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In the early 1960ís, Blacks and Whites were not treated as equals. Blacks did not hold many government positions. Blacks constantly faced segregated private and public facilities. For example, Blacks couldnít eat in the same restaurants, drink out of the same drinking fountains, or use the same bathrooms as Whites. They couldnít even sit in the front seats of buses. The Whites got to sit in the front and the Blacks had to sit in the back. Blacks were living in ghettos while Whites were moving into richer suburban areas. Many Blacks did not have a chance to vote. Blacks and Whites usually went to separate schools. President John F. Kennedy helped change this unfairness by developing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Ending Racial Discrimination
During Kennedyís Presidential Inaugural address in 1961, he promised to end racial discrimination. During Kennedyís time in office, he appointed black people to many federal positions. No other president had done that in the past. President Kennedy appointed about forty Blacks to administrative posts such as Administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency, Associate White House Press Secretary, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. He also selected five black federal judges, giving hope to Black Americans that more important jobs will go to Blacks.
Ending Discrimination on Buses
In 1960, a Supreme Court Decision ruled that segregation was illegal in bus stations that were open to interstate travel. Civil rights activists started taking Freedom Rides. This meant that black and white people, Freedom Riders, would travel around the South in buses to test if the new law worked. In some places, like Alabama, people would attack the Freedom Riders because they didnít want to change. President Kennedy supported the Freedom Riders. By the fall of 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission further helped civil rights by saying all seating in interstate buses would be "without reference to race, color, or creed" and that all terminals would be integrated. This means that everyone can sit wherever they want on a bus even if they look different or believe in something other than what most people do.
Ending Discrimination in Housing
Discrimination in housing was another civil rights issue in the 1960ís. Many blacks lived in poor areas. Most banks, realtors, and homeowners would not sell nicer homes in white neighborhoods to blacks. Blacks were stuck living in poor areas. In 1960, a Civil Rights commission report said 57% of all non-white housing was below standards. Kennedyís Executive Order #11063 tried to correct the black housing problem in 1962 by banning racial discrimination in housing.
Ending Discrimination in Voting
Many black people were not allowed to vote in the 1960ís because the white people in the South used any excuse to not allow them to register to vote. They required people to pass a test and pay money to vote (a poll tax). You have to register to be able to vote. Without voting, Blacks had no power. Kennedy tried to get more Blacks registered to vote by supporting students to go and register black voters in the South. He thought that if Blacks could vote, they could change laws and the people who governed them. More government people would then help the Blacks because they would want the black people to vote for them.
Ending Discrimination in Education
School segregation was another civil rights issue. In many places Whites and Blacks were not allowed to go to the same schools. School desegregation is when people are trying to put Whites and Blacks into the same school so they donít have to have separate schools. They were trying to put them in the same school so that Blacks would be able to be treated the same as Whites. President John F. Kennedy helped support the people who wanted desegregation, like James Meredith and black students at the University of Alabama.
James Meredith, a black man, wanted to go to an all-white school called the University of Mississippi. It was not surprising that the school objected. With the backing of the NAACP, Meredith sued the University of Mississippi and won. President John F. Kennedy told the department of defense to protect James Meredith when he went to the school. The day before he started college, riots were breaking out. Several hundred federal marshals fought back with tear gas and nightsticks. The following day he started school. Justice Department Officers accompanied him to class. Meredith graduated with a degree in Political Science.
In June 1963, Alabamaís governor, George Wallace, tried to block two black students from entering the University of Alabama by standing in front of the registration building door. Kennedy used the army to let the two Blacks enroll in the school. President Kennedy used this situation to address civil rights as a "moral issue." He said: "It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?" Kennedy tried to make white people aware of the unfair way black Americans were being treated. He pointed out that unequal treatment was against American religious and Constitutional morals. He asked for a quicker end to discrimination and also promised new civil rights laws.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
One week later, President Kennedy told Congress that the new civil rights laws he proposed involve every Americanís right to vote, to go to school, to get a job, and to be served in a public place without arbitrary discrimination--rights which most Americans take for granted. In short, enactment of The Civil Rights Act of 1963 at this session of Congress is very important. The Civil Rights Act of 1963 had eight sections and included laws to guarantee all people would have equal access to hotels, restaurants, and other public places. The act also helped black voting rights and school desegregation.
Sadly, President Kennedy didnít see his Civil Rights Act of 1963 become law. He was assassinated November 1963. The act became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and after one year it was finally passed.
During Kennedyís Inaugural address on January 20, 1961, he said, "All this will not be finished in the first hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first thousand days, nor in the lifetime of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin." The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a start to helping blacks and whites to be treated as equals.
John F. Kennedy Timeline
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