EDITOR’S NOTE: Carlisle Driggers reflects on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Johnson 50 years ago when Driggers was pastor of 23rd and Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. Driggers became noted for his multiethnic ministry and later served on staff at First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., to help the congregation with its racial integration process.
It goes without saying that most people in America today who were of adult age on Nov. 22, 1963, remember where they were and what they were doing when the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination filled the airwaves and televisions screens. It was an unbelievably shocking and grief-stricken day all across the nation and around the world.
At that time I was a recent graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and had been the pastor for about two months of 23rd and Broadway Baptist Church in the west end of the city. It was located in what had become the highest crime district of Louisville. For several years the area around the church had been changing from predominantly white to black residents.
When John Kennedy became president in 1961, he began focusing on civil rights for all Americans. Soon there was talk in Congress about the need for civil rights legislation which would enhance the worth and dignity of all Americans, especially black individuals and families. To be expected, opposition surfaced from various sections of the country, and passage of the proposed civil rights bill was in jeopardy. President Kennedy pushed forward with the legislation even though he faced strong opposition. Then came the assassination, and it was concluded by many that the Civil Rights Act would be forgotten.
As is well known, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president less than two hours after Kennedy’s death. In a matter of days, as I remember, the new president let it be known that he was going to move forward on the civil rights agenda for two reasons — first, out of respect for President Kennedy who championed the right of all Americans to have decent and honorable lives and second, because it was best for America’s future. Johnson applied the full influence of his office plus the skill he had acquired over many years as a congressional leader to getting the bill adopted in 1964 as the most important civil rights legislation in U.S. history.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press
B. Carlisle Driggers