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National Archives now displaying 1964 Civil Rights Act for its 50th anniversary

The 1964 Civil Rights Act, whose Title VII outlawed employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, is on display June 18 through Sept. 16 at the National Archives to honor the law's 50th anniversary.

National Archives displays two pages of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act for its 50th anniversary, June 18-Sept. 16.
First page 1964 Civil Rights Act, displayed at National Archives June 18-Sept. 16 for 50th anniversary. Image National Archives

The most sweeping civil rights legislation in U.S. history also prohibited discrimination in public places, and integrated public schools and other public facilities.

National Archives also will present these related programs:

FILM SCREENING: "A Time for Justice" and "Mighty Times: The Children’s March", two Academy Award®-winning documentaries:

Tuesday, July 1, at noon, William G. McGowan Theater

"A Time for Justice" (1994; 38 minutes) the civil rights battle, as told by several of its heroes who risked their lives for the cause of freedom and equality. Four-time Academy Award winner Charles Guggenheim directed the film.

"Mighty Times: The Children’s March" (2004; 40 minutes) tells the story of young people in Birmingham, Alabama, who braved fire hoses and police dogs in 1963 -- and brought segregation to its knees.

Both films are being screened courtesy of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

FILM SCREENING AND DISCUSSION: "Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment"

Tuesday, July 29, at 7 P.M. William G. McGowan Theater

Robert Drew’s cinéma vérité work chronicles how President John F. Kennedy and his brother Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy clashed with Governor George Wallace over racial integration at the University of Alabama in 1963. (1963; 52 minutes).

Following the screening, NPR's Michele Norris Johnson will moderate a discussion featuring Peggy Wallace, daughter of the late Gov. George Wallace, and Sharon Malone, sister of the late Vivian Malone Jones, the first African American to graduate from the University of Alabama, class of 1965. Sharon Malone, an obstetrician/gynecologist, is also the wife of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Presented in partnership with the 2014 March on Washington Film Festival.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law 50 years ago on July 2 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The act's signature page and first page can be seen now in the National Archives' Records of Rights exhibit within the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery.

Only two pages of the 29-page act are exhibited, due to sensitivity to light. And the original signature page will be shown only through July 13, when a facsimile will replace it.

"We want these documents to be around for hundreds of years," Michael Hussey, National Archives education and exhibits specialist, told me at a press preview June 17.

Chip Taylor of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said he was "very excited" to see the pages. "Civil rights means a lot to me and to all Americans, and makes me extremely proud of the work we do at the Justice Department," he told me at the preview. "It's really neat to see the document in person, the ink on paper, it takes you back to that time."

(That time is brought back to life in the Broadway play "All the Way", with Bryan Cranston, who just won the Best Actor Tony® for his portrayal of LBJ during the first year of his Presidency. The play's limited engagement ended June 29.)

As President Obama told the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library last April, "You're reminded daily that in this great democracy, you are but a relay swimmer in the currents of history, bound by decisions made by those who came before, reliant on the efforts of those who will follow, to fully vindicate your vision.

"But the Presidency also affords a unique opportunity to bend those currents by shaping our laws and by shaping our debates, by working within the confines of the world as it is but also by re-imagining the world as it should be," said the country's first African American President.

Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush also spoke at the summit. To watch all four Presidents delivering their speeches, click here.

And as President Johnson said at a 1972 civil rights summit at his library, "I believe that the essence of government lies with unceasing concern for the welfare and dignity and decency and innate integrity of life for every individual.

"I don’t like to say this and wish I didn't have to add these words to make it clear but I will—regardless of color, creed, ancestry, sex or age," he stressed.

Those words still need to be added -- a half-century after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law.

(The Library of Congress will open a year-long exhibition "The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom" on Sept. 10. The free exhibition will highlight the legal and legislative challenges and victories leading to its passage, shedding light on the individuals, both prominent leaders and private citizens, who participated in the decades-long campaign for equality. It will feature more than 200 items, including correspondence and documents from civil-rights leaders and organizations, photographs, newspapers, legal briefs, drawings, and posters.)

For more info: National Archives, David M. Rubenstein Gallery, Records of Rights, Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, N.W., Washington, D.C. 866-272-6272. 1964 Civil Rights Act, first and signature pages, displayed through Sept. 16. Online among 100 milestone documents, U.S. Senate's "Civil Rights Act at 50". Video and text of President Johnson's speech to a joint session of Congress, imploring passage of Civil Rights Act, five days after President Kennedy's assassination. LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, 2313 Red River Street, Austin, Texas, 512-721-0200. Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, Southwest Gallery, 2nd floor, 10 First Street, S.E., Washington, D.C.

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