CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Wednesday marks an important day in U.S. history. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Five decades later, experts say the battle for true equality continues.
Damien Arthur, an assistant professor of political science at West Virginia State University in Institute, says 50 years ago the prospect of everyone being treated equally — regardless of race, religion, color, sex or national origin — was a foreign concept to millions of Americans.
“The politics of the Civil Rights Act even getting signed is nothing short or a miracle,” stressed Arthur.
What happened in 1964 was a perfect storm of politicians, ideas and compromise coming together to make a major change in the United States, he said.
“It happened to be in the right time, the right place, the right President, with the right Congress, with the right Senate, with the right House and it went through,” explained Arthur.
Also helping make it happen were people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education, that desegregated schools.
One person in 1964 who didn’t want the change was the junior Senator from West Virginia.
“Robert C. Byrd filibustered the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He did not want those changes to take place or affect his state. But if you look in 2008, he was a very strong supporter of Barack Obama,” said Arthur.
In fact, over the past 50 years, a lot of people have changed their minds about the outcome of the Civil Right Act. However, Arthur said that doesn’t mean the Act has fully been put into use. For example, he says women continue to earn 75-cents on the dollar to a man’s salary. African Americans make up about 15 percent of the U.S. population but inside prison walls they make up about 40 percent of the inmates. Arthur said the list goes on an on.
“There are a number of indicators to look at that there have been progress in (civil rights) but there still needs to be a lot more progress in those areas,” according to Arthur.
What would happen if the Civil Rights Act were to come before Washington June 2, 2014?
“This type of legislation would be unheard of today. There’s no way it would get through the partisan gridlock,” stressed Arthur.
There are celebrations scheduled all across the country on Wednesday to mark the historic date.