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Celebrate Civil Rights Act today

Published: Wednesday, July 2, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 8:36 a.m. CST

As we prepare to gather with friends and family to celebrate July 4th, I want to encourage everyone to commemorate another important event in our nation’s history.  

Fifty years ago [today], the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, which outlawed discrimination based on race, creed, gender or national origin. The landmark civil rights law prohibited racial segregation in schools, at work, and at public facilities, and ended unfair voting registration practices.  

Having been a student at Alabama State College – now Alabama State University – in Montgomery, Alabama, in the early 1950s, I experienced inequalities that prompted the civil rights movement. Coming from Chicago to Montgomery brought challenges and frustrations because of the racial climate in the South.

African-Americans were prohibited from drinking at certain water fountains and using certain washrooms, weren’t allowed to choose which seat on a bus to sit on, and were banned from eating at many restaurants. African-American students faced the inequality of a segregated school system.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ushered in widespread legal changes for which activists had fought for years. It was a monumental step in the direction of racial equality and fairness.

To learn more about this important milestone in our nation’s history, read the feature article on the Civil Rights Movement in the 2013-14 Illinois Blue Book, published by my office. It also is available online at or can be found at your local library.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our great nation 238 years ago, let us remember those heroes who organized, protested and marched, so we could live in a society where people, as my former minister, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., famously said, “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Note to readers: Jesse White has been Illinois secretary of state since 1999.

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