WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional leaders commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act on Tuesday by posthumously bestowing the Congressional Gold Medal upon Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, for their efforts in passing the landmark legislation.
The Kings' children, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King and Bernice A. King, accepted the honor in the Capitol Rotunda as several hundred looked on. The civil rights leader was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. His wife died in 2006.
"The Civil Rights Act transformed our country," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said. "It made America more American."
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964. It helped end legal discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion and national origin, and many consider it the most significant law to come out of the civil rights movement.
Among those joining Pelosi in praising the Civil Rights Act and the people who made it happen were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
Throughout the lawmakers' remarks were calls for a return to the bipartisanship that made laws like the Civil Rights Act possible.
Remembering the civil rights activists who marched, protested and faced brutality and violence is vital, the lawmakers said. But they added that it was important to remember the lawmakers who made passage possible.
Boehner said the Civil Rights Act might be the "most fundamental, the most consequential legislation" in American history. McConnell said that Martin Luther King Jr. deserves as much credit as any lawmaker in getting the law passed.
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