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President Obama marks 50th anniversary of Civil Rights Act

President Barack Obama speaks on the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Presidential Library April 10, 2014 in Austin, Texas.
President Barack Obama speaks on the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Presidential Library April 10, 2014 in Austin, Texas.
Laura Skelding-Pool/Getty Images

President Barack Obama spoke at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas today to mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Obama's appearance capped a three-day event that also included former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.

In his speech (watch video here), President Obama noted that Lyndon Johnson had undergone a journey on civil rights for minorities, first opposing them as was customary among both Democrats and Republicans in Texas and the South in the first half of the 20th Century. But then, according to Obama, after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated before being able to pass the Civil Rights Act, newly sworn-in President Johnson passionately took up the mantle and pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights law. In President Obama’s words, Johnson was “the only guy who could do it,” both because of Johnson's credibility as a Texas politician and Johnson's legislative abilities honed as former U.S. Senate Majority Leader.

President Obama also noted that, among the consequences of the Civil Rights Act and subsequent efforts to achieve the results that the law promised, “that’s why I’m standing here today, because of those efforts, because of that legacy.”

Civil Rights Fight Continues Today

President Obama noted in his speech that, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, America still faces civil rights challenges today. For example, in 2010, then-U.S. Senate elect Rand Paul of Kentucky created a firestorm when he suggested that businesses serving the public should have the right to discriminate based on race, in contravention of Section 201 of the Civil Rights Act, which generally prohibits places of "public accommodation" (restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, etc.) from discriminating against would-be customers based on race, color, religion or national origin. Rand Paul is widely viewed as a Republican front-runner for the 2016 Republican Party Presidential nomination.

Then, just three weeks ago, South Dakota State Senator Phil Jensen stated that he also believes that businesses should be able to deny service to customers based on race or religion. Additionally, Jensen had previously sponsored a bill which provides that "no person or entity may bring suit against for refusing to serve a person or couple based on sexual orientation."

Therefore, 50 years later, the Civil Rights Act and its effects could well play a significant role in the upcoming 2014 and 2016 elections.

© 2014 Matthew Emmer -- All Rights Reserved

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