- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

President Bush marked the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act yesterday at a White House ceremony, calling the law a landmark that ended a “system of indignity and injustice.”

“No longer could weary travelers be denied a room in a hotel or a table at a restaurant,” Mr. Bush said in the East Room, where the bill was signed by President Johnson in 1964. “No longer could any American be forced to drink from a separate water fountain or sit at the back of a bus just because of their race.

“All discrimination did not end that day, but from that day forward, America has been a better and fairer country,” he said of the bill, which was passed after a record two-month filibuster by Southern Democratic senators.

Mr. Bush invited 130 guests to the ceremony, including Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of Mr. Johnson, and Thurgood Marshall Jr., the son of the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s pretty neat to have a great father, isn’t it?” Mr. Bush asked to laughter as he welcomed Mr. Marshall to the White House.

The bill put a legal end to Jim Crow, the policy of “separate but equal” treatment of blacks, mostly in the South. In November’s election, Mr. Bush also is hoping to put an end to the record-low support he has been able to garner from the black community.

Mr. Bush won 8 percent of the black vote in 2000, the lowest percentage for a Republican since the statistic was first measured in 1960. That year, Richard M. Nixon received 32 percent of the black vote. Ronald Reagan got 9 percent in 1984, and George Bush received 12 percent in 1988.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president has done much to help the black community through his educational-reform programs and funneling of federal dollars to private faith-based organizations — two color-blind policies — and he expects black voters to notice.

Mr. Bush’s record as governor of Texas, Mr. McClellan said, also suggests that he will improve his showing with black voters.

“The very first time he ran for governor [in 1994], there was a lower percentage of the African-American vote he received,” Mr. McClellan said. “And then after he had been in office and the people saw his record of accomplishment in terms of providing equal opportunity for all people in the state, those numbers went up significantly, and he received a strong showing in his re-election as governor.”

Also in attendance was Raleigh B. Washington, president and chief executive of Road to Jerusalem, a ministry designed to strengthen ties between Christian and Jewish communities.

Mr. Washington said Mr. Bush has “done more for black Americans than most people realize.”

“I’m not saying he’s perfect. Is there a lack of understanding? Yes. Does he miss things? Yes,” Mr. Washington said. “But the faith-based [initiative] benefits blacks and Hispanics more than any others.

“He ought to get as much credit for that as he gets slapped for the things he doesn’t do,” he said.

A Fox News/Political Dynamics poll showed that 25 percent of black Americans gave Mr. Bush a positive job-approval rating.

The title page and signature page of the 1964 law will be on display on the Senate floor during the 40th anniversary commemoration. One of the pens used by Mr. Johnson also will be on display.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gives all Americans another reason to be proud of our country,” said Mr. Bush. “The work of equality is not done because the evil of bigotry is not finally defeated. Yet the laws of this nation and the good heart of this nation are on the side of equality.”

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