Monday, June 30, 2014

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (AP Photo)

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law what was the most comprehensive civil rights bill up to that time. The bill, Public Law 88-352, is known commonly as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It mandated that persons would not be discriminated against based on color, race, national origin, religion, or sex.

The legislation was first proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, but political wrangling delayed its passage for some time. After House approval in February, voting in the Senate was held back by a 75-day filibuster led by conservatives who vehemently opposed the law (primarily Southern Democrats). It finally passed the Senate by a vote of 73 to 27 on June 19 and was approved in its final form on July 2.

The Civil Rights Act contains eleven titles. Three more well-known of them are as follows, in brief:

Title II, Injunctive Relief Against Discrimination in Places of Public Accommodation – Title II gives equal access to public facilities, such as lodgings, restaurants, theaters, stadiums, lunch counters, and gas stations.

Title IV, Desegregation of Public Education – “The assignment of students to public schools and within such schools without regard to their race, color, religion, or national origin, but ‘desegregation’ shall not mean the assignment of students to public schools in order to overcome racial imbalance. “

Title VII, Equal Employment Opportunity – Employers cannot fail or refuse to hire or fire persons or place limits on them that would deny them opportunities for employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Also, employment agencies cannot refuse to refer persons for employment. This is the only title in which “sex” is used as a qualifier. It also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC is required to submit a report to the President each year detailing its activities investigating complaints on “unlawful employment practices.”

Other titles deal with creation of the Civil Rights Commission (Title V) and Non-Discrimination in Federally Assisted Programs (Title VI). The more comprehensive Voting Rights Act would become law the next year, on August 6, 1965.

In a radio and television address to the nation on July 2 before signing the bill, President Johnson explained the purpose of the law, which was that after years of inequality for black Americans, The Civil Rights Act would establish equal rights for all Americans:

“It does not restrict the freedom of any American…It does not give special treatment to any citizen…Its purpose is not to punish. Its purpose is not to divide, but to end divisions-- divisions which have all lasted too long…Its purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom, a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human dignity.”

Suggested Websites
Government Printing Office: www.gpo.gov/fdsys - This is a digitized version of the original document.

Library of Congress: www.loc.gov – Enter “Civil Rights Act 1964” to search the site.

Transcript of Civil Rights Act (1964): www.ourdocuments.gov is located within the “100 Milestone
Documents” link.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom exhibition opens in Fall 2014 at the Library
of Congress.

Michelle Andrews
Government Documents Department
Central Library

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