In a time when social issues divide Americans along so many lines, it is important to remember the strides that we have made in social progress. While movements like Black Lives Matter seek to uncover the abuse of minorities in the legal system and other aspects of life, most will agree that we have come a long way from the struggles of the 1960s. Though our modern age of communication has brought a light to many instances of injustice, it has also given a forum for those with contrary views to breed conflict. However, negative remarks in comment sections are often given far more social capital than they are due, giving the false sense that they are proportionally representative of the population. Consequently, one can get an exaggerated idea of how much prejudice and discrimination is in the world. Though this is most obviously divisive along party lines, it has also caused fractures within the Democratic Party along lines of age, gender identity and other current social issues.
Despite these differences, the Democratic Party and its members typically hold the same core values on Civil Rights issues: those goals and beliefs dating largely to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which were championed first by President Kennedy and partly carried out by Lyndon Johnson. As early as 1948, President Harry Truman signed executive order 9981, which laid out the framework to desegregate the Armed Forces. Though some may consider this one of the first victories of the movement, it failed to take full effect until the Korean War. Further, the integration of the military did nothing to advance the rights of African American civilian life in the United States.
Democratic Achievements in Civil Rights
As previously noted, Lyndon Johnson was the first president to attack the issue with lasting success. Following the untimely death of President Kennedy, Johnson urged Congress to pass what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and would also lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As we now know, Johnson used any and all available tactics to assure that this pivotal legislation was passed.
Though this and other critical legislative victories under Kennedy and Johnson advanced the interests and liberties of African Americans and other minorities in a number of ways, it also began to open doors for women in the workplace. Under Kennedy, the 1963 Equal Pay Act sought to assure that men and women would be paid the same wages for the same jobs. Furthermore, the act stated that employers could not simply lower the wages of other employees to even the pay gap, to protect the interests of all workers. Though the effects of this legislation were, in some ways, limited, they set an important precedent for the Democratic fight for gender equality.
Protecting Women In The Workplace
Another aspect of the Civil Rights Act was clarified with new legislation during the Carter administration. In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act elaborated on a statement from the 1964 Civil Rights Act and stated that women could not be discriminated against by employers based on pregnancy. It further elaborated that pregnant women were considered to be “temporarily disabled,” granting them the same considerations as other physically disabled citizens. Under the 1964 Act, it effectively became unlawful to discriminate against women based on their marital status, a prejudicial practice that had previously compelled many women to keep the romantic and marital lives concealed from their employers. Under the Clinton administration in the 1990s, new Democratic legislations would further address similar women’s issues like maternity leave for new mothers. With the passing of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, companies with over a certain number of employees were required to give pregnant women 12 weeks unpaid leave to raise their infants and recover.
When Barack Obama was elected the first African American President, he and other Democrats sought to advocate further for women’s rights and issues. In 2009, the strides made in the 1963 Equal Pay Act were emboldened with the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Under this act, harsher penalties were imposed on employers who did not comply with the 1963 act, treating each deficient check as an individual offense and generally making it easier for employees to file complaints and making past instances of pay discrimination legally actionable retroactively.
The Fight Continues
Though the reforms of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations gave far more political and social capital to marginalized groups, African Americans and other minority groups still face some forms of institutional discrimination at the hands of law enforcement and other authorities. Though it is hard to say if such occurrences are any more or less common than they were historically, they are certainly made more visible by technology. In reaction to numerous instances of police violence caught on cell phone camera, the Black Lives Matter movement formed. Though controversial at times, the movement seeks to expose police brutality and the treatment of African Americans in the legal system. Though heavily derided by Republicans and many in law enforcement, the movement was backed by the Democratic National Convention in a 2015 resolution. Whether or not they support their tactics, most Democrats agree that the treatment of minorities by police was not always equal and that African Americans are often targeted for certain crimes disproportionately to white people.
Despite the number of incremental advances in the intervening decades, later political actors would take exception to some aspects of the legislations. Tragically, the long standing success of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Act failed even on an institutional level to erode the contrary opinions of the opposition. In 2013, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that greatly weakened the power of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Under section 5 of the act, certain districts, as determined by the act, must approve changes to voting procedure before they put them into action. While the Court did not nullify section 5, they were able to strike section 4b. The Court declared that the selection of certain districts was unconstitutional, essentially making the policy in section 5 impossible to carry out. Despite being rendered under Democrat Barack Obama, the decision came from a majority comprised of Republican Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito. Despite this critical blow to the Voting Rights Act, many of the civil advances of the 1960s and beyond continue to offer more equitable treatment for minorities and other subjugated groups.
- Civil Rights – Democrats.org
- LBJ Champions the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – National Archives
- Democratic Party on Civil Rights – On The Issues
- President Truman issues Executive Order No. 9981 Desegregating the Military – Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum
- Democratic Party – History
- Laws Enforced by EEOC – U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Republican Views on Civil Rights
- Democratic Views On Affirmative Action
- Democratic Views on Welfare
- Republican Views On Affirmative Action
- The Republican Party Platform
- History of the Republican Party
- Republican Party Beliefs
- Martin Luther King, Jr. And The Republican Party
- Democratic Views on Gay Rights
- Democratic Views on Gay Marriage