What Was The Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at 1964 Independence Avenue commemorates the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. Editorial credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

The civil rights Act of 1964 is a set of civil rights and labor laws enacted by the U.S Congress in 1964. The Act prohibits discrimination based on sex, country of origin, race, color, and religion. It also forbids the discrimination in voter requirements, school enrolment, employment, and provision of services. By adopting the Act, Congress performed its duty to guarantee equal protection and voting right to all citizens as required by the 4th and 5th Amendments. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Act on July 2, 1964.

Origin of the Act

President John F. Kennedy proposed the bill on June 11, 1963, when he released a report on American People on Civil Rights. He proposed the adoption of legislation that would guarantee all Americans the right to access public . He also sought to constitutionalize the right to vote. Kennedy’s actions were triggered by the Birmingham campaign and the elevated racial tension marred by waves of riots and protests by the blacks. The bill resembled the Civil Rights Act of 1875 but included the provisions to prohibit discrimination and allow the US Attorney General to sue state governments that were discriminatory in providing public provisions. Although the bill championed the right of the minority, it overlooked other essentials such as police brutality and discrimination in the private sector.

Passage in the Senate

On June 11, 1963, JFK presented his bill to some Republican leaders for discussion before it was presented to House of Representatives. The Republicans rejected the president’s provision of equal treatment in public places and even provided an alternative proposal with the provision omitted. However, President JFK submitted the original bill to the House of Representatives. There were several attempts to prevent the bill from passing, especially from states that actively engaged in discrimination. On November 22, 1963, JFK was assassinated and succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson supported the bill and called for Congress to do the same in honor of JFK who had fought for its enactment.

The bill reached the floor of the Senate of on March 30, 1964, but was rejected by the “southern block,” consisting of eighteen democratic and one Republican Senators, on the ground that no member of their states would be forced to intermingle and share resources and services with other races within their state boundaries. South Carolina senator termed the bill unconstitutional, unwise, unnecessary, and unreasonable. After 54 days in the Senate the bill could neither pass nor fail, some pro-bill senators eventually drafted a compromised version of the bill with the aim of convincing the swaying Republican to adopt it. The compromise proved popular among the senators, and it was voted for by 73 senators against 27. The House-Senate conference committee quickly passed it. It was adopted by both houses and signed into law on July 2, 1964, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.


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