Civil Rights Act of 1964

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The movement

On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the unanimous opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, overturning its landmark ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, which had upheld the constitutionality of segregationist state laws under the doctrine of “separate but equal.”

The court’s abandonment of Plessy reverberated throughout the country, but by itself could not dislodge Jim Crow. Only years of social upheaval could bring about legislation as transformative as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The civil rights movement finally pressured the politicians to act — and the press served as its witnesses. With a presence in the South stretching back 90 years, The Associated Press was uniquely prepared to report it.

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“This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union. … This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.”

—President John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1963