50 Years after the Civil Rights Act: Author Speaks on Challenges in the White House

April 30, 2014

As the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 approaches, the Miller Center at UVa is hosting several forums to discuss different issues during that time.

The Civil Rights Act was signed on July 2nd 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. However, before that historic day, there was much debate by those creating the law.

The new book titled An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 digs deeper into that debate.

“This is the story of the inside battle to pass the civil Rights act of 1964,” says Todd Purdum, author of the book. “It ended legal segregation throughout the country and made it possible for people, regardless of the color of their skin, to go into public places.”

Purdum spoke in front of an audience at the Miller Center Wednesday morning to explain more of what was going on in the White House during those troubling times, between presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon P. Johnson.

“There were big divisions of play in the country,” says Purdum. “It was 100 years after the Civil War and we saw major unrest in the streets of American cities, violent backlashes by the police against demonstrators and yet in Washington people could manage to bridge the partisan divide and work with people across the aisle.”

Today Purdum says that Washington is much more divided and we see that division when it comes to passing laws, like the Affordable Care Act.

“People made all sorts of arguments against it, that it was creeping socialism, that it would end private property rights, that it would force people to do things they didn't want to do like serve people in their restaurant,” says Purdam. “It was a lot like some of arguments that were made for the Affordable Care Act.”

“The difference is, President Obama had to pass this bill on a narrow partisan basis. 50 years ago the law passed with overwhelming Republican and Democratic support. That's something I think we really have lost in the country.”

He says we have come a long way from segregation, but we still have a ways to go before we are truly living in a society with equal rights for all.

This was the first of several forums at the Miller Center celebrating 50 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act. For more information click on the link under the photo.

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