1957 September 9

President Eisenhower Signs the Historic 1957 Civil Rights Act


Although weak by later standards, the 1957 Civil Rights Act was important as the first civil rights legislation in more than 80 years. President Dwight Eisenhower was unenthusiastic about the law, but signed it anyway. Everyone, then and now, understood that then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson was responsible for engineering passage of the law. Johnson genuinely believed in civil rights, and he realized that Congress simply had to act with respect to the rising national crisis over civil rights, even if the law was weak.

Most political observers believe that Johnson’s support of the law was part of his ambition to run for president in 1960 and his recognition that he had to appear as a “national” candidate and not a “Southern” one. As president, Johnson worked hard to pass both the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which he signed on July 2, 1964, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which he signed on August 6, 1965.

The 1957 law created the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to investigate and issue reports on civil rights issues. See the attempt by a Southern Congressman to defund the Civil Rights Commission on September 5, 1959, and the Commission’s report on police brutality as a national problem on November 17, 1961.

Read the best account of the struggle over the law: Robert Caro, Master Of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (2003)

Learn About the 1957 Civil Rights Act at the Eisenhower Presidential Library:

Learn more about the civil rights records of both President Eisenhower and President Johnson, Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties from Wilson to Obama (2012)

Learn more about President Eisenhower: Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower (1983)

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