An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Todd S. Purdum, Author
Todd S. Purdum. Holt, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9672-9
Reviewed on: 01/20/2014
Release date: 04/01/2014
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-1-250-06246-8
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-8050-9673-6
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The passage of the Civil Rights Act was a watershed moment of the turbulent 1960s, the culmination of vibrant grassroots activism that forced politicians to address pervasive racism in the United States. Journalist Purdum focuses the action, which he divides into three parts, at the political level. The first centers on the administration of J.F.K., who was uncertain that civil rights should be on his first-term agenda. But in June 1963, as nonviolent protesters increasingly encountered hostile crowds, especially in Birmingham, Ala., Kennedy announced his plan for sweeping federal legislation to end racial discrimination. The second part picks up during that summer and beams in on the House of Representatives, where politicians worked to draft a bipartisan bill that stood an good chance of passing. Kennedy’s assassination in November might have derailed it, but Lyndon Johnson embraced the legislation. He used his political savvy to move the bill along in the House, and then, in the final act of this drama, on to passage in the Senate. It was an important chapter in the Civil Rights movement, and Purdum’s keen eye for the wide cast of Capitol Hill characters keeps the story lively. Illus. (Apr.)
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