The Civil Rights Act of 1964 at 50: Past, Present & Future


November 14 - 15, 2014

Room 103
Sumner M. Redstone Building

Boston University School of Law
765 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215

(Please note: The Keynote Address on Friday, given by William Juilius Wilson, will be held in Metcalf Small auditorium, located in the George Sherman Union at 775 Commonwealth Ave, 2nd Floor. All other sessions will be held in the Redstone Building.)

This conference marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by bringing together a distinguished interdisciplinary group of scholars to address fundamental questions about the past, present and future of this historic act. The conference will invite historical consideration of the relationship among social movements, activism and law reform. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 served as a template for subsequent civil rights laws. The conference will examine the evolution of prohibited classifications over time through amendments to the Act, judicial decisions, and additional civil rights legislation.

Speakers will consider the impact of the Act on understandings of and expectations about public and private spaces and civic life and how subsequent civil rights laws continue to shape those expectations. What are some of the continuing challenges and controversies concerning ending discrimination in, for example, education, employment, housing, and public accommodations? Speakers will address the problems that public agencies and private plaintiffs have confronted in proving discrimination under the 1964 Act and subsequent civil rights laws and will consider contemporary challenges in addressing inequality and discrimination.

To register, please click here.

For academic questions about the program, contact Professor Linda C. McClain at

This event is free and open to the public.

For a full conference schedule, please scroll down or click here.

Keynote Addresses:

  • William Julius Wilson
    Harvard Kennedy School
    Public Policy Challenges Facing the Growing Shift in Emphasis from Race-Based to Class-Based Programs
    Perceptive civil rights advocates recognized in the 1960s that removing artificial racial barriers would not enable poor African Americans to compete equally with other groups in society for valued resources because of an accumulation of disadvantages flowing from previous periods of prejudice and discrimination, disadvantages that have been passed on from generation to generation. Basic structural changes in our modern economy have compounded the problems of poor blacks because education and training have become more important for entry into the more desirable and higher-paying jobs, and because increased reliance on labor-saving devices have aggravated the conditions of untrained black workers. In short, once the civil rights movement faced these more fundamental issues, argued Bayard Rustin in 1965, "it was compelled to expand its vision beyond race relations to economic relations, including the role of education in society." In his keynote luncheon address, William Julius Wilson revisits Rustin’s argument and critically examines its application in the 21st century, as well as its public policy implications.

    (This keynote address will be given in Metcalf Small Auditorium in the George Sherman Union, located at 775 Commonwealth Ave, 2nd floor.)
  • Chai Feldblum
    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    Gender Equity: 50 Years After Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964Chai Feldblum
    In 1964, Congress enacted the landmark Civil Rights Act, which included provisions that prohibited employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion and sex. While many believe that “sex” was added to the bill solely as a means of jeopardizing passage of the bill, in reality the addition of the sex discrimination prohibition followed decades of debate on the issue of gender equity in the context of a proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Nevertheless, neither the country nor the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency responsible for enforcing the sex discrimination prohibition, was initially prepared for the radical changes in the workplace that such a provision would necessarily entail. In this luncheon address, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum traces the remarkable developments in the understanding of the sex discrimination prohibition over the past fifty years, leading up to various cutting edge issues affecting gender equity today, including pay disparity, pregnancy discrimination and the coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Reception Remarks:


Papers submitted for this conference will be published in the BU Law Review.

Full Schedule:

Friday, November 14th

Welcoming Remarks (9:00 a.m.)

Panel 1: Historical Perspectives (9:15-10:45 a.m.)

Bruce Schulman (BU, History) (moderator and commentator)
Margaret Burnham (Northeastern University School of Law)
Serena Mayeri (University of Pennsylvania School of Law)
George Rutherglen (University of Virginia School of Law)
Gavin Wright (Stanford, Department of Economics)

Panel 2: Classification/Categories in the 1964 Act and Development/Expansion in Subsequent Civil Rights Laws (11:00-12:30 p.m.)

Kathy Zeiler (Georgetown Law; visiting BU Law) (moderator and commentator)
Henry Chambers (University of Richmond School of Law)
Joseph Fishkin (University of Texas School of Law)
Courtney Joslin (UC Davis School of Law)
Michael Waterstone (Loyola Law School, LA)

Lunch with Keynote Address: “Public Policy Challenges Facing the Growing Shift in Emphasis from Race-Based to Class-Based Programs” (12:30-2:00 p.m.)

William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor and Director of Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Program, Harvard Kennedy School)

*This keynote address will be given in Metcalf Small Auditorium, located in the GSU

Panel 3: Reshaping Public and Private Space: Public Accommodations, Neighborhoods, and Housing (2:00 –3:30 p.m.)

Jack Beermann (BU Law) (moderator and commentator)
Len Albright (Northeastern University, Dept. of Sociology
Jeannine Bell (Indiana University, Maurer School of Law)
Linda McClain (BU Law)
Katie Einstein & David Glick (BU, Dept. of Political Science)
Joseph Singer (Harvard Law School)
Robin Fretwell Wilson (University of Illinois School of Law)

Panel 4: Reshaping Public and Private Space: Education, Military, and the Workplace (3:45-5:15 p.m.)

Katharine Silbaugh (BU Law) (moderator and panelist)
Deborah Brake (Pittsburgh University School of Law)
Catherine Connell (BU, Dept. of Sociology)
Joanna Grossman (Hofstra Law School)

Reception, BU School of Theology, 5:30-7:00 p.m, 745 Commonwealth Avenue (next to George Sherman Union):

Remarks by Dr. Walter E. Fluker, Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Ethical Leadership, BU School of Theology

Saturday, November 15th

Panel 5: Proving Discrimination (9:15-10:45 a.m.)

Mike Harper (BU Law) (moderator and panelist)
Tristin Green (Univ. of San Francisco School of Law)
Melissa Hart (University of Colorado School of Law)
Pauline Kim (Washington Univ. School of Law, St. Louis)
Noah Zatz (UCLA School of Law)

Panel 6: The Limits and Future of Antidiscrimination Law (11:00-12:30p.m.)

Khiara M. Bridges (BU) (moderator/commentator)
Sonu Bedi (Dartmouth College, Dept. of Government)
Ruth Colker (Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law)
Sam Estreicher (NYU School of Law)
Vicki Schultz (Yale Law School)

Lunch with Keynote Address: “Gender Equity: 50 Years after the Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964" (12:45-2:15 p.m.)

Speaker, Chai Feldblum, EEOC Commissioner

Media Coverage:

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For more information on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his contributions to the Civil Rights movement, visit BU School of Theology's website.