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Senator J. Caleb Boggs weighs in on 1964 Civil Rights Act

caesar rodney high 1954

Black and white children in Caesar Rodney School District play together at recess for the first time in autumn 1954.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 sought to rebuff America’s deep-rooted institutional racism and discrimination. Legislators sought to create a new foundation in the nation’s broader quest for equal rights. The bill focused on dismantling the entrenched barriers that perpetuated inequality. Its enactment aimed to end segregation in public places and to ban unequal employment opportunities based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 

Delaware’s Senator J. Caleb Boggs played an active role in the collective passage of the act. He, like many of his Washington colleagues, felt pressured to tackle both Jim Crow culture, and the growing unrest stirred by the broad-based buildup of the civil rights movement. 

Boggs, while Delaware’s governor from 1953 to 1960, had shown a commitment to civil rights. As the first chief executive of a segregated school state to implement 1954’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, he set a precedent in education reform. His efforts saved Delaware State College—founded in 1891 as the “State College for Colored Students”—from potential dissolution. 

From Governor to Senator

Delawareans elected Caleb Boggs to the U.S. Senate in 1960. Four years into his first term, he endorsed the Civil Rights bill making its way through Congress. His keen understanding of the legislation’s intricacies guided him in supporting key amendments.  

The senator’s ongoing relationship with Delaware civil rights advocates demonstrated his depth of commitment to this cause. Forty-five state civil-rights leaders went to Washington in April 1964 to meet with their senators. Black and white clergymen and NAACP leaders were part of the conclave. The visitors applauded Boggs but not John J. Williams as the two entered the room. Again, Boggs showed his warm receptiveness to the movement, promising to vote for the bill. 

He opposed any modification that would eliminate federal grants for training teachers in schools grappling with integration challenges. Additionally, he stood against those who would have limited the number of businesses held accountable under the bill’s fair employment dictates. 

Boggs backed the Mansfield-Dirksen Amendment, limiting the federal government’s enforcement power of the act. The addition rendered the legislation more palatable for skeptics. 

Furthermore, Boggs supported enhancing the authority of the Civil Rights Commission, deeming oversight a crucial component. “While I may not concur with every provision,” reflected Boggs, “the essence of the Act is vital for the progress of our nation.” 

Caleb Boggs on a visit to the Delaware Air National Guard.
Caleb Boggs on a visit to the Delaware Air National Guard.

Born in Cheswold in 1909, Boggs joined the Delaware National Guard in 1926 and became a reserve officer. The Dover High School graduate furthered his education at the University of Delaware.  

There, Boggs skillfully balanced academics with athletics and leadership, earning spots on the football team and serving in the ROTC. A spirit of determination and discipline drove him to enroll at Georgetown University Law School, where he earned a law degree in 1937

Early Years and Military Service

World War II marked a defining period in Boggs’s life. He rose to the rank of Colonel in the 6th Armored Cavalry, 3rd U.S. Army, and was decorated for his actions in Europe under General George Patton. 

Post-war, Boggs established a Wilmington law practice. He launched his political career with an election to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served there from 1946 until he became governor in 1953. 

J. Caleb Boggs’s extensive experience, from his Delaware roots to the Senate corridors, placed him at the forefront in improving the lives of all Americans.  The political centrist in the end championed one of the most radical legislative acts in U.S. history, thereby widening opportunities for every citizen. 

On July 2, 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the historic Civil Rights Act in a nationally televised ceremony at the White House.
On July 2, 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the historic Civil Rights Act in a nationally televised ceremony at the White House.

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