The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on this day, the first in a trio of laws that passed which ushered in a new wave of racial equality. Despite the tragic circumstances leading up to the passing of the bill, the moment was instrumental in changing the future of Black America.
On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy made an appeal in a televised civil rights-themed speech that called for legislation that would give equal rights for anyone to enter public establishments. The speech came after Birmingham Campaign in 1963, which ended violently for peaceful civil rights activists, students and children in Alabama.
Kennedy and the impending bill were met with resistance, this after New York congressman Emmanuel Celler and the House Judiciary Committee made tweaks to the law to include a ban on racial discrimination for employment, eliminating segregation in all public facilities beyond schools, and giving Black voters protection rights.
By October of 1963, Kennedy and other lawmakers were gathering enough votes in the House of Representatives to get the law passed. Howard Smith, a Southern Democrat from Virginia who supported segregation, used shady tactics to keep the bill stalled.
But on November 22, 1963, the nation was rocked by the assassination of Kennedy, thrusting his successor, Vice President Johnson in the executive chair. Johnson wasted little time in attempting to get the bill passed, saying in an address to Congress, “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights Bill for which he fought so long.”
Johnson met with several civil rights leaders and worked across party lines to get the law enacted, but was nearly upended by the efforts of the “Southern Bloc” of white Democrats who opposed the law. The most infamous politician on the opposing side was South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond.
After a filibuster in Congress that stretched well over two months with a number of compromises on both sides, the bill was passed 73–27 on June 19, 1964 in the Senate. The House adopted the Senate’s version of the bill, later voting 289–126. On July 2, 1964, Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law inside the East Room of the White House.