1964 March 30

Filibuster Against 1964 Civil Rights Bill Begins


What is arguably the most famous filibuster in the history of the U.S. Senate began on this day as Southern segregationists attempted to block the civil rights bill pending in the Senate. Nineteen Senators (18 Southern Democrats and one Republican), led by Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, conducted the filibuster, which lasted for 57 working days. Senator Richard Russell, Jr, of Georgia vowed, “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states.”

[Historical note: unlike current times, in those days senators had to actually speak continuously in order to maintain a filibuster.]

It finally ended on June 10, 1964, as a result of a historic cloture vote that was required to end debate. It was only the second time since 1927 that the Senate had used cloture to cut off debate. The cloture vote was 71 to 29, representing a coalition of Democrats from outside the South and moderate Republicans. The bill was then approved by the Senate and became the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law on July 2, 1964.

Read: Todd Purdom, An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (2014)

Learn more at a short history of the filibuster: http://www.historynet.com/a-short-history-of-the-filibuster.htm

Read Robert Caro’s account of Johnson and the civil rights bill: Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power (2012)

Learn more about the Senate and the filibuster: Sarah A. Binder and Steven S. Smith, Politics or Principle?: Filibustering in the United States Senate (1997)

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