The explosiveness of racial issues during the sixties surpassed that of every other period in modern American history. In fact, the sixties were, in several respects, the most critical years of the modern civil rights era. It is during this period that racial discord and its national visibility peaked. The historic regional divisions attendant to race were in full force at the same time the partisan differences pertaining to race became firmly anchored. The politics of race during the sixties were essentially transformed so that they were more antagonistic and more salient than ever before. What was true of racial politics during the period leading up to the sixties was even more true during the sixties.
The impact of the extremist nature of racial politics upon America’s national governing institutions and processes during the sixties was particularly poignant. Race succeeded in altering congressional legislative process virtually beyond recognition. The 1964, 1965, and 1968 civil rights debates are unique not only in comparison to the average contemporary proceedings, but also as against all proceedings in Senate history. The longest debate in Senate history, the largest number of quorum calls for a single measure, and the first successful civil rights cloture vote ever are just some of the records set during the sixties civil rights era.
There is little question that the provisions of the civil rights laws enacted during this period represent a significant departure from what was previously accomplished or even sought; but they also constitute major failures on the part of civil rights advocates. Race reform advocates aimed during the sixties to correct racial inequities in sensitive areas such as education, employment,