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The passage of the Civil Rights Act was a landmark triumph for one of America's greatest reform movements—the struggle for racial equality.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964, segregation was ended in public swimming pools, libraries, schools, theaters, restaurants, and hotels; and it forbade discriminatory practices in employment.

But the fight for civil rights was underway long before 1964. In 1909, the National Negro Committee, which a year later was incorporated as the National Association for the Advancement of Color People (NAACP), resolved to fight for the Constitution to “be strictly enforced and the civil rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment be secured impartially to all.”

Fifty-five years later, the NAACP’s 1964 national convention was held just two weeks before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. R. Sargent Shriver, then the special assistant to President Johnson, acknowledged the “long-enduring dedicated leadership” of the NAACP in pushing for civil rights legislation. Here are the first four paragraphs of Shriver’s remarks at the NAACP convention on June 24, 1964:

ProQuest History Vault: The NAACP Papers collection meticulously details the organization’s longstanding efforts for civil rights legislation.

After focusing on anti-lynching legislation for its first four decades, in the 1950s, the NAACP made comprehensive civil rights legislation its top legislative priority. Documents in ProQuest History Vault reveal that the NAACP mobilized its branch network as well as its national staff in pushing for national civil rights legislation.

Clarence Mitchell, head of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, played a key role in NAACP efforts for civil rights legislation. In 1955, for example, Mitchell sent suggestions to NAACP branches for ways in which they could urge their Senator or Representative to support civil rights legislation. Mitchell, himself, also worked with members of Congress. In this letter to NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins, Mitchell summarizes a March 2, 1960, meeting he had with then Senator Lyndon Johnson:

In 1963, just three weeks before the March on Washington, the NAACP called its local branch leaders to Washington, D.C. for National Legislative Conference on Civil Rights on August 6-8, 1963. The conference attendees were scheduled to meet with members of the Senate on August 6 and then with members of the House of Representatives on August 7. A month after the March on Washington, Clarence Mitchell told a attendees at an NAACP meeting in Ohio that Congress “must not be permitted to weaken” the pending civil rights bill. Mitchell told the crowd: “We want the strongest bill possible approved each step of the way. Please let your congressmen and senators know that you are against any behind the scenes compromises.”

As the legislation wound its way through Congress in 1964, the NAACP Papers collection in History Vault includes commentaries on different drafts of the bill, descriptions of NAACP efforts to strengthen the bill, and correspondence with senators and congressmen regarding the bill.

Beyond the NAACP Papers, many other collections in History Vault document different aspects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ProQuest History Vault: Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century, Federal Government Records, Civil Rights during the Kennedy Administration and Civil Rights during the Johnson Administration files contain behind-the-scenes correspondence regarding the development of the legislation and reveal the ways in which these two presidents and their civil rights advisers worked with civil rights organizations during the 1960s.

Additional ProQuest databases provide deeper insight into the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ProQuest Historical Newspapers contains news coverage of the law, while Black Studies Center from ProQuest includes journal articles and essays that provide scholarly perspective on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ProQuest Legislative Insight includes a legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while ProQuest Congressional includes Congressional hearings and Congressional Record articles on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

See our Black history milestones timeline.

Librarians: sign up for free trials of an array of complementary digitized resources with content that isn’t available anywhere else.

04 Feb 2014 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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