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VIDEO: Foster Recognizes 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Jun 25, 2014
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) spoke on the House floor to recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Video of Foster’s speech is available here.

Full text of Foster’s speech is below:

Thank you madam speaker.

I rise today to recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – one of the greatest legislative achievements in the history of our country.

There were so many men and women who were a part of the civil rights movement, but I would like to take this time to highlight one of them who has been especially important in my life.

My father was a Civil Rights lawyer, who wrote much of the enforcement language behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which was one of the greatest achievements in human rights in our nation’s history.

Like me, my father was trained as a scientist.

During the WW II, he designed fire control computers for the Navy. 

And most of the way through the war, he started getting reports about how many people had been killed – this week – by his team’s equipment.

And despite his understanding of the justice of that war, he became deeply unhappy with the idea of his technical skills being used to hurt other human beings.

So when he came back from the war, he thought about it a while, and decided that he wanted to spend part of his life in service to his fellow man.

This was in the late 1940’s and 50’s, at the birth of the Civil Rights movement.

My father had grown up in South, where he saw firsthand the struggles for equality and for basic human rights.

And he saw Civil Rights as the great cause of his generation.

So he left behind his career in science, and became a Civil Rights Lawyer.

My father, among other things, wrote the federal regulations for implementing school desegregation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

There were ten years after the famous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that established the right of children to attend integrated schools, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

During those ten years, there were only the federal courts to attempt to desegregate the public school systems.

My father spent much of those ten years travelling around the South, interviewing and offering advice to school districts that were struggling with the implications of Brown v. Board of Education.

And my father served as an informal advance man to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.  He would send back memos saying, for example, that in one county, there is one guy who runs the place, but that he understands the tide of history, and if you could get Burke Marshall or Robert Kennedy or whoever was running the Justice Department to give him a call, then everything will be OK.  But that in another county, it was a lost cause, and you should just plan on bringing in troops and filing suit.

It was actually reading my father’s papers, after he passed away, that I first started thinking about stepping away from my career in science and spending part of my life in service to my fellow man.

It was as a result of this work, when the Civil Rights Act passed, that my father, who had become somewhat of an expert on the nuts and bolts of desegregating schools, was called upon to write what were referred to as the Federal Guidelines, for implementing of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

These were the detailed rules that called out what Southern school systems had to do, each year, to desegregate their schools to qualify for federal funds.

And with the carrot of federal education funding, and the stick provided by the Federal Guidelines for Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, more school desegregation was achieved in the year following the Civil Rights Act than had been achieved in the previous ten years following Brown v. Board of Education.

My father had the chance to work with some of the leaders of the civil rights movement.

He described having dinner at the kitchen table of Myrlie and Medgar Evers, and holding their infant child in his hands, only weeks before Medgar was shot down in his driveway.

My father was not an activist or a protester.

But he saw a great injustice, and he quietly devoted himself to changing it.

Martin Luther King famously said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

But the arc does not bend on its own.

On July 2, 1964, when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, the arc was bent towards justice.

But only because of the tireless efforts of so many, who fought so long, to bend it in the right direction.

I am proud to say my father was among them.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor all those who played a part in advancing civil rights and making our country, and our universe, more just.

Thank you and I yield back.