Civil Rights legislation celebrates 50th anniversary

Mary Wells reflects on her life before the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 celebrated its 50th anniversary Wednesday.

On July 2, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an act that forever changed America.

"The 1964 Civil Rights Act abolished all discrimination based on race, color, creed, sex, place of origin," Justin Coffey, an associate history professor at Quincy University said.

Mary Wells was in her twenties when this legislation passed.

She remembers the impact it had, not just in Quincy, but across the country.

"Well, I remember there was a great deal of struggle," Wells said.

At the time, Wells hoped there would be more equal opportunity for African Americans.

"You wanted their freedom to be available to them," Wells said. "And it wasn't until later years, that I realized there were restrictions even in this area. Like some of the black people or African Americans from this area, couldn't go to Hannibal and play in sports."

When it passed, it prohibited segregation in schools, workplaces and public facilities.

It also stopped unjust voting registration practices across the nation.

"There was not a large African American population in the City of Quincy, at the time. But never the less, any discrimination against them was now illegal," Coffey said.

Five decades later, the impact of this act is evident.

"I think that LBJ's legacy definitely has continued in 2014," Calvin Johnson, the director of Multicultural and Leadership Programs at Quincy University said.

"People's minds and hearts have changed now," Coffey said. "So that hatred, based upon race, is still a problem but it's certainly not the problem that it once was."

Wells is proud she witnessed this historic day 50 years ago.

"Many of us, that were younger at that time, didn't even realize that we were rooting for them down south, so they could get their freedom," Wells said.

In honor of this milestone, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn declared Wednesday as Civil Rights Act Day.

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