Half a century ago, the civil rights movement and its allies won stunning victories with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Together, these bills overturned a legal order sustaining generations of segregation and disfranchisement and transformed life for African Americans—indeed, all Americans—in the years that followed. Yet while these far-reaching laws were being enacted, American cities, north and south, exploded. In 1964, rioting broke out in Harlem. The following year, shortly after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, rioting followed the arrest of a young black man, ending days later after thirty-four had been killed, over a thousand people injured, and four thousand arrested. “The events of 1966 made it appear that domestic turmoil had become part of the American scene,” a federal commission concluded,1 with violence occuring in...

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