From the African American Registry

On this date in 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.

John F. Kennedy had argued for a new Civil Rights Act during the 1960 presidential election. But for the next two years, over 70 per cent of the African American vote went to Kennedy, the new president did nothing to promote this legislation.

The Civil Rights bill was brought before Congress in 1963. Kennedy presented arguments in favor of it on June 11 in a speech on television. Kennedy’s Civil Rights bill was still being debated by Congress when he was assassinated in November 1963.

His successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, had a poor record on civil rights issues, to some people’s surprise, he took up the cause. Senator Richard Russell was one of the main opponents vowing to fight the legislation to the bitter end. He organized 18 Southern Democratic senators in filibustering the bill. In June, however, Russell privately told two Senate leaders that he would end the filibuster and allow a vote to be taken. The Senate passed it, 73-27.

The provisions of this Civil Rights Act forbade discrimination based on sex as well as race in hiring, promoting, and firing. According to some members of Congress, a Southern conservative added sex at the last minute in an effort to kill the entire bill, since he thought Congress would never pass it with the word “sex.”

The 1964 Civil Rights Act made racial discrimination in public places such as theaters, restaurants, and hotels, illegal. It required employers to provide equal employment opportunities. Projects involving federal funds could be cut off if there was evidence of discrimination based on color, race, or national origin.