UNT faculty available to discuss Civil Rights Act on its 50th anniversary

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 - 10:07

July 2 (Wednesday) will mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin and ended unequal application of voter registration requirements as well as ending racial segregation in schools, workplaces and facilities that served the general public.

The following University of North Texas faculty members are available to discuss the Civil Rights Act and its significance.

Tony Carey Jr., assistant professor in UNT's Department of Political Science, calls the Civil Rights Act "one of the more important pieces of legislation of the 20th century" and the "beginning of what we know now as modern America -- a more inclusive society."

He noted that the act addressed inequality in many other groups besides African Americans and helped to "redefine American citizenship."

"It made good on principles that were talked about, but not truly enforced. The 14th and 15th amendments were passed and enforced for a short time, then were forgotten," he says.

Carey may be reached by e-mail at tony.carey@unt.edu (first option) or in his office at 940-565-2214.  

Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, associate professor of political science and an American politics scholar, will discuss the 1964 Congressional debate about the Civil Rights Act and the act's significance today. He is the co-author of Breaking Through the Noise: Presidential Leadership, Public Opinion and the News Media and The President's Speeches: Beyond "Going Public."  He has published research in American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, Presidential Studies Quarterly and Congress and the Presidency and has contributed chapters to Politics in the American States and Public Opinion and Polling around the World.

Eshbaugh-Soha may be reached in his office at 940-565-2329 or at mes@unt.edu.

Todd Moye, associate professor of history, directs UNT's Oral History Program. During the 2014 spring semester, graduate students in Moye's Oral History Theory and Methods class interviewed approximately 20 Dallas-Fort Worth residents who were either activists in the Civil Rights Movement through the local chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or the Dallas NAACP branch's Youth Council, or just witnesses to the movement, during the "Desegregating DFW" project.

Moye says that although the Civil Rights Act wasn't a "magic wand" that addressed the economic inequality between whites and other races, it "addressed a symptom of a much larger problem" -- a group of U.S. citizens not being recognized as equal to other U.S. citizens.

"You can get rid of segregation, but you still need to work to change the system that made segregation possible in the first place," Moye says.

The Civil Rights Act had been hotly debated in the Senate beginning in February 1964, with several senators giving filibuster speeches. But the bill signed into law by Johnson "was a much stronger bill than you would have predicted at the beginning of the debate," Moye says.

"The fear was that it would get watered down," he says.

Johnson, Moye says, was successful in getting the Civil Rights Act that he wanted passed because he positioned it into something that John F. Kennedy would have wanted, even though Kennedy didn't support a civil rights bill until after the March on Washington in August 1963.

"The JFK assassination was very fresh in the mind of Congress and the public," he says.

Moye is also the author of Ella Baker: Community Organizer of the Civil Movement, published in 2013. In addition to discussing the history of the Civil Rights Act, he will provide excerpts of the "Desegregating DFW" interviews.

Moye may be reached in his office at 940-565-4523 or at todd.moye@unt.edu.

Gus Seligmann, associate professor of history, was an assistant professor at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, when the Civil Rights Act was passed and wrote a series of articles explaining and defending the act. He will also comment on how the act played out politically in Johnson's 1964 campaign for president, particularly in the Third Congressional District of Louisiana and most of South Louisiana.

Seligmann may be reached by cell phone at 940-218-0729 or at gus@unt.edu.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108