The Civil Rights Act turns 50

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- On July 2nd, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, outlawing discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion and national origin.

The fight for equal treatment for all was one taken on by thousands, and much of the hard work associated with the movement became a reality with the signing of the act.

"I remember that a lot of people gathered at the White House as Johnson signed the bill." In 1964, Harold Bradshaw had just completed law school at Howard University, and he was among the group eagerly awaiting the signing of the Civil Rights Act. “It was giving us the basic rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the bill was included the right to vote of course, and the right to attend public accommodations without being segregated against."

Prior to the Civil Rights Act, everything from restaurants to bathrooms were segregated.

Manatee County resident Clarence Rogers, who was also a Howard University law student in the 60’s, remembers the time vividly. "I was unable to go and eat. I was unable to go and sit at a lunch counter and have a cup of coffee because of my race. And not just me, every black American had the same problem. It was demeaning and the bill couldn’t have been signed soon enough."

But on the Suncoast, the signing of the act didn't mean instant change.

"It was more of a resistance, to allow groups that diverse to mix in any way, any manner," says Sarasota resident James Brown. He has been a Sarasota resident all his life, and he says even after the passing of the law, African Americans were not welcomed in many places. "The name calling, the n-word, and go home, and go back where you belong. You always had to pick and choose, you had to be careful where you were and which kind of events you were attending because there was some people upset by it."

As the years passed, James says the tension slowly eased and the blacks became more accepted. It resulted in the multicultural society we have today.

Still, many say the country isn't where it needs to be when it comes to race relations and equal rights for all.

“If you look at some of the states who now have new voter registration required, have voter ID requirements, it’s gone right back to where it was. And if we are not careful, it will be back where it was pre-1965," says Rogers.