23 July 2015, The Tablet

The Bill of the Century: the epic battle for the civil rights act

by Clay Risen

Ahead of the historic march on Washington of August 1963, as a far-reaching civil-rights bill was working its way through the capital’s legislative machinery, right-wing conservatives stoked up fears of civil disorder and central government overreach. The governor of Alabama, George Wallace, who had become something of a national celebrity following his ruthless crackdown on black demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, earlier that year, was in characteristically pugnacious mood: if the bill passed, he declared, the United States should “withdraw all our troops from Berlin, Vietnam and the rest of the world because they would be needed to police America”. Wallace quipped that the proposed statute ought to be renamed the “involuntary servitude act”. If forced b
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