The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
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A National Struggle

Introduction The President The Congress The Supreme Court

The Congress - congressional efforts for or against civil rights Page 2 of 2
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Hiram Revels and U.S. Constitution
Hiram Revels, the first African-American elected to the Senate (top), and an detail of the U.S. Constitution (bottom).

By Roosevelt's second term (1937-1940), however, the Democratic party had become more liberal, less deferential to Southerners, and more interested in urban issues. Angered by what they viewed as a betrayal, Southern Democrats began to aggressively block legislation introduced by Northern, liberal Democrats, leading filibusters against anti-lynching and anti-poll tax bills. In 1935, an anti-lynching bill was met with a six-day, gentlemanly discussion before it died, with neither party wanting to offend the other. An anti-lynching bill introduced in 1938, however, led to a seven-week discussion.

Southerners continued to use racism as a tool for re-election, scaring their constituents by claiming that "white womanhood" was endangered by the loss of states' rights to control the blacks of the South. Former Mississippi governor and virulent white supremacist Senator Theodore Bilbo first joined the Senate in 1935, and went so far as to introduce an amendment to a relief bill that would provide funds for the deportation of all blacks to Liberia. After Bilbo's third re-election in 1946, black organizations pressured the Senate to investigate his dealings with white supremacist groups. Only Bilbo's death in the late summer of 1947 spared the Congress from dealing with the matter, but marked the beginning of the postwar struggle for the passage of civil rights legislation. It was virtually impossible for civil rights legislation to get past the Senate in the 1940s and much of the 1950s, as the Southern Senators frequently launched filibusters that killed any legislation challenging the Southern status quo.

Not all Southern Congressmen were silent on the issue of civil rights and federal relief programs. Senator Claude Pepper (D - FL) was notable for challenging his Southern colleagues, and voted with Northern New Dealers more than any other Southern Senator. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was introduced and strongly supported by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX), in spite of a filibuster led by Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC, who switched to R-SC in 1964), during which Thurmond spoke for a Senate record of 24 hours 18 minutes. Senator Johnson (and President Eisenhower) was more concerned with garnering the support of his colleagues than with affecting true change in the lives of black Americans in the south, so the Civil Rights Act was intentionally watered down so as not to alienate and anger Southern Democrats. In its final form, the bill simply created a Commission on Civil Rights, but did not affect Jim Crow. It was, however, the first civil rights legislation to become law since the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Then & Now: Four African Americans have served in the U.S. Senate since 1870; today the Senate has no African-American representatives.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, was much more powerful in scope. It barred discrimination on the basis of race in areas of public accommodation, schools, libraries, museums, and hospitals. It prohibited businesses and unions from discriminatory actions, but did not protect the right to vote. As President, Lyndon B. Johnson was more committed to getting the Act through Congress, and wanted it passed in its original form, unlike the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It took approximately 6 months to get the bill through Congress and signed into law, thanks to the persistence of President Johnson, Senator Hubert Humphrey (D - MN), and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a powerful lobbying organization representing diverse member groups. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first to deal a decisive blow against Jim Crow. The Act demonstrated that the executive and legislative branches of the federal government were committed to working together to support constitutional rights for black Americans, for the first time since the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.

The final and decisive law that effectively ended the legal practice of Jim Crow was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Act declared it illegal to use literacy or character tests as a requirement for voter registration and in counties and states where less than half the population had voted in 1964. Jim Crow had lost the support of the federal government in its all aspects of segregation and discrimination. The passage of laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were influenced by civil rights activists' persistent challenge of Jim Crow by non-violent methods such as sit-ins, marches, and boycotts. Civil rights supporters were empowered by the passage of these laws, and continued to challenge the violent resistance of some white Southerners. Though Jim Crow had been defeated, blacks faced its legacy and continued to seek new ways to address the inequality and discrimination they faced in its wake.

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Historical Documents
Read the text of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Related Pages
The President

The Supreme Court

Democratic Party

Republican Party

Communist Party, USA

The Emancipation Proclamation


Ku Klux Klan

Harry S Truman Supports Civil Rights

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