Bookmark and Share  Print 

Monday June 30, 2014

50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
posted by Thomas Ebendorf
Tags: In the news 


July 2, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   President Lyndon B. Johnson signed this omnibus civil rights bill on July 2, 1964.  The drafters of the proposed Civil Rights Act intended to provide protection for minorities from discrimination in certain places of public accommodation and employment.  It was hotly debated in congress and numerous attempts were made by various legislators to prevent its passage.  One of the more creative attempts to scuttle this law was proposed by Howard W. Smith of Virginia, Chairman of the Rules Committee in the House of Representatives.  He tried to emasculate this proposed statute by offering up a one-word amendment to Title VII, the prohibited employment practices section of the Civil Rights Act.  He amended Title VII by adding “sex” as a protected class.  Commentators believed this disingenuous amendment by Congressman Smith was calculated to generate opposition from African American and labor groups, two of the principal promoters of this proposed law. 

An informative discussion of this amendment can be found in Chapter 12 of “We Will Be Heard:  Women’s Struggles for Political Power in the United States” by Jo Freeman, Ph.D., J.D.  Her chapter entitled “How ‘Sex ‘Got Into Title VII:  Persistent Opportunism as a Maker of Public Policy” provides a brief but informative discussion of the subject.

Many observers find real irony in this one-word attempt to gut the bill, as it stimulated the creation of numerous groups supporting women’s rights and was the impetus to the passage of sex discrimination laws in many states.