The 1960 Civil Rights Act was born towards the end of 1958. Following the 1957 Civil Rights Act, Eisenhower introduced another civil rights bill in late 1958, which was his reaction to a violent outbreak of bombings against churches and schools in the South. Though Eisenhower is not automatically linked to the civil rights issue, his contribution, including the 1957 Act, is important as it pushed the whole civil rights issue into the White House.
Once again, politicians from the South were furious over what they saw as Federal interference in state affairs. The bill became an act in 1960 as both parties were fighting for the ‘Black Vote’.
The 1960 Civil Rights Act introduced penalties to be levied against anybody who obstructed someone’s attempt to register to vote or someone’s attempt to actually vote. A Civil Rights Commission was created.
The act barely touched on anything new and Eisenhower, at the end of his term of presidency, was accused of passing the thorny problem of voters’ constitutional rights over to his successor. His more generous critics have stated that at least he recognised there was a problem and attempted to tackle not just the issue but the culture surrounding it. Though the act did little to impress civil rights leaders, they were ready to acknowledge that it was again federal government recognition that a problem existed.
The two Eisenhower civil rights acts only added an extra 3% Black voters to the electoral roll for the 1960 election. Some would argue that this reflected Eisenhower’s failure to really put his weight behind civil rights legislation. Others could argue that after 80 years of federal apathy, something was finally being done and the only way the federal government could go from 1960 was further down the road of advancing the cause of civil rights. This was to lead to two landmark pieces of legislation : the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
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