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Civil Rights Act, 1964
By Congress
Aug 11, 2006, 6:40pm

The assassination of John Kennedy in November 1963 left most civil rights leaders grief-stricken. Kennedy had been the first president since Harry Truman to champion equal rights for black Americans, and they knew little about his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Although Johnson had helped engineer the Civil Rights Act of 1957, that had been a mild measure, and no one knew if the Texan would continue Kennedy's call for civil rights or move to placate his fellow southerners.

But on November 27, 1963, addressing the Congress and the nation for the first time as president, Johnson called for passage of the civil rights bill as a monument to the fallen Kennedy. "Let us continue," he declared, promising that "the ideas and the ideals which [Kennedy] so nobly represented must and will be translated into effective action." Moreover, where Kennedy had been sound on principle, Lyndon Johnson was the master of parliamentary procedure, and he used his considerable talents as well as the prestige of the presidency in support of the bill.

On February 10, 1964, the House of Representatives passed the measure by a lopsided 290-130 vote, but everyone knew that the real battle would be in the Senate, whose rules had allowed southerners in the past to mount filibusters that had effectively killed nearly all civil rights legislation. But Johnson pulled every string he knew, and had the civil rights leaders mount a massive lobbying campaign, including inundating the Capitol with religious leaders of all faiths and colors. The strategy paid off, and in June the Senate voted to close debate; a few weeks later, it passed the most important piece of civil rights legislation in the nation's history, and on July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed it into law.

Some members of Congress, however, worried whether the law would pass constitutional muster, since in 1883 the Supreme Court had voided the last civil rights measure, declaring such action beyond the scope of congressional power. They need not have worried this time. The Supreme Court accepted two cases on an accelerated basis and in both of them unanimously upheld the power of Congress under the Fourteenth Amendment to protect the civil rights of black Americans.

Title II, of which sections are reprinted here, is the heart of the law, and deals with public accommodations, so that African Americans could no longer be excluded from restaurants, hotels and other public facilities.

Read the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Source:US State Department

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