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June 19: The 1964 Civil Rights Act

Lawrence Bush
June 19, 2010

MLK Monson_Motor_LodgeThe 1964 Civil Rights Act was approved by the Senate on this date after enduring a lengthy filibuster led by Southern Democrats. This landmark legislation, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, were drafted in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C., under the aegis of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition headed by Arnold Aronson. The law made racial segregation in schools and public accommodations illegal and eliminated voter registration requirements that had been used to suppress the African-American vote. It also outlawed discrimination based on a person’s sex. Passage of the Voting Rights Act took place during a vigorous desegregation campaign in St. Augustine, Florida in which fourteen rabbis were arrested (along with Al Vorspan, a social action leader of the Reform movement) while praying in an integrated group in front of Monson’s Restaurant and two others were arrested for sitting down with three young Blacks in the Chimes Restaurant.
“We came as Jews who remember the millions of faceless people who stood quietly, watching the smoke rise from Hitler’s crematoria. We came because we know that, second to silence, the greatest danger to man is loss of faith in man’s capacity to act.” —“Why We Went,” a joint letter signed by the St. Augustine 17, June 19, 1964

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.