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President Kennedy With Civil Rights Commission

President John F. Kennedy meets with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1961 Source: Bettmann / Getty

Sept. 9 marked 65 years since the creation of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. After the historic passing of the 1957 Voting Rights Act, the Commission on Civil Rights was formed to help investigate voting and civil rights issues impacting the American people. After President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the 1957 Voting Rights Act, the commission was given the authority to bring forth solutions and recommendations to the President and Congress in order to shape civil rights laws throughout history. In addition to reviewing voting laws, government officials also placed the commission in charge of combing through federal policies to ensure laws were created fair and equal for all Americans.

Black civil rights attorney Frankie Muse Freeman became the first woman to serve on the commission. She joined the commission in late 1964.

First Woman For Commission On Civil Rights

Frankie Muse Freeman was sworn in as the first woman on U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Source: National Archives / Getty

The Commission on Civil Rights is the only independent federal entity charged with studying and reporting civil rights issues and enforcement. It is characterized as being responsible for informing all federal branches of government on ways to “develop well-reasoned solutions to a myriad of civil rights challenges” impacting the nation. When conducting research, the Commission delivers recommendations on alleged discriminatory policies based on race, color, religion and other factors. The agency also provides legislative plans for civil rights-based issues to state and local organizations. 

“Playing a vital role, @USCCRgov works to advance civil rights through objective and comprehensive investigation, research and analysis on issues of fundamental concern to the federal government and the public #CivilRights #USCCR65,” the agency tweeted.

Over the years, the commission has helped to pass groundbreaking laws such as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, which establishes a targeted process for reviewing voting changes in jurisdictions to prevent voting discrimination. In response to the global Me Too movement, the agency helped to pass the SHAPE Act in 2020. The law requires the Secretary of State to develop policies and procedures on prevention and response measures regarding issues of sexual harassment and abuse. The agency was also responsible for molding the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, if passed, would hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court and reform police training and policies. 

Last month, the agency announced the hiring of a new director to oversee the Commission on the Social Status of Black men and Boys. Established in 2020, the independent commission is tasked with studying the conditions affecting Black men and boys, including homicide rates, arrest and incarceration rates, poverty, violence, fatherhood, mentorship, drug abuse, death rates, disparate income and wealth levels, school performance in all grade levels including postsecondary education and college, and health issues. The commission is also given the wide latitude to propose remedies to redress these issues.


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