overview 1964
1963 1965

"It can be said of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that, short of a declaration of war, no other act of Congress had a more violent background - a background of confrontation, official violence, injury, and murder that has few parallels in American history." In 1963, the nation teetered on the edge of a racial divide. Frustrated by decades of second-class treatment, blacks, having lost patience with their country's legal and political institutions, began turning in larger numbers to direct action to secure their rights.

Employment practices throughout the South and in many northern cities restricted blacks' ability to advance economically or to provide for their families. According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 57 percent of African American housing was judged to be unacceptable; blacks found it all but impossible to get mortgages; black life expectancy was seven years shorter than white; and black infant mortality was twice as great as whites.

"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious," James Baldwin asserted as the 1960s dawned, "is to be in a rage all the time."