DOJ celebrates 60th anniversary of Civil Rights Act

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with a renewed promise to prosecute hate crimes and threats of violence and to protect voting rights for Black Americans.

The Civil Rights Act, signed into law by former President Johnson on July 2, 1964, outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion.

“The act transformed our nation,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, took time on Tuesday to honor those who fought to pass the act, including Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers.

“Throughout 1963, Dr. King skillfully intensified the pressure for reform. In April, imprisoned for demonstrations in Birmingham, he wrote his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’ reminding the nation to ‘let justice roll down like waters,’” said Clarke.

“The advocates held firm despite unimaginable violence: Medgar Evers, assassinated; Freedom Riders, murdered; the 16th Street Baptist Church, bombed; and countless other attacks that confirmed in blood the credibility of daily death threats against Dr. King and others. Ultimately, as we know, they prevailed,” she added.

But members of the DOJ on Tuesday said the act is still needed, 60 years later, as hate continues to proliferate around the nation.

“Over half a century has passed, but many of the challenges that necessitated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are still with us,” Garland said. “Today, it is not just individual civil rights that are under attack. We are also seeing pervasive attacks on the laws that guarantee those rights. And we are seeing a disturbing rise in attacks on the institutions and the people who are charged with enforcing those laws.”

Garland hit on attacks on voting rights, which disproportionately affect Black voters.

“Around the country, there has been an increase in legislative measures that make it harder for eligible voters to vote, to have those votes counted, and to elect the representatives of their choice. Some have even suggested giving state legislatures the power to set aside the choice of the voters themselves,” he said.

“Efforts to undermine the right to vote have also expanded to include a disturbing rise in threats of violence against the citizens we rely on to fairly administer voting — state and county elected officials, career administrators, and even volunteer poll workers.”

This, he said, is not the way democracy is supposed to work.

Garland also spoke of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed by three white men in Georgia; the death of Breonna Taylor; and the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

“We will not back down in our effort to defend civil rights and to defend our democracy,” said Garland.

Since 2021, the DOJ has charged more than 120 defendants with hate crimes in more than 110 cases. That number includes the men who killed Arbery and the Club Q shooter.

“The 1964 act laid the groundwork for these efforts,” said Clarke.

“It remains a testament to the brilliance, tenacity and courage of the heroes who fought, bled and died to achieve it. Just as the March on Washington continues on annually in honor of the tremendous will of the people, we too honor the act’s legacy by rededicating ourselves every day to the cause of equal justice our heroes so valiantly served.”

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.