VNV Tuesday: Lessons in Sausage-Making (h/t @JoyAnnReid) 1/23/18

It’s messy work, but somebody has to do it.
Last week was a writing drought; today I have too many topics to choose from. My final decision was made when I saw a tweet thread from Joy Reid*** that resonated with me, exposed my ignorance, and inspired me to dig further. This is going to be a bare-bones recitation of history that I never learned, but should have. I share it today as information, as well as an object lesson about persistence.

To quote Maya Angelou, “You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lines. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

Civil Rights Act of 1957

  • The first civil rights bill passed since a Reconstruction-era civil rights bill (1875)
  • Arising after Brown v Board of Education, and the resulting white violence against African-Americans, it was intended to ensure the right to vote by all Americans.
  • The original language of the bill was substantially weakened under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, and the chair of the Judiciary Committee, James Eastland (D-MS).
  • The bill was subject to the longest filibuster ever held (24 hours, 18 minutes) by Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-SC)
  • Because the bill had been so weakened, African-American voting only increased by 3% by 1960; however, the Civil Rights Division was established within the Justice Department.

Civil Rights Act of 1960

  • A response to President Eisenhower’s call to Congress to provide legislation in support of civil rights, as well as closing some of the loopholes of the 1957 act.
  • The key section was that those with the legal right to vote would not be restricted on the basis of race or color, including registration, casting a ballot, and having the vote counted.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

  • Unable to ignore the direct action in Birmingham, President Kennedy asked for legislation “”giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public—hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments”, as well as “greater protection for the right to vote”. Report to the American People on Civil Rights
  • After the assassination, President Johnson called for the civil rights legislation as a way to honor the memory of John Kennedy
  • Because the recalcitrant James Eastland (D-MS) was still chair of the Senate Judiciary, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) maneuvered to have the bill skip the Judiciary Committee and go straight to the Senate floor for debate.
  • Eighteen southern Democrats and one southern Republican worked together to filibuster the bill over the course of 54 days.
  • After 54 days, two Democratic and two Republican senators introduced a substitute bill, which while weaker than the House version, was not so weak as to lose House support.
  • Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) commenced a 14 hour, 13 minute filibuster of the new bill, but Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) was able to whip the 67 votes necessary to end the filibuster.
  • Barred unequal application of voter registration requirements, but did not abolish the concept that voters might have to meet further qualifications (beyond citizenship) in order to vote; i.e. literacy tests were not abolished.
  • State and municipal governments were prohibited from denying access to public facilities on grounds of race, color, religion or national origin.
  • The desegregation of public schools was “encouraged” although busing was specifically outlawed. Provisions for busing only came about later, through a rule established by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
  • A prohibition of sex discrimination was added to the bill in an amendment made by Rep. Howard Smith (D-VA); he was greeted with laughter when he proposed the amendment. Despite that, the amendment passed.

Voting Rights Act of 1965

  • After the 1964 election, Democrats gained overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, and President Johnson decided to work quietly, but slowly, on voting rights legislation. He intended to hold off on proposing the legislation, because he wanted to focus on his Great Society reforms, and he couldn’t afford to alienate southern Democrats.
  • The violence in Selma, Dr. King’s Letter from a Selma Jail (published in the New York Times), and a Malcolm X speech in Selma in which he stated that not all African-Americans supported non-violence, changed the timetable.
  • The bill, when introduced, had 46 Democratic and 20 Republican co-sponsors.
  • The House version banned poll taxes outright, while the Senate version merely allowed the Attorney General to sue states which used poll taxes as a means to discriminate. An amendment to ban poll taxes, proposed by Sen. Ted Kennedy had failed in the Senate. In the conference committee, the compromise that was finally accepted (and given Dr. King’s blessing) was legislative language provided by the Attorney General stating that poll taxes were unconstitutional and would result in DoJ action against states using a poll tax. It was Dr. King’s endorsement that enabled the compromise to go forward.
  • The original bill was introduced on March 17, 1965; President Johnson signed the final bill on August 6, 1965.

As we all know, the VRA has been amended over the years, as well as being gutted by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts. Civil rights legislation will be an ongoing need in a country founded on the principles of white supremacy, but to quote the movement, as well as President Johnson when he announced the push for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “We shall overcome.

***The thread which prompted this post:

About DoReMI 165 Articles
Now a Michigander, by way of Ohio, Illinois, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. Gardener. Sewer. Democrat. Resister.


  1. {{{DoReMI}}} – I knew some of this because my momma was very much following it but I was a widdle kid in the 1950s so not a lot of it stuck with me. The same people who are currently attacking Schumer over the CR that released the kids as hostages and a promise in writing on the Dreamers also use the 1957 weakening of the language for that Civil Rights Act as proof that LBJ was a racist. Well, of course he was a racist – he was white and rural white at that – but that has nothing to do with his actions in the Senate. He got a bill that would pass onto the Senate floor. And it still holds the record for an actual talking filibuster.

    So thank you for giving us the history/reminder lesson – and thank you Joy for reminding people that the road to equal rights is neither straight nor smooth. And the only way to make progress is to take what you can get now and keep moving. TX politician Bob Bullock used to recommend taking the half loaf when offered – then go back for the other half later. moar {{{HUGS}}}

    • The rallying cry we here so often is, “Listen to the black women.” There’s a reason for that which seems lost to far too many white people. It’s not because they’ve been magically imbued with some sort of clairvoyance; it’s because few people know struggle and survival like black women do. Now some white folk are becoming aware of what the spectre of oppression, real or potential, looks like, and our toolbox, built up over years of being the oppressor, is not equipped to handle being the oppressed. So when I see folks holding tantrums about “all or nothing,” it tells me that they’re still more tapped in to their privilege than the reality of oppression. Seeking compromise doesn’t make me immoral; it makes me a pragmatist who will be around for the next phase. And that’s another point all too often lost in shouting; if half of the loaf was left on the table, you don’t wait until it’s offered again. You continue to stand around the table and demand that the rest of the loaf be served. You may not be hungry anymore, but you know that there are plenty who are, and they need to be fed too.

      • Basically yes. If you find yourself in a survival situation you go to the survivors for lessons in how to do it. And if you don’t stand by the table asking for the rest of the loaf it is quite true you’ll never get it – but secure the first half first. :)

  2. Good morning Meese. Thanks for the double dose of delight, DoReMi. I want to believe that we can do with DACA what Johnson did for civil rights. It might not be possible but if we don’t try, I guarantee it’s not.

    Enlist. Persist. Insist. Resist.

  3. Thanks Sher…You always have such good diaries…Wish I could write as good…

    I kinda remember the civil rights act that Johnson helped push thru Congress. I was living in the Philippines at the time though and news from home was a little bit different and harder to come by. Great thing that he did though and it would be nice to see more politicians like Lyndon nowadays…

    • Awww, thanks Batch! Johnson is such a contradictory, complex person, which is something I’m only coming to realize. My opinion of him has always been influenced by the anti-war sentiment of the ’60s, so I really never paid him much mind. Now I want to find a good biography about him but not the 4-volume work by Caro. I don’t have enough time for that, so I need to find something shorter and simpler.

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