Why I Am Proud of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
 — Thomas Madison Armstrong

What the 1964 Civil Right Act Meant to This Young Black Mississippian
Presentation to Illinois Department of Human Rights
July 2, 2014

I am Thomas Madison Armstrong, born and raised in South Mississippi, in rural Jefferson Davis County. I grew up in the all-black community of Lucas Mississippi. I was a 1960s era Civil Rights Movement Worker. I was a Freedom Rider.

I would like to thank Mr. Rocco Claps, Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights for allowing me to be here. I very much wish to thank Ms. Maya Abda for working with me in order to make this part of the event a reality.

Greetings to all of the distinguish guest here today.

Having said that I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for never leaving me and bringing me this far. I stand here before you as a humble servant of humanity. "I greet you all in the name of freedom for all mankind.

I am so happy that the legislators of this great country had the forethought to pass Civil Right Acts. The Acts of 1866, 1875, 1957, 1964, 1968, and 1991.

I'm proud of all of those ACTS. However, I am most proud of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public.

This act banned segregation in public accommodations and gave the Federal government the ability to compel state and local school boards to desegregate their schools.

Ladies and gentlemen I only have ten minutes therefore let me tell you what I would talk about if time allowed it.

I would begin by telling you what the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act meant to me as a young black man growing up in Mississippi.

In a nutshell, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 meant an end to the remnants of the Black Codes, laws specifically designed to control the entire lives of former slaves. Some of the consequence of those laws remained in effect in Mississippi up to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, fifty years ago.

That meant that I DID NOT have to carry a lunch when I explored all-day job hunting or shopping activities.

It meant that I didn't have to draw the imprint of my foot on a sheet of paper before purchasing shoes.

It meant that my mother and sister COULD try on clothing BEFORE they purchased them.

It meant that I no longer had to get off the sidewalk when two Whites approached for fear of being beaten or worse.

It meant that I COULD testify against White people in Court.

It meant that I COULD participate in an interracial marriage if I chose to do so.

Ladies and gentlemen: it was because of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that I no longer had to sit at the back of the bus.

It meant that at the stores in our town WE NO LONGER had to wait in line until the cashiers finished with all the white customers, before they took our money.

It meant that in my home town I could drank from a clean water fountain — not from a dirty fountain with a sign saying "COLORED."

It outlawed discriminatory voting practices against African-Americans.

It banned the use of different voter registration standards for blacks and whites.

It prohibited discrimination in public accommodations such as motels, restaurants, gas stations, theaters, and sports arenas.

It allowed the withholding of federal funds from public, or private programs that practice discrimination.

It banned discrimination by employers and unions on the basis of race, gender, religion, or national origin.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act drove a legal stake in the heart of that evil system known as segregation.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC to investigate charges of job discrimination. Working with state and local programs, the EEOC process nearly 50,000 claims annually, one of the larger claims, $34 million, coming from Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America.

These are just a few of the ways that he 1964 Civil Rights Act made life easier for me.

There were many soldiers in the civil rights movement — that great Army for Peace. Many walked through the heated fires of hatred and despair. Too many gave up their blood, sweat, tears, health, and sanity for our right to be here today. You will find the names of many of them in my book, Autobiography of a Freedom Rider.

Yes, at an early age I dedicated myself to the struggle of freedom. My passion for the movement came from dreams of my ancestors.

Ladies and gentlemen I wanted to talk to you about many of my heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.

I wanted to talk to you about the Almost Forgotten soldiers of the Movement, Claudette Colvin, Irene Morgan, James Farmer, Jimmy Travis and others.

I wanted to talk about many of my fellow civil rights workers that gave their lives for the Cause.

I wanted to talk to you about the Freedom Riders: Who they were, and how they were most responsible for getting the Colored and White-Only signs removed from throughout the south.

I wanted to talk to you about Ed King, our Tougaloo College Chaplain Movement Leader.

I wanted to talk to you about Freedom Summer.

I cannot go on without mentioning the name of my mentor, Medgar Evers. He was a fearless civil rights fighter who wanted you and me to have the right to live, the right to work, the right to obtain a quality education, and the right to vote. On June 12, 1963, Evers was shot dead. Medgar was shot and killed seventeen-days before his thirty-eighth birthday.

These are just some of the ways that the passing of the 1964 Civil rights Act affected me as a Mississippian.


Our children should be educated, not incarcerated. Our schools have not done enough to eleviate the problem.

It is time for us to stop expecting (Illinois) Governor Quinn to solve all our problems. We have to make some noise, make those wheels squeak. Yes we can pray for change, but God wants to see us working for change. WORK FOR CHANGE AND GOD WILL HELP IT COME TO PASS.

The states that are now infused with Tea-Party proponents are Reagan Republican states. You remember "Trickle Down Economics"!

Well, DEBT trickled down to the poor.

Low wages trickled down to the poor.

A cut in government sponsored social welfare programs trickled down to the poor.

Equality still escape the poor.

Let's not go back there.

Ms. Abdi, I think that I have nine more minutes, therefore moving right along — 

What can you do to help? I submit that you can develop your own Action Group to address racial/cultural, prejudice, and reconciliation. You can produce Educational Forums and join like-minded organizations. If you can't find one create your own. You can join Oral History Projects, Civic Education Projects, support Civic Engagement and Habitat for Humanity Projects. All of us should be associated with some Community Projects.

You can begin the fight, by pressuring your congressman to make education a CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT for every American. The better educated we are the better America becomes. You can become an informed voter. Organize your life in resistance to the wrongs in our land.

You, in this room, can make America great again.

You can create an atmosphere that's moral. Create a government that is moral.

Governments can be moral and fair and just. Make it happen.

The Common Good should be the center of all of our public policy.

Great Stewardship is not just a 24-hour Sunday thing.


All of you have within you the light of hope that light of hope and freedom.

You need to let your light shine all over Illinois, America, and all over THE WORLD.

You can choose to scatter the seeds of hope instead of hate. Scatter the seeds of mercy, the seeds of justice and love.

In your quest of peace: Stand firm with your beliefs. Speak louder, pray stronger, and vote greater.

Thank You Very Much For Listening

Copyright © Thomas Armstrong

See History & Timeline for more information on the Act's passage and impace.
See also Civil Rights Act — 1964 for web links.


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