April 11th

US President Lyndon Baines Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which provided equal housing opportunities regardless of race or religion.

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Lyndon B. Johnson – US President 1963-69

This was the third piece of landmark legislation signed by LBJ in response to the Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights Act 1964 outlawed racial discrimination and segregation, whilst the Voting Rights Act 1965 stopped African Americans from being denied their right to vote of the 15th Amendment at state and local level.

The most significant provision of 1968 was Title VIII which was known as the Fair Housing Act. This federally enforced the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin. Despite Supreme Court cases such as Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) and Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968), African Americans were still denied housing in certain parts of cities, and community patterns were largely on racial lines. The now influential National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lobbied for more legislation to secure their rights, with their chief lobbyist Clarence Mitchell Jr. often heralded as the 101st senator, and an bill passed the Senate by a slim margin with the support of Everett Dirksen, the Republican Senate Republican leader. Edward Brooke, who became the 1st African American elected to the Senate in 1966, coauthored the bill alongside Democrat Walter Mondale. Brooke was to campaign for stronger enforcement provisions in the following years after the bill was weakened by the now conservative (a reaction to the militancy of the Civil Rights movement) House of Representatives.

President Johnson increased his pressure on Congress to pass this legislation after Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination on the day of the Senate vote caused a wave of riots across the country. King had marched for open housing in Chicago and Johnson wanted another ode to his legacy.

The Act also included rights for Native Americans from Title II through to VII, which granted them full access to the Bill of Rights within their tribes. This meant that whilst also having the ability to self-govern, Native Americans were protected by the Supreme Court in tribal lands.

The success of the Fair Housing Act is however marred by the increasing de-facto segregation that followed it. The black population moved into urban areas whilst whites left for the suburbs where blacks were less than welcome. The issue of inner city ghettos with a lack of employment opportunities and high crime levels continues to be a staple of American life, now more than ever.

 

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