The 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act
The Civil Rights Act of 1964,
signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964, was historical
legislation that outlawed major forms of discrimination. The Act strengthened
voting rights, it prohibited discrimination and segregation in public places, prohibited
segregation in public schools, and prohibited discrimination in the work place.
Its purpose was to improve the quality of life for all Americans. It is
described as an Act that “did not resolve all problems of discrimination but it
opened the door to further progress.”
However, it was hundreds of years
before 1964 when Philadelphia began to play an integral role in establishing
America’s earliest civil liberties. In
1681, William Penn was said to govern Pennsylvania with equality and tolerance.
In 1701, Penn wrote The Charter of Privileges, signed in Philadelphia, that
granted certain rights to the citizens of Pennsylvania and included the freedom
The two most timeless charters of
freedom – The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – were both written
in Philadelphia. Freedom, however, was still a matter of debate in the nation
as the moral issue of slavery deeply divided the country and women were not
permitted to vote. Nevertheless, many civil-minded Philadelphians were
abolitionists and suffragettes and, as Europeans immigrated to Philadelphia and
strived to establish their various cultural and religious rights, there were
Philadelphians who supported the use of various languages and helped citizens
maintain their religious heritage.
In 1912, the Philadelphia chapter
of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was
founded – the national organization was formed just 3 years earlier. Numerous
Philadelphians were heralded for their work with the NAACP and their courageous
efforts to end racial segregation and discrimination.
In 1951, Philadelphia became the
first city in the United States to establish a Commission on Human Relations –
an agency that enforces the city’s laws prohibiting discrimination and promotes
equal rights and opportunities for all Philadelphians.
In the 1960s, the protests at
Girard College made national news as the school only admitted white male
orphans. That same decade, Philadelphia
experienced its first gay sit-in followed by annual gay rights pickets at
Civil rights activism continued
to be a part of the City’s quest to ensure equality for all - from the founding
of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW);
Project HOME that aids the homeless; to organizations and individuals dedicated
to improving the lives of Latinos, and advocacy groups that promote mutual
respect and understanding between religions.
Philadelphia is proud of its past
contributions to advance equality and embraces its multi-ethnic and
multi-spiritual citizenry. The City has continued to be a leader in supporting
the civil rights of women and the LGBT community. And as the birthplace of
America, Philadelphia will continue its legacy to protect the freedoms and
rights of all Philadelphians.
March on Washington, John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives at William Way LGBT Community Center
Sister Scullion and Joan McConnon, Project HOME