WASHINGTON – In celebration of the 40-year-old law that guaranteed the equal rights of black Americans to use theaters,buses and water fountains,President Bush Thursday honored those involved in the struggle to pass that law.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964,which spurred what Bush called “one of the longest debates in Senate history,” officially provided equality under the law for blacks,ensuring them equal opportunities to voting,employment and public places. The act officially became law July 2,1964 – 40 years ago this week.
Bush stressed the importance of the law in a White House East Room ceremony to a crowd that included former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial,civil rights advocate Dorothy Height and Luci Baines Jonhnson,daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Before 1964,blacks were denied equality by what Bush called “offensive laws.”
“Forty years ago this week that system of indignity and injustice was ended,” Bush said.
Bush praised civil rights advocates for their freedom rides,marches and protests. They catalyzed the country,he said,at a time when “the conscience of America had to be awakened.”
The president also honored the memory of Johnson,whom he called “a son of the South,” for his “conviction on behalf of a just cause.” He called Johnson “a strong Texan and a great American.” Johnson pushed for the law as part of President John F. Kennedy's legacy shortly after the 1963 assassination and signed the bill the next year.
“Discrimination did not end that day. The work is not done because the evil of bigotry is not defeated,” Bush said,but added,“Yet the laws of this nation and the good heart of this nation are on the side of equality.”