Civil Rights Act of 1964

Civil Rights Act of 1964

US #3937g pictures Dixie Café by Jacob Lawrence. Click image to order.

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, fulfilling a goal set by his predecessor, John F. Kennedy.

Early on in his career, John F. Kennedy did not speak out frequently concerning civil rights.  However, his brief term in office came at a tumultuous time in US history, when the matter of civil rights became the defining issue of a generation.

US #5175 was issued for JFK’s 100th birthday. Click image to order.

Mere months into his term, Kennedy faced his first major civil rights decision, concerning the 1961 Freedom Riders.  That spring and summer hundreds of people rode southern interstate buses to oppose the practice of segregation, which had been outlawed on public buses.  Some were arrested and attacked by local mobs.  The violence and imprisonments brought the civil rights issue to national attention and showed that the federal government was not enforcing its own laws.  In response, Kennedy sent federal marshals to guard the riders.  Not wanting to lose support in the South though, he stressed that his decision was a legal issue, rather than a moral one.

The following year, Kennedy authorized federal troops to protect James Meredith, an African American attending the University of Mississippi.  Though he insisted that it wouldn’t change his legislative plans.  Then in 1963, as the movement became more violent and attracted international attention, Kennedy realized that stronger legislation would take the issue “out of the streets” and into the courts – away from international spectators.  That February, he proposed a Civil Rights bill to Congress.  He stated that it would have economic and diplomatic benefits, and argued that it should remove institutional racism because, “above all, it is wrong.”

US #3937g – Classic First Day Cover. Click image to order.

Kennedy was further moved by the Birmingham campaign in May 1963, in which African American students staged nonviolent protests.  Then on May 21, 1963, a federal judge ruled that the University of Alabama must allow two African American students to attend its summer courses.  The governor of Alabama strongly opposed the order and insisted on making it a public display.  On June 11, the students attempted to enter the school’s auditorium to register for classes, but the governor himself blocked the doorway.  Kennedy then ordered federal troops to order him to step aside and allow the students to register.

US #3937g – Fleetwood First Day Cover. Click image to order.

In the wake of the nationally televised event, Kennedy decided it was time to address the nation on the civil rights issue.  That night, at 8 p.m., Kennedy delivered his Civil Rights Address.  He began by briefly talking about the events at the University of Alabama earlier in the day.  Kennedy then stressed the importance that all Americans recognize civil rights as a moral cause that everyone should contribute to and that it was “as clear as the American Constitution.”

US #3937g – Mystic First Day Cover picturing Johnson signing the bill into law. Click image to order.

Kennedy’s address was well received by many people in the civil rights movement.  Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Can you believe that white man not only stepped up to the plate, he hit it over the fence!”  Days later, on June 19, Kennedy sent his bill to Congress, saying its passage was “imperative.”  Passage of the bill would be one of his major goals in the coming months.   

US #3937 features several important moments from the Civil Rights movement. You can click the image to read about them and order this sheet.

Congress debated the bill and added a series of provisions to ban racial discrimination in employment, offer better protection to black voters, end segregation in all publicly owned buildings, and improve the anti-segregation clauses in regards to public facilities.  Kennedy continued to push for the bill’s passage, but he wouldn’t live to see it, losing his life to an assassin’s bullet that November.

Item #M11267 also honors several moments from the Civil Rights movement, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Click image to order.

Upon taking office, Lyndon B. Johnson saw to it that Kennedy’s act be completed.  Less than a week after becoming president, he addressed Congress, saying “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.”

Item #M12081 – Silver Dollar Proof coin issued for the act’s 50th anniversary.  Click image to order.

The House bill passed in February 1964, but Southern senators delayed the bill with a two-month filibuster.  Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, and others submitted a new bill that they believed could get enough Republican swing votes to gain passage.  Their new bill was accepted, passed, and signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964.

Click here to read the full text of the act.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
[Total: 61 Average: 4.6]

Share this article

10 responses to "Civil Rights Act of 1964"

10 thoughts on “Civil Rights Act of 1964”

  1. It’s been 55 years and their are people who believe things aren’t much better now than they were then. I happen to feel like things are much better now. We’ve even had a black president for two terms. Unfortunately, no female president yet.

    • Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say we have had a biracial president but not an African-American president? Isn’t the one drop of blood theory of race incorrect?

  2. Would that we could and would (repetition intentional) eliminate references to race, gender, age, ethnicity, etc. when and where appropriate. We are all God’s creation of the human race and, although I also believe that the unique races and ethnicities should be safeguarded as each has unique qualities to bring to the table, those identification items should not bar anyone from access to all the rights and privileges of citizenship in the good ol’ USofA. And, although somewhat but not directly, related, all who desire to share in those rights and privileges of citizenship should, according to the established laws and procedures, pursue such.

  3. A long overdue law that, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, made effective the 14th & 15 Amendments of the Constitution that had been added back during Reconstruction. One qualm about the article. The Civil Rights Movement did not became violent in 1963. The reaction to it did so.

  4. “The House bill passed in February 1964, but Southern senators delayed the bill with a two-month filibuster. Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, and others submitted a new bill that they believed could get enough Republican swing votes to gain passage.”
    What you FAIL to mention is that those Senators that tried to block it with a Filibuster were
    Democrats led by AL Gore, Sr. and that the act would NOT have been passed if it weren’t for
    Republican Senators. Most of the others mentioned were indeed Republican Senators, who were the minority party in the Senate, but got the bill passed over Democrat protest.

  5. According to Bill Moyers, Lyndon Johnson observed that the passage of the Civil Rights Act would turn Southern Democrats into Southern Republicans. Consequently, there would be a significant worldview reorientation of the major political parties. It looks as if he was right.

    • No, he wasn’t right it was a sham. Just look at those who lie to acquire power in office. The states, cities that have been destroyed by decades of voting for the same beating. Like Biden Said “If you vote for Trump you ain’t black.” Remember Trump had this country firing on all cylinders. With $2.00 gas (yes we pumped and refined it ourselves, which the Biden gang stopped immediately.) And ALL sectors of unemployment young, old and race didn’t matter, were the lowest since the government started taking records.

  6. Until we leave cultural identifiers BEHIND the true test of citizenship of being an AMERICAN first we will continue to divide the strata that makes this country the greatest place to live in the world. Count your blessings every day that your individual soul was placed here and nowhere else in the world.


Leave a Comment

Love history?

Discover events in American history – plus the stamps that make them come alive.

Subscribe to get This Day in History stories straight to your inbox every day!