President Lyndon Johnson Signs Civil Rights Act of 1964
On the evening of July 2, 1964, leading legislators and civil rights activists gathered in the East Room of the White House to witness a historic occasion: President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This sweeping legislation outlawed employment discrimination against minorities and women, protected voting rights, and provided for the integration of schools and public facilities. In signing the Civil Rights Act, Johnson was following the legacy left by his predecessor, the assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy had called for civil rights legislation in a speech he delivered June 11, 1963, and sent his bill to Congress on June 19 where it faced an uncertain political future. The bill was strengthened in the House Judiciary Committee before being sent to the House Rules Committee in November—whose chairman, Howard Smith from Virginia, favored segregation and worked to prevent the bill’s passage.
Then on Nov. 22, 1963, the shocking assassination of President Kennedy changed the political dynamic. The newly-sworn-in President Johnson addressed Congress on November 27 and urged passage of the late president’s civil rights bill, declaring: “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.”
The bill passed the House by a vote of 290 to 130 on Feb. 10, 1964, then became bogged down in the Senate. A group of Southern senators led by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina fought the bill’s passage. Thurmond contemptuously said the bill’s provisions “are unconstitutional, unnecessary, unwise and extend beyond the realm of reason.” The bill’s opponents waged a remarkable 54-day filibuster against the bill, a delaying tactic that was finally stopped by a vote of 71 to 29—only 4 votes more than the minimum of 67 required to end the filibuster. The Senate then passed a weakened version of the House bill on June 19. The House subsequently agreed to the Senate version by a resounding 289 to 126 vote, and the bill landed on President Johnson’s desk for his signature on July 2.
The following two copyrighted newspaper articles were published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on the front page of its July 3, 1964, issue:
Johnson Puts Brand on Civil Rights Bill
House Vote Favors Bill, 289 to 126
President Asks ‘Understanding’
Washington (UPI)—Congress passed the civil rights bill Thursday and President Johnson signed it into the law of the land with a plea that all Americans join in this effort “to bring justice and hope to all of our people and to bring peace to our land.”
The measure, born in the violence of the Negro protest movement against discrimination, completed its congressional journey around 2 p.m. EDT Thursday when the House passed it on a 289 to 126 vote.
The House action, stamping approval on the compromise version which had passed the Senate June 19, came one year and two weeks after the late President John F. Kennedy sent the bill to Congress.
Five hours later, in an impressive ceremony in the White House, Johnson put his signature to the bill. The proceedings included a 10-minute televised address to the nation by the President, were attended by senators, representatives, Cabinet members, and civil rights, religious and labor leaders.
Bill a “Challenge”
The President, in his address, said the bill is “a challenge to all of us to go to work to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country.”
The President said:
“We must not approach the enforcement of this law in a vengeful spirit. Its purpose is not to punish. Its purpose is not to divide but end divisions—divisions which have lasted too long. Its purpose is national, not regional.”
He then urged:
“Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our nation whole. Let us hasten that day when our unmeasured strength and our unbounded spirit will be free to do the great works ordained for this nation by the just and wise God who is the father of us all.”
He then announced a five-point program to implement the bill, starting with the appointment of former Florida Gov. Leroy Collins as head of the Community Relations Service.
Collins now is president of the National Association of Broadcasters.
The purpose of the Community Relations Service, established by the bill, is to conciliate racial disputes before the federal government would have to step in.
Johnson also said he would appoint a committee of distinguished Americans to help Collins.
The other three points he announced were:
• He will send Congress a supplemental appropriation to pay the costs of implementing the law, and will request fast action.
• He met with his Cabinet Thursday to ask them to see that government agencies do their duty under the bill.
• He will ask officials to meet with representative groups around the country to discuss implementation of the bill.
Among those at the White House Thursday night were the Rev. Martin Luther King; Roy Wilkins and Clarence Mitchell of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; James Farmer, head of the Congress of Racial Equality; and Whitney Yount of the Urban League.
Also present was veteran Negro labor leader A. Phillip Randolph, the prime mover in the civil rights march on Washington last Aug. 28.
The bill that passed Congress Thursday originally passed the House last February, on a 290 to 130 vote. Then it went to the Senate, where it became bogged down in the longest filibuster in the nation’s history, before passage on June 19.
The measure had to go back to the House because the Senate bill was an amended version of the House legislation. The House Thursday accepted the Senate amendments, which placed emphasis on first seeking voluntary compliance without federal intervention, and on initial reliance on state or local anti-discrimination laws where they exist.
This compromise was largely worked out by Senate GOP Leader Everett M. Dirksen, with the assistance of Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy. Both were in the White House for the signing ceremony.
Johnson, in his speech, paid tribute to the Republicans who supported the bill.
At the end of Thursday’s vote in the House, a breakdown of the final roll call showed 153 Democrats and 136 Republicans voting for the bill, and 91 Democrats and 35 Republicans voting against.
Provisions of Measure Spelled Out
All except One Now in Effect
Washington (UPI)—The civil rights bill enacted Thursday seeks to end racial discrimination in schools, jobs, voting, use of privately-owned public accommodations, and in federal aid programs.
Except for the fair employment section, which goes into effect one year from the signing, the provisions of the law take effect immediately.
Here is a summary of its main provisions:
Voting (Title 1): Bolsters existing law against discrimination at the polls in federal elections by forbidding use of discriminatory tests for registration or disqualification on the basis of minor errors; requiring that literacy tests be written if used; establishing a rebuttable presumption of literacy where the applicant has completed a sixth grade education; and allowing the Justice Department (or a defendant) in voting cases to seek quick action by a three-judge federal court.
Public Accommodations (Title II): Outlaws discrimination in hotels, motels, and other transient lodging places with more than five rooms; in restaurants and lunchrooms; in theaters, sports arenas, and other places of entertainment which “affect” interstate commerce. Private clubs are exempt.
Public Places (Title III): Authorizes the attorney general, upon receipt of a signed complaint, to institute court action to enjoin discrimination or segregation in facilities such as parks, playgrounds, pools, libraries and the like.
Schools (Title IV): Authorizes the attorney general, upon receipt of a signed complaint, to bring suit to end school segregation, but only after he has notified the school of the complaint and allowed a reasonable time for compliance. Also authorizes federal aid to help solve school desegregation problems.
Civil Rights Commission (Title V): Extends life of the Civil Rights Commission 3½ years, through January 1968, and broadens Commission’s investigatory powers in voting matters.
Federal outlays (Title VI): Bars discrimination in federal aid programs and provides that aid payments shall be terminated if compliance cannot be brought by less drastic means.
Employment (Title VII): Outlaws discrimination by employers, unions, employment agencies and apprentice programs. Enforcement will not start for one year. For a year after that, only firms or unions with 100 or more employees or members are covered, with progressive steps downward over four years to cover those with at least 25.
Voting census (Title VIII): Directs Census Bureau to collect voting data by race in areas suggested by Civil Rights Commission. (A presumed step toward possible but unlikely action by Congress to deny representation to states to the extent they deny voting rights to their citizens.)
Intervention (Title IX): Gives the attorney general power to intervene in discrimination cases brought to court under the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the laws, but only if he certifies the case is of “general public importance.”
Community Relations Service (Title X): Establishes a new Community Relations Service in the Commerce Department to conciliate racial disputes.
Jury trial (Title XI): Assures right of jury trial in criminal contempt cases arising under the bill, except for its voting section. In voting cases, 1957 provision is retained, providing jury trial if sentence is more than 45 days in jail or $300 fine. If tried for criminal contempt, a defendant could not then be indicted under federal law for the same acts.
General: Discrimination based on religion and national origin, as well as race or color, is covered in most of the titles. The fund cut-off section (Title VI) omits religion. The employment section (Title VII) adds sex to the prohibited list. Enforcement is based on suits and court orders, violation of which could result in fines or jail terms.
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