1964 July 2

President Johnson Signs Historic 1964 Civil Rights Act


The 1964 Civil Rights Act is one of the great landmarks of the civil rights movement and one of the most important laws in American history. President John F. Kennedy publicly proposed a law on June 11, 1963, in response to the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama (see the events of May 2, 1963). An amended version of his original proposal became law on this day.

Title II of the law outlaws discrimination in public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, theaters (although with a number of exceptions for small businesses), and Title VI authorizes withholding funds in federal contracts and grants for race discrimination. Title VII, which bans discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origins, was not included in Kennedy’s original proposal, but was added later. The law also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which began operating a year later (see July 2, 1965).

President Lyndon Johnson aggressively pushed for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He had been responsible for passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act when he was Majority Leader in the Senate (passed on September 9, 1957), and he played a major role in securing passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which he signed on August 6, 1965.

LBJ: [This law says] “that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public.”

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

Read: Robert Caro’s multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (1982); Means of Ascent (1990);  Master of the Senate (2002); and The Passage of Power (2012)

Watch President Johnson Sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LK2GdOxz3s0

Read: Taylor Branch’s monumental three-volume biography, America in the King YearsParting the Waters (1988); Pillar of Fire (1998); and At Canaan’s Edge (2006)

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