"It can be said of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that, short of
a declaration of war, no other act of Congress had a more violent background
- a background of confrontation, official violence, injury, and murder
that has few parallels in American history."* In 1963, the nation
teetered on the edge of a racial divide. Frustrated by decades of second-class
treatment, blacks, having lost patience with their country's legal and
political institutions, began turning in larger numbers to direct action
to secure their rights.
Racial segregation prevented them from using public facilities -- city
buses, park facilities, and restrooms, for instance -- on an equal basis
with whites. Educational opportunities were limited sharply by the practice
of separating blacks and whites and providing the former with inferior
instructional equipment, often hand-me-downs from white schools. As
late as 1963, only 12,000 of the 3,000,000 black students in the South
attended integrated schools. Mississippi had no desegregated public
schools until 1964.