1964 Civil Rights Act

The Best Medicine I Know

Jun 21, 2012

A visit with Walter Mondale and a trip to some old archives bring to life a vanished age—a time, one hopes, that hasn’t been lost forever.

Exactly 48 years ago this week, the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act passed the Senate, after overcoming the longest filibuster in history. Nearly 100 years after the Civil War ended, the bill at last promised to deliver legal equality for all Americans, and though it aroused enormous controversy and sliced straight into the nation’s original sin, it won lopsided approval by a vote of 73 to 27, with overwhelming Republican support.

I had occasion to ponder this achievement this week, as I spent time in Minnesota, sifting through the papers of Hubert H. Humphrey, one of the men without whom the bill could not have passed, and talking to Humphrey’s old friend and protégé, Fritz Mondale, who is sharp, wry, gently profane, and very funny at 84, just back from a fishing trip in the Great Northwoods and shocked at the unnerving warmth of the water this summer in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Mondale got to the Senate just after the Civil Rights Bill had passed, appointed to replace Humphrey, who had been elected Lyndon Johnson’s vice president in the Democratic landslide that fall. read more