How the 1964 Civil Rights Act cost Black America

How the 1964 Civil Rights Act cost Black America
  • PublishedMay 8, 2014

Who could have foreseen that the passing of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which outlawed racial segregation – would spark an exodus by African-Americans to white suburbs, and cause the decline of black neighbourhoods across America? Leslie Goffe examines the issues.

 As a result of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the black middle class were able to live wherever they wanted and could afford. Consequently, they fled inner city areas like Chicago’s South Side and Washington DC’s U Street Corridor neighbourhoods where they had been safe from the hostile white world. They were drawn to the white suburbs. 

The black neighbourhoods had established black-owned cinemas, black-run churches and black mutual aid societies, but the black middle class gave up this black independence for the chance to move into America’s lilywhite suburbs. They were eager to live in the integrated America that Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. had spoken so eloquently, and tantalisingly, of in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. 

But not everyone embraced King’s integrationist views. “This is a white man’s country,” Malcolm X said in a 1963 interview. “The Negro is nothing but an ex-slave who is now trying to get himself integrated into the slave master’s house.”

The black writer James Baldwin described integration as a “burning house” that he had no desire to live in. Author of the book The Fire Next Time, Baldwin said he would “rather die than become what most white people in this country (America) have become.”

The chief opponents of integration were, of course the die-hard racist Southern whites like Richard Russell, a Georgia Congressman, who promised, but failed, to block the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “We will resist to the bitter end any measure … to bring about social equality and intermingling… of the races in our (Southern) states,” Russell proclaimed weeks before integration became the law of the land in 1964. 

Speaking at an event in April commemorating the Civil Rights Act, President Obama said it opened doors for millions of Americans like him. “They swung open for you and they swung open for me. That’s why I’m standing here today.” Eager for the doors to swing open and hungry for their piece of the proverbial American pie, African-Americans had believed their road to success began in America’s suburbs. 

They did not move to these suburbs in order to live next door to whites, they told anyone who asked. They had simply wanted to get away from inner city slums and into squeaky clean new homes in the suburbs. And yes, there were black businesses and wealthy blacks who had fancy houses in the ghetto, but most black people there, they pointed out, lived in rat and roach infested tenements that were too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. 

But this black exodus robbed the black inner cities of some of its best and brightest, and denied these black communities black dollars with the black middle class now spending their disposable income in white business places in the white suburbs.

With their core consumers gone, and unable to cope with competition from white businesses in the city, black businesses began, one after another, shutting up shop. This simply added to the steady decline of former black neighbourhoods. Black-owned real estate firms closed. So did black-owned hotels and insurance companies. Black-run hospitals lost black physicians and nurses, while black law firms lost black lawyers. Black universities and colleges lost out as well.

Set up in the 1860s to educate former slaves, the so-called Historically Black Colleges and Universities, among them Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where Nigeria’s first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, were educated, saw their enrollment of black students drop precipitously.

Many African-Americans say all this was a very high price to pay for integration. Asked their views of integration, many African-Americans that New African spoke to said that although they would not wish to return to the apartheid-like segregation in the US, integration had not, they said, delivered much of what it promised. 

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13 Commentaires

  • Love life in Detroit.

  • My Goodness, What an imagination! The rise in single parent families has brought about the rise in black poverty. The poverty rate in black households with married parents is less than 5%. What in the world does the Civil Rights Act have to do with black women
    not marrying the men who father their children? Did LBJ tell women to
    have families without fathers? Please explain how white devils prevent black women from marrying black men. Really, today, not 1860.

    • Empirical evidence shows the marriage rate is tied to the employment prospects of males. The decline in married African-American households follows the decline in employment for black males, not the other way around. Thus the question becomes, not what does the Civil Rights Act have to do with the decline of married black households, but what does the Civil Rights Act have to do with the decline of employment opportunities for African-American males.

      • The rate of black unemployment has been about double the rate of white unemployment since the 1940s. The Civil Rights act of 1964 did not change that. Care to try again?

        • It’s just a matter of using the right numbers. “In 1960 there were nearly 70 employed black men aged 20 to 24 for every 100 black women that age, but by the early 1980’s there were fewer than 50 such men for every 100 women. This pattern holds for other age groups as well.”

          • The book you cite attributes that increase in black urban unemployment to manufacturing jobs being sent overseas. Are you saying the author is wrong?

          • More black women than black men hold bachelor degrees.

      • This is an even better point. I should have done a little research.

    • I think the case made in the article is the removal of the cream of the crop in the neighborhoods robbed the poorer blacks of role models to pattern their lives. I am not sure that is the case , but I think this must be a great article if that is the weakest point you found in the whole 3 page article.

    • WELFARE IS THE REASON. If you are black or white,married with children and one parent works you may not be eligible for food stamps,energy assistance,medicaid, or welfare funds. IF YOU are single with children the government supports you.

    • As I understand it, the Civil Rights Bill would pay money to ladies with children only if the father was not at home. This financial incentive caused fathers to move out of the house.

  • I could have written this article just from observation of what has happened to our communities in person and from the media. I desire long life only to see my people living as a proud, united people once again.

  • Natura non facit saltum (Nature does nothing in jumps)

    The Powers That Be like big sudden changes that don’t affect them. Big changes are usually disruptive to traditional ways and make folks depend more on the State.

    I could see the crosshairs coming into focus when I read that Dr. King said regroup and do it ourselves. The Powers That Be hate that.

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