Civil Rights Act 1964
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Last updated 22 Mar 2021
The Civil Rights Act 1964 was a major piece of legislation in the United States that made it illegal to discriminate based on race, colour, sex, national origin or religion. In addition to this it made it illegal to have unequal voter registration applications and ended segregation in schools, ay work and in civil society.
The act itself was criticised for not going far enough and not having sufficient powers of enforcement, but this was rectified by further legislation and amendments. The Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2nd 1964.
Background & Legislative Passage:
The Civil Rights Act has its origins in the Kennedy Administration when he gave his Civil Rights Speech in June 1963. Whilst the bill was a milestone in itself, many civil rights campaigners did not feel it went far enough in addressing the national problems that existed. There was no protection from discrimination in private employment, nor any powers for lawsuits to be brought against organisations who were found to be segregating on racial grounds and/or discriminating.
President Kennedy sent the first version of the Civil Rights Act to Congress on June 19th 1963, declaring it imperative. When the bill entered into the House Judiciary Committee the committee chairman Emmanuel Celler. On the back of this, Congressional leaders were called to the White House in October 1963 in order to plan the passage of the bill onto the House floor. In November 1963 the bill was reported out of committee, but faced a significant barrier from Democratic Chairman of the Rules Committee Howard Smith who was a segregationist. It was his intention to keep the bill off the floor.
After the assassination of Kennedy, President Johnson used his legislative experience and bullying tactics to support the bill. The bill eventually made it out of the House Rules Committee after the winter recess of the House.
The bill was then presented to the Senate where it bypassed normal procedure in order to give it a better chance of success. The most vocal opposition to the bill came from Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. He claimed that the bill was unconstitutional and extended beyond reason. Thurmond among others managed to filibuster the bill for 54 days, a number of Senators attempted a weaker bill in the hope that it would pass. The House decided that the revised bill was not substantially different from their own so allowed it to pass.