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“Take a Stand for Civil Rights,” petition from residents of Chicago, Illinois, 1963

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 and another in 1960 weakened but did not end racial segregation and voting rights violations. In 1963, as civil rights activists continued to press for further action, President John F. Kennedy sent a new civil rights bill to Congress. Following Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson made passage of that bill a legislative priority.

Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

Take a Stand for Civil Rights petition from residents of Chicago Take a Stand for Civil Rights petition from residents of Chicago

Congress and the Court Secure Civil Rights

Congress and the Supreme Court have used their distinct but overlapping powers to define the legal basis of civil rights. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, violent intimidation and local Jim Crow laws continued to restrict black people, particularly in the South. Civil rights activists challenged those conditions, and in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional. Over the next decade, Congress passed landmark legislation to end segregation and ensure all citizens may freely exercise their civil rights.

We must come to see with the jurists of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963