The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act

By Clay Risen

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 used to be the one most crucial piece of laws glided by Congress in American heritage. This one legislations so dramatically altered American society that, in retrospect, it kind of feels preordained--as Everett Dirksen, the GOP chief within the Senate and a key supporter of the invoice, acknowledged, "No strength is extra strong than an idea whose time has come." yet there has been not anything predestined concerning the victory: a phalanx of strong senators, pledging to "fight to the demise" for segregation, introduced the longest filibuster in American background to defeat it.

The bill’s passage has frequently been credited to the political management of President Lyndon B. Johnson, or the ethical strength of Martin Luther King Jr. but as Clay Risen indicates, the conflict for the Civil Rights Act used to be a narrative a lot larger than these males. It used to be a extensive, epic fight, a sweeping story of unceasing grassroots activism, ringing speeches, backroom deal-making, and, ultimately, hand-to-hand legislative strive against. In The invoice of the Century, Clay Risen offers the complete tale, in all its complexity and drama.

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As a spectacle captured magnificently through television, it established to the numerous hundreds of thousands of white americans who knew the stream completely by way of the pictures from Birmingham that the nation’s blacks got here in peace. only a few of these audience then became instantly to their writing desks to pen a letter to Congress aiding the invoice. yet within the months to come back, they might be extra open to the follow-up appeals added through their ministers, much less attracted to the anti-civil-rights propaganda spilling forth from CCFAF, and likely to signal a petition or perhaps, finally, to jot down a letter in aid of the invoice. The march, in different phrases, set a tone of ethical optimism, a context that drove the politics of the invoice lengthy after the development had pale into background. The march had different knock-on results. primarily, it helped unify a still-fractured civil rights coalition. even though Reuther himself had by no means wavered in his aid of civil rights or the teams best the struggle, many within the UAW and AFL-CIO, together with its president, George Meany, did. thank you partially to the sour struggle with the NAACP over discrimination in the garment and construction trades unions, Meany had refused to suggest the march, and he stonewalled Reuther whilst the UAW president attempted to press his case. ahead of the march, with Meany at the sidelines, it was once an open query as to how a lot aid Reuther might command from different member unions, not to mention the remainder of his management and the rank and dossier. in a while, the flood of goodwill for King and the civil rights reason successfully remoted Meany and gave Reuther a veritable clean payment for pushing the invoice with union assets over the arrival 12 months. The march additionally spurred teams that have been already concerned to move additional. Victor Reuther, certainly one of Walter’s brothers and the UAW’s liaison to the NCC and different non secular teams, was once encouraged by means of the march and created a making plans committee to prepare lobbying groups to unfold around the Midwest, advocating for the invoice. a number of days after the march, a convention at the invoice backed through the NCC opened in Lincoln, Nebraska, drawing one hundred ten humans from 13 states; on September 12, one other 900 humans met in Des Moines, Iowa, to kick off a months-long multistate crusade for the invoice. From there, four-person teams—composed of a theologian, a legislative professional, a consultant from SNCC or SCLC, and a coordinator—spread out around the Midwest, organizing letter-writing campaigns, recruiting ministers to recommend for the invoice of their sermons, and vacationing representatives and senators domestic from Washington. in response to Hamilton, among June and December 1963, the NCC’s Committee on Race and faith spent $185,000 on lobbying for the invoice and on efforts to desegregate churches—or $1. four million in 2013 cash. ninety nine in truth, lobbying for a higher invoice had all started good sooner than the 1st marchers arrived in Washington that August morning. On June 7, even prior to the invoice used to be brought, the AFL-CIO’s head lobbyist, Andrew Biemiller, despatched the White apartment a memo outlining labor’s place on it, concentrated totally on the necessity for an FEPC.

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