The Atlantic

The Three-Letter Word That Triggered a Revolution

Fifty-five years ago, a congressman made a single addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that changed everything.
Source: Associated Press

Because of sex. Over the past 55 years, that single three-letter word has had momentous legal and social consequences for American life that the man who inserted it into the 1964 Civil Rights Act on a wintry Saturday morning could never have imagined. And now that the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether that landmark law forbids employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the adaptive power and enduring meaning of that plain little word is about to be tested once more.

On February 8, 1964, as the House of Representatives debated passage of the bill, Howard Smith, an ardent segregationist from Virginia, rose to propose changes to four pages of Title VII, the section of the bill barring hiring and firing “because, insert ,” Smith drawled, urging his colleagues to rectify “this grave injustice … particularly in an election year.”

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min read
Downton, Downton, Revolution
The new Downton Abbey movie is a drug, a delight, a palliative for the pain of being, a balm for battered emotions, a cure for cynicism. Well, almost. After two hours mainlining Carson’s beetling eyebrows, the Dowager Countess’s caustic comebacks, Mr
The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
The U.S. Is About to Do Something Big on Hong Kong
Protests there have demonstrated the enduring appeal of American values and power. But can Washington live up to that promise?
The Atlantic4 min read
Jojo Rabbit, Joker, and 5 More Movies to Look For This Fall
The second half of the Toronto International Film Festival featured some of the most hyped new titles of 2019.