all races, nationalities, creeds, sexes, colors, and religions’ learning together was the standard the United States had set.  Where women learned homemaking skills in the 1950’s in home economics class, they could now take auto shop instead, or whatever they chose including focusing on math and science. 
For the first time, all people were entitled to the same educational opportunities which should have given everyone equal opportunity, however it did not quite accomplish that goal.  According to Dye & Harrison (2008), it seems that the struggle for this right moved from a discrimination by race, creed, nationality, sex, or religion into the social status of capitalism and the elites and the masses.  The struggle there is economical, because the elites have a disproportional amount of wealth compared to what the masses have; therefore, they have better opportunities in a capitalist system.  This legislation was the backbone of gaining equal rights for everyone and for further legislation to obtain true equality.
Effects on Career Choice
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X waiting for p...
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X waiting for press conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What this legislation did for women was to pave the pathway for women’s liberation movements, because if we recognized the civil rights that it introduced, made all discrimination illegal, including against women.  What it did not do was actually provide them equal pay for equal work (Farber, 1994).  It did, however give them the right to obtain the education to perform any job, even those previously considered male jobs only.  With the education, women receive now, along with the other legislation passed since then, they can compete in the workplace for any job in any company against anyone if they have the educational requirements for the position.  Other legislation includes, but is not limited to combat duty since 1990, membership to clubs and organizations such as the Jaycees, and the Gender Equality in Education Act in 1994 according to the National Women’s Project (2002). 
Worldwide Effects
The global effects that have come from this legislation have both good and bad aspects for this country due to the way that Title VI of the legislation reads, as noted by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management (OASAM) (n.d.).  The bill reads “No person in the United States, shall on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal Assistance” (OASAM, n.d.).  The reason that this is good for this country is because citizens and legal immigrants can receive these benefits, services, and considerations.  The reason that this legislation is bad for the country is because all legislation is written with certain wording, which is followed to the letter of the law.
 The problem with this has to do with illegal immigration, because the wording specifically states that “any person in the United States” is entitled to these services, benefits, and considerations (OASAM, n.d.).  What this translates into in reality is that every illegal immigrant that sets foot in our country is entitled to these benefits as well.  Baker, Hoefer, and Rytina (2010), report that the illegal immigrant population increased by 27% from 2000 to 2009, with most of these people entering from our Mexican border.  They define legal immigrants as those who have obtained the statuses of; asylum, permanent residence, refugee, or persons granted temporary passes to study or work in the United States.  Illegal immigrants are defined as any person born in a foreign country that has not obtained citizenship, who are not legal immigrants (Baker, Hoefer, & Rytina, 2010). 
Before the year 2001 and the attacks on the World Trade Center, this issue was a problem for this country because of the southern border and the amount of illegal drug trafficking that gets into the country at these points from Mexico and Columbia (National Drug Threat Assessment, 2010).  After the year 2001, not only does this problem affect our citizens and legal immigrants through the violence brought into the country by the drug trafficking, but because of the attacks on September 11, 2001 now this affects our national security as well.  This is largely due to the threat of enemies of our nation entering our country illegally.  The Center for Immigration Studies reports that the most imperative thing that we can do to protect ourselves from the multiple threats from abroad is to secure our immigration process and our borders (Camarota, 2002).
100_1086 (Photo credit: www_ukberri_net)
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the most important pieces of legislation that the United States has passed since the signing of the United States Constitution.  This act provided for the advancement of everyone in the United States to obtain a proper and equal education under Federal law regardless of race, color, sex, creed, or national origin.  For the most part this has been a blessing, opening the door for the advancement of equality we enjoy today, which is not perfect, but has come a long way since 1964.  The only drawback to this legislation is that the wording chosen allows a person to come here illegally, and get the same benefits as anyone who chooses to come here legally.  This is causing our country to endure extra violence caused by the illegal immigrants who choose to smuggle drugs into this country, and now a credible threat to our national security.  Another issue this contributes to is the financial crisis we are in, because we are funding their lives with federal monies.  This is a hotbed issue in our Capitol because of the financial crisis and that there is no easy solution to the problem.  It does seem, however, that the simplest solution is to let the people who are already here stay, but also to allocate the funding to close the borders to keep new illegal immigrants out.

Baker, B.C., Hoefer, M., & Rytina, N., (2010).  Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2009.  Retrieved From:  http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/ois_ill_pe_2009.pdf
Black Americans in Congress (n.d.).  Historical Data: The Constitutional Amendments and Major Civil Rights Acts of Congress Referenced on this Website.  Retrieved From: http://baic.house.gov/historical-data/civil-rights-acts-and-amendments.html
Camarota, S. A., (2002).  The Open Door: How Militant Islamic Terrorists Entered and Remained.  Retrieved From: http://www.cis.org/911-HowMilitantIslamicTerroristsEntered
Dye, T.R., & Harrison, B.C., (2008).  Power & Society: An Introduction to the Social Sciences.  Thomas Wadsworth
Farber, D. (1994).  The age of great dreams America in the 1960's.  New York: Hill and Wang
            Georgetown University, (n.d.). 
National Women’s History Project (2002).  Timeline of Legal History of Women in the United States.  Retrieved From: http://www.legacy98.org/timeline.html#1932
New York Teacher Archive, (n.d.).  Women’s Labor History Timeline: 1765-Present Day.  Retrieved From: http://www.nysut.org/newyorkteacher_12304.htm
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management (OASAM), (n.d.).  Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Retrieved From: http://www.dol.gov/oasam/regs/statutes/titlevi.htm

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