Utah Civic Season Reflects On The 60th Anniversary Of The Civil Rights Act

Authored by: Tamara N. Stevenson, Ed.D.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an important example of how social, political, and economic differences may be examined to create beneficial outcomes for all Americans. This landmark legislation, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, was signed into law 60 years ago on July 2 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  

On July 2, 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

The Act includes 11 titles or provisions that ban discriminatory practices in employment, federally funded programs, and public accommodations, such as swimming pools, libraries, public schools, and businesses. It also strengthened the enforcement of voting rights for Black Americans and established guidelines for (non)compliance. Additional civil rights legislation was passed over time to prohibit discrimination pertaining to age, disability, housing, and voting access, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed barriers to voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. 

While most of the discourse on the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s focused mainly on the racial dynamics between Blacks and whites in the southern part of the United States, this federal legislation had local impact in the states, including Utah. 

In the following two reports that explore the civil rights movement in Utah, the authors describe discriminatory practices against racial minorities as “insidiously cloaked” (Alexander, n.d.) and the relationship between the national and state-level civil rights movement as “not an obvious one” (Jones, 2023), due in part to “[t]he relative lack of scholarly and pedagogical attention given to Utah’s civil rights movement.” At the same time, the small number of Blacks in Utah found strength and support through the formation of historically Black churches and community organizations, such as the NAACP. Decades later, such cultural spaces remain vital community assets for the state’s racial and ethnic populations.

The Civil Rights Movement in Utah
Thomas G. Alexander
Utah, The Right Place

Jones, Jace, “It Happened Here: The Civil Rights Movement in Utah” (2023). All Graduate Plan B and other Reports, Spring 1920 to Spring 2023. 1707.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission was established in 1991 to promote Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence, racial reconciliation, and human and civil rights, with an aim to create a beloved community for all Utahns. For more than three decades, the spirit and commitment of the Commission to celebrate Utah’s shared humanity continues to inspire and connect residents, neighbors, visitors, and friends to the unifying vision of collective social action. That’s evidenced by the multiple Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations throughout the state, and the creation of the “A Day On, Not a Day Off” online toolkit to commemorate the MLK holiday. The commission’s newest collaboration is with The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and the Center for Economic Opportunity and Belonging, who will bring together an inaugural cohort of civic and community leaders and partners participating in the King Center’s Nonviolence365® MasterClass to learn and practice active listening, communication and problem-solving skills to contribute to meaningful interaction and engagement with fellow Utahns. 

Links and Resources:

Call to Action:

Share your support, talents, and love for humanity and learning with the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission by:

  • Submitting an application to the Commission for consideration.
  • Submitting your interest to join The King Center’s Nonviolence365® MasterClass inaugural Utah cohort. Contact Maegan Castleton at [email protected] for more information about these opportunities.