“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” – Martin Luther
A pen, a simple pen, can be the most powerful tool known to humanity. A pen can be used to decide the fate of many. It can influence the history of entire nations. It is a device that can be used to enslave and destroy. Most importantly, it can also be used to set people free and to create wonderful works. This is the story of when a pen was used for freedom; a pen used to change the world. All that was required to change the course of history for the betterment of all men was for one man to pick up an Esterbrook pen… and write his name.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is one of the single greatest achievements of its time. That single act of legislation changed the face of the United States of America forever. However, the history of how the Act came to be is as fantastic as the effects of the Act itself.
The end of the Civil War meant all slaves were free and all men now had the right to vote. While this was a major step forward the southern states still used tactics that allowed racial violence and segregation to flourish. Decades passed without any expansion upon what was started after the Civil War. Finally, as protests sprung up in the South during 1963, John F. Kennedy decided to act. The Civil Rights Act was proposed.
“I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” – John F. Kennedy
Unfortunately, it is never an easy task for good men to do the right and just thing. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in November of that same year. The entire country was shaken and the Civil Rights Act was in danger of being defeated with inequality continuing its reign. The power of a pen remained strong in spite of the political and racial divides of this time. Information and inspiration flowed through many pens to create powerful speeches, poetry, and written articles that highlighted the hardship, inequality, and hope of African-American people in America.
With John F. Kennedy’s passing the country was lost and needed a strong leader. The burden was now upon Lyndon B. Johnson to champion the Civil Rights cause that had been left behind. Just five days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Johnson went before Congress and spoke to the nation.
“We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
The time for talking was finally over and the time for writing had just begun. It was not an easy process and Johnson, with the fate of the Civil Rights Act riding upon his shoulders, faced extreme opposition. Johnson would have to rally all of his allies and enlist potential new ones to pass the bill in the House of Representatives before it could be moved on to the U.S. Senate. Each step of the process required signing. These signatures are a testament to the power of a pen used for good. In the U.S. Senate, the bill faced the strongest resistance. It was filibustered by Johnson’s opposition for 75 days with one Senator speaking for over 14 hours. Johnson and his allies persevered throughout it all.
In the end, Johnson and the Civil Rights movement had achieved their victory. On July 2, 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law with over 70 custom Esterbrook presidential fountain pens. Johnson had accomplished what he set out to do. He helped to write the next chapter and wrote it into the books of American law. These pens had signed documents that changed the world. The pens were then handed out afterwards as mementos to the various people that had assisted in the fight to pass this important historical legislature. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was among the first to receive a pen along with Senator Hubert Humphrey who had been a key ally in the political fight. Six pens were given to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to pass down to top members of the Justice Department that worked to pass the Act. Each of these pens became a unique and powerful symbol of the change that occurred that afternoon. It is a change that still resonates with American life to this day.
“This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us to go to work in our communities and our states, in our homes and in our hearts, to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country. So tonight I urge every public official, every religious leader, every business and professional man, every working man, every housewife — I urge every American — to join in this effort to bring justice and hope to all our people, and to bring peace to our land.
My fellow citizens, we have come now to a time of testing. We must not fail. Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our nation whole. Let us hasten that day when our unmeasured strength and our unbounded spirit will be free to do the great works ordained for this nation by the just and wise God who is the father of us all.” – Lyndon B. Johnson