Kentucky 50 years after Civil Rights Act

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (WYMT) - 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the civil rights act into law.

The sweeping legislation outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

"If you went to a restaurant you couldn't be denied service. If you went to an amusement park, you were allowed to take your kids there," said Dr. Tom Matijasic, a history professor at Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg.

He explains Kentuckians at the time were split on the civil rights issue.

In 1963, Governor Bert Combs took executive action end public accommodation discrimination, one year before the federal law.

"He also had the foresight to see how important this issue was, so he created a human rights commission here in Kentucky to kind of push forward many of these issues, so that people of color would not be discriminated against," Matijasic said.

When the Civil Rights Act became law, John Rosenberg was an attorney investigating voter discrimination in the Deep South for the justice department.

He recalls what happened when a theater in Greenwood, Mississippi decided to desegregate.

"When they did that and the first blacks went in, they were beaten and basically kicked out of the theater, and when they went back the police stood by and wouldn't do anything," he said.

While race issues are far from a thing of the past, Rosenburg says he is amazed at how far America has come.'

A recent CBS poll found a majority of Americans - black and white - believe the country has made real progress in getting rid of racial discrimination in the past 50 years, although they say at least some discrimination still exists.

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