Category: History Tags: Civil Rights Act of 1964, Emancipation to Equality, Everett M. Dirksen, Lyndon Johnson, U.S. Congress
Fifty years ago today, the U.S. Senate passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, after ending the longest continuous debate in Senate history.
America grows. America changes. And on the civil rights issue we must rise with the occasion.
— Republican Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen, announcing he would help Democrats pass the Civil Rights Act
The Civil Rights Act had first been proposed by President Kennedy on June 11, 1963, in a dramatic television address to the nation following Governor George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” over desegregation at the University of Alabama.
Within days of Kennedy’s assassination, President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress and urged passage of the bill in the slain president’s honor, saying “we have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more.”
The House had approved the bill on February 10, but southern Democrats filibustered in the Senate, dragging debate on for sixty days.
That filibuster was finally broken when Everett Dirksen, the Republican minority leader, negotiated changes and agreed to rally Republican support for the legislation. On June 10, the Senate voted 71-29, with that crucial Republican support, to end cloture, and on July 19, the Senate passed the Civil Rights Act.
Mr. President, in line with the sentiment offered by the poet, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,” so every denial of freedom, every denial of equal opportunity for a livelihood, for an education, for a right to participate in representative government diminishes me.
— Republican Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen, speaking before the Senate vote on passage of the Civil Rights Act
The House voted to adopt the bill, with the Senate’s changes, on July 2. President Johnson signed the historic act only hours later.