The Voting Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the nation's benchmark civil rights legislation, and it continues to resonate in America.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  Passage of the Act ended the application of "Jim Crow" laws, which had been upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Court held that racial segregation purported to be "separate but equal" was constitutional.  The Civil Rights Act was eventually expanded by Congress to strengthen enforcement of these fundamental civil rights.

On November 27, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson asserted his commitment to President Kennedy's legislative agenda, particularly civil rights legislation.  The House of Representatives passed a final version of the Civil Rights Act on February 10, 1964. The bill came before the Senate in February 1964.  Because the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to act on proposed civil rights legislation just seven years earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield filed a procedural motion to prevent the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from being referred to the Committee.  Despite opposition to the motion from Senators opposed to the Civil Rights Act, Mansfield successfully prevented the bill from being referred to the Committee.  The Senate began debate on the proposal on March 30, 1964.  Senator Edward Kennedy, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, dedicated his first speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate to the consideration of the Civil Rights Act.  Senator Kennedy would go on to become the longest serving member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

After a 54-day filibuster of the legislation, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced a compromise bill.  The legislation enjoyed enough Senate support to end the stalemate, and was ultimately passed on June 19, 1964, by a vote of 73 to 27.  On July 2, 1964, the House voted to adopt the Senate-passed legislation, rather than insisting on a conference of the bill.  President Johnson signed the bill into law that very afternoon.

Sources: The Dirksen Congressional Center, Major Features of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 2006.

Gittinger, Ted, and Fisher, Allen.  LBJ Champions the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  National Archives Prologue Magazine, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2004.

Loevy, Robert D. To End All Segregation: The Politics of the Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  University Press of America, 1990.

Toni's Thoughts: I believe that since it has been 50 years since this law was signed  this is an important piece of history many people need to be aware of. Although do not believe for a moment that Lyndon B Johnson truly cared for African Americans because he did not this was practical politics. He signed other pieces of legislation that would bring harm and injustice to the African American community.


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