Civil Rights Act 50 years later

July 1, 2014 

As we prepare to gather with friends and family to celebrate the Fourth of July, I want to encourage everyone to take a moment to commemorate another important event in our nation's history. Fifty years ago today, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, which outlawed discrimination based on race, creed, gender or national origin. The landmark civil rights law prohibited racial segregation in schools, at work and at public facilities, and ended unfair voting registration practices.

As a student at Alabama State College -- now Alabama State University -- in Montgomery, Ala., in the early 1950s, I experienced some of the inequalities that prompted the Civil Rights Movement. Coming from Chicago to Montgomery brought challenges and frustrations due to the racial climate in the South. African-Americans were prohibited from drinking at certain water fountains and using certain washrooms, weren't allowed to choose which seat on a bus to sit on and were banned from eating at many restaurants. African-American students faced the inequality of a segregated school system.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ushered in widespread legal changes for which activists had fought for years. It was a monumental step in the direction of racial equality and fairness.

I encourage those who would like to learn more about this important milestone in our nation's history to read the feature article on the Civil Rights Movement in the "2013-14 Illinois Blue Book," published by my office. The book is available online at or can be found at a local library.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our great nation 238 years ago, let us also remember those heroes who organized, protested and marched so we could live in a society where people, as my former minister the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Jesse White

Illinois Secretary of State

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