Monday, November 3, 2014

50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Today's the actual anniversary of the Nov. 3 vote that passed women's suffrage in Montana. (You can find out how  your county voted here.)

 I've been very focused this last year on the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage (see posts here, here, and here.) But there are other incredibly significant anniversaries in 2014, among them the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

"Teaching with the Library of Congress" has had some good blog posts about primary source documents on the American Memory Project to help teach the Civil Rights Act, including "The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title VII: The Freedom to Work" and "The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Making Our Nation Whole." TPS Barat Primary Source Nexus provides information on interviews collected as part of the Library of Congress's Civil Rights oral history project in this "Collection Spotlight." In addition, the Library of Congress has created a database of civil rights oral history collections in libraries, museums, universities, and historical societies in 49 states and the District of Columbia--including Montana.

The Library of Congress focuses primarily on national topics and resources--but these issues certainly affected Montana as well. Did you know, for example, that many Great Falls restaurants didn't serve African Americans patrons? Or that in Billings, Hispanic children were at one time not allowed to participate in the annual Easter egg hunt or go to bowling alleys? Montana Indians, of course, also faced much prejudice--including being denied their right to vote. Passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act helped begin to change these discriminatory practices--as did local organizing on the part of African Americans, Indians, Hispanics, and their allies.

Finding resources to teach the Montana civil rights story is difficult. Chapter 5 of Montana Mosaic (in every public middle and high school library and on YouTube) includes a short discussion of Mexican Americans in the Yellowstone Valley, including their experience with discrimination. (You can find the teacher's guide for this video here.) Montana Legacy: Essays on History, People, and Place (Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 2002) has articles on Indian voting rights and Mexican Americans in the Yellowstone Valley. The Montan
a Historical Society's Montana History Revealed blog has an article on the 1964 Civil Rights Act at Fifty: Senator Lee Metcalf and the Fight for Equality (as well as interesting articles on Metcalf's role in passing War on Poverty legislation.) In addition, photo archivist Matthew Peek (who authored the Montana History Revealed articles and has cataloged the Society's Lee Metcalf collection) has a written longer essay, including extensive bibliographic references, on Metcalf's role in the Civil Rights Act (as well as the Economic Opportunity Act and the Wilderness Act, which also turned fifty in 2014.)

 There's an interesting post on the Women's History Matters website about the Montana Federation of Colored Women's Clubs' attempt to get civil rights legislation through the Montana legislature in the 1950s. (Interestingly, prejudice against Hispanics and Indians were a greater barrier to passing comprehensive civil rights legislation than prejudice against African Americans.) That website also features an article on Salish voting rights activist Lucille Otter

But, really, this is a history that still needs to be written. Maybe your students can help--by investigating the topic locally through interviews and preserving that information for future generations. Find more about student oral history projects here.

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