The Road to the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Today’s blog is written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist and Damon Turner, doctoral student at Morgan State University and summer intern at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

At the conclusion of World War II, African Americans began an aggressive campaign to achieve equal rights in America.  Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized sit-ins, boycotts, and led marches to end racial segregation in public places.  Protesters, both black and white participating in demonstrations were beaten, arrested, and verbally assaulted during the early 1960s.  Their fight for civil rights was documented on television news cast, in newspaper accounts, and through personal statements, and photographs.  Face with international criticism stemming from the Cold War and changing attitudes in America, the time had come for African Americans to demand civil rights.

Life-sized display of students sitting-in at a lunch counter in Memphis, Tennessee (NAID 7718945)
Life-sized display of students sitting-in at a lunch counter in Memphis, Tennessee (NAID 7718945)

During his televised speech on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy asked for a Civil Rights Bill that would ban discrimination in public accommodations and to allow the US Justice Department to initiate lawsuits on the behalf of individuals.  After, Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, President Lyndon Baines Johnson continued this request by urging Congress to pass this Bill as soon as possible. [Several hours after Kennedy made this plead to America, Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers was killed in his driveway in Mississippi].

JFK addresses the nation about Civil Rights on June 11, 1963 (NAID 194188)
JFK addresses the nation about Civil Rights on June 11, 1963 (NAID 194188)

On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This Act outlawed discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  It also banned segregation in businesses such as theaters, restaurants, swimming pools, libraries, schools, and hotels.  This Act marked the beginning of the end of the Jim Crow South.  Most of the NARA holdings relating to this Act can be found at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.  Below are the first five pages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  (NAID 299891).

During the Congressional debate over the Bill, Civil Rights leaders came to listen to the sessions.  Many black organizations and leaders backed the passage of this Bill and showed their support by attending conferences and making statements to the press.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X both came to Washington D. C. to monitor the progress of the Bill in March 1964.  This was the one and only time the men met in person.  Their encounter lasted less than a minute.


Once the Bill was introduced, it faced challenges in both houses.  Southern Congressmen wanted to maintain a segregated South.  In the House of Representatives, there were multiple attempts to keep the Bill out of the various judicial committees and prevent it from coming to a vote.  But, public opinion in the North forced representatives to bring the Bill to a vote.  It passed the House on February 10, 1964 by a vote of 290–130.  In the Senate, the Bill encountered the same type of opposition from those who were against integration in public spaces.  The southern bloc used the filibuster to prevent the Bill from coming to a vote.  Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN) managed to get enough votes to end the filibuster by introducing a weaker bill.  This was the only the second time in history, where the Senate was able to override a filibuster.  The cloture bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 73–27 on June 19, 1964.

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Prior to signing the Bill at the White House, President Johnson made a public statement on why he signed it.  Click here to hear his comments

5 thoughts on “The Road to the Civil Rights Act of 1964

  1. Here is a clip from a Universal Newsreel entitled FILIBUSTER ENDS ON CIVIL RIGHTS BILL (NAID #2050756).

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