November 01, 2014 Individual Rights and Responsibilities

Looking Back on 1963 Fifty Years Later

Jon Greenbaum

At his inauguration as Alabama’s governor in January 1963, George Wallace infamously and defiantly declared in a speech written by a former Ku Klux Klan leader, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” Earlier that month, the Kennedy administration, hesitant to alienate white Southern constituents who had been indispensable to his narrow victory in the 1960 election, had declined to issue any statement recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Instead, the administration would hold a reception for African American leaders on President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in February 1963. This reflected how little progress had been made in the century since President Lincoln had issued the proclamation calling for the end of slavery in the Confederate states. After President John F. Kennedy’s death, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s determination and mastery of the legislative process began to overcome the long-standing barriers to major civil rights legislation that Southern congressmen had erected for decades. The events of 1963 would lead to the passage of landmark federal civil rights legislation and a legal community that in the decades since has used not only these statutes but a number of other means to move America toward justice.

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