African History

Fifty Years After Civil Rights Act Was Signed, Is America a Better Place?

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It has been 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and they’re certainly has been notable progress in lessening the harsh effects of racism in America.

Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club’s “Our WildAmerica” campaign, claims during a piece on the Huffington Post that the Civil Rights Act “changed America’s views of every other.”

But there’s little question the anniversary has dampened by the series of racially charged killings over the summer, casting doubt on the presumed progress America had been making towards change.

The Chu writes that the signing of the Civil Rights Act, alongside the signing in 1964 of the Wilderness Act, which protected over 9 million acres of federal land, was “bold and effective responses to long-standing problems.”

In 1960, President John F. Kennedy was alarmed by a report that detailed a number of the struggles of African-Americans: quite half African-American housing had been “judged unacceptable”; anticipation “was seven years shorter than for white Americans”; African-American infant deathrate was twice as high as for whites. It also revealed to Kennedy “that fear and racially-based ignorance would cause property values to drop” should an African-American family move to an all-white neighborhood.



Even though Kennedy was assassinated before he was ready to pass the historic legislation, his successor President Johnson “acted determinedly and political prowess” to pass the bill and “lead our nation within the direction of fulfilling the constitutional promise of equal justice for all,” Chu writes.

Since the Act was signed, “the African American bourgeoisie has grown in large part by the outlawing of race-based discrimination,” Chu says. “In almost every economic category, African-Americans have made gains (although still not at an equivalent rate as white Americans). The median African American family income (in inflation-adjusted dollars) has risen from $22,000 in 1963 to quite $40,000 today (although that’s still just two-thirds of the median income for all Americans).”

The Chu reports that the African-American poverty rate, which was quite 40 percent within the 1960s, is right down to around 27 percent, and high school graduation is at 85 percent, compared to 1964 when only one in four African-Americans above the age of 25 graduated from high school. Yet the percentage for African-Americans remains twice that of white Americans.

It’s been 50 years since President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act, and the Chu writes that “much has changed for the higher ,” but “more still must be done.” The Chu says that alongside celebrating the anniversary, it’s also time “to rededicate ourselves.”


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