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President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among the guests behind him is Martin Luther King, Jr.

Civil Rights Act of 1964
Long title: To enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.
Introduced by: Michael J. Mansfield
Date final form passed: June 19, 1964 (Senate)
July 2, 1964 (House)
Date signed into law: July 2, 1964
Related legislation: Civil Rights Act of 1968

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88-352 , 78 Stat. 241 , July 2, 1964) was landmark legislation in the United States that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Originally conceived to protect the rights of black men, the bill was amended prior to passage to protect the civil rights of everyone, and explicitly included women for the first time.

The Act transformed Southern society overnight, and had a long-term impact on the whole country. It prohibited discrimination in public facilities, in government, and in employment. The "Jim Crow" laws in the South were abolished, and it became illegal to compel segregation of the 'races' in schools, housing, or hiring. Enforcement powers were initially weak, but they grew over the years, and later programs (such as affirmative action) were made possible by the Act.

Legislative history

Kennedy's Civil Rights Bill

The bill was promised by President John F. Kennedy in his civil rights speech of June 11 1963,[1] in which he asked for legislation that would provide "the kind of equality of treatment which we would want for ourselves."

He then sent a bill to Congress on June 19. Kennedy's civil rights bill included provisions to ban discrimination in public accommodations, and to enable the U.S. Attorney General to sue state governments which operated segregated school systems, among other provisions.

The bill was sent to the House of Representatives, and referred to the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by liberal New York Democrat Emmanuel Celler. After a series of hearings on the bill, Celler's commitee greatly strengthened the act, adding provisions to ban racial discrimination in employment. The bill was reported out of the Judiciary Committee in November 1963, but was then referred to the Rules Committee, whose chairman, the segregationist Virginia Democrat Howard W. Smith, indicated his intention to keep the bill bottled up indefinitely.

It was at this point that President Kennedy was assassinated. The new president Lyndon Johnson, who hoped that support for Kennedy's civil rights bill would help him gain support outside his native South in the upcoming 1964 presidential election, indicated his support for the bill. Johnson utilized his experience in parliamentary politics, and the bully pulpit he wielded as president, in support of the bill.

Passage in the House of Representatives

The initial step was to get the bill out of Chairman Smith's Rules Committee. This was done through means of a petition, filed by Congressman Celler, to discharge the bill from the Rules Committee. If a majority of members signed the discharge petition, the bill would move directly to the House floor without consideration by the rules committee. This was contrary to traditional house procedure, and thus civil rights advocates initially had a difficult time acquiring the signatures necessary, as even many congressmen who supported the civil rights bill itself were cautious about violating House procedure with the discharge petition. By the time of the 1963 Christmas recess, fifty signatures were still wanting.

On the return from the Christmas recess, however, matters took a significant turn. The President's public advocacy of the Civil Rights bill had made a difference on opinion in congressmen's home districts, and soon it became apparent that the petition would acquire the necessary signatures. To prevent the humiliation of the success of the petition, Chairman Smith allowed the bill to pass through the Rules Committee.

In the House floor debate which followed, many southern representatives attempted to add amendments to the bill, usually either in an effort to weaken the bill or in the hopes of adding a "poison pill" that might lead to its defeat, either in the House or the Senate. Most such provisions were voted down.

The only notable amendment which was passed was one introduced by Congressman Smith, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex in employment. The debate on the amendment, which was introduced by Smith in jocular terms, and was followed by various similar speeches by other conservative southern congressmen, became known as "Ladies Day" in the House, and it has often been supposed Smith proposed the measure as simply yet another poison pill. However, more recent research has shown that Smith was a genuine ally of the feminist movement. The amendment passed with the support of many southerners and Republicans, over the opposition of members devoted to the interests of organized labor.

The bill was brought to a vote in the House on February 10, 1964, and passed by a vote of 290 to 130, and sent to the Senate.

Southern Filibuster and Passage in the Senate

Johnson, who wanted the bill passed as soon as possible, insured that the bill would be quickly considered by the Senate. Normally, the bill would have been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by arch-segregationist Senator James O. Eastland of Mississippi. Under Eastland's care, it seemed impossible that the bill would reach the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield took a novel approach to prevent the bill from being relegated to Judiciary Committee purgatory. Having initially waived a second reading of the bill, which would have led to it being immediately referred to Judiciary, Mansfield gave the bill a second reading on February 26, 1964, and then proposed, in the absence of precedent for instances when a second reading did not immediately follow the first, that the bill bypass the Judiciary Committee and immediately be sent to the Senate floor for debate. Although this parliamentary move led to a brief filibuster by Southern senators, the southerners, led by veteran Georgia Senator Richard Russell, eventually let it pass, preferring to concentrate their resistance on passage of the bill itself. The bill came before the full Senate for debate on March 30, 1964.

The Southern Senators now began an 83 day filibuster, the longest in Senate history, on the bill. Calling their filibuster an "educational campaign," the Southern Senators hoped to persuade wavering senators, particulary Republican and conservative Senators from the Great Plains and Mountain west states, of the justice of their cause. It was hoped that these Senators' traditional reluctance to vote for cloture (the forcible ending of debate, which required a two thirds super-majority), and allow the bill to die. Although Russell, who had previously been able to successfully weaken the 1957 and 1960 acts to the point of impotence through the amendment process, might have been inclined to try this route again, knowing that the House had expressed its unwillingness to see major changes to the bill might lead the bill to become bottled up in the House-Senate conference committee that would resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, the objections of hardliners in his own caucus, led by Eastland, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, and Sam Ervin of North Carolina, made any attempt at compromise impossible. Thus, the southern opposition to the bill relied almost entirely on their hopes that western senators would refuse to support cloture.

Their hopes were briefly raised by the presidential campaign of Alabama Governor George Wallace. Wallace's strong showings in the Indiana and Wisconsin primaries led southern senators to hope that their colleagues from other parts of the country would come to believe, as they did, that civil rights was in fact no more popular in the north than in the south. Wallace's failure to win the Maryland primary, however, dampened the momentum of the movement, and prevented any kind of national movement against civil rights, such as the southern senators had hoped for, from coming into being.

The strategy of Civil Rights supporters, led by Minnesota Democrat Hubert Humphrey and California Republican Thomas Kuchel, was informed by past failures, particularly on the Civil Rights bills passed in 1957 and 1960. Then, it was felt, premature efforts to achieve cloture had crippled chances for future success, forcing the bill's supporters to come to ineffectual compromises with the southern opposition. This time, it was decided to allow the southern Senators to filibuster until certain support could be lined up for cloture. The key to attaining the votes necessary for cloture was the Senate Minority leader, conservative Illinois Republican Everett M. Dirksen. If Dirksen could be persuaded to line up strongly for civil rights, and to pressure the fellow conservatives in his caucus to do the same, passage would be all but assured. President Johnson was particularly keen to insure Dirksen's support, instructing Humphrey to allow Dirksen space to become the hero of the day on Civil Rights.

Dirksen, however, demanded certain changes to the bill before he would put his weight behind it, and private negotiations between himself and Humphrey led to significant amendments to the bill. For the most part, the Dirksen amendments involved efforts to restrict the effects of the bill as much as possible to the Jim Crow south, so that non-southern states which already contained civil rights provisions in their own laws would be mostly protected from the effects of the federal civil rights law.

The negotiations with Dirksen having proved successful, civil rights proponents moved for cloture to end the debate on the bill on June 10, 1964. The motion for cloture passed by a vote of 71-29, the first time that cloture had ever successfully been sought on a piece of civil rights legislation. Joining 21 of the 22 Senators from the old Confederacy in opposing cloture were West Virginia democrat Robert Byrd, who had joined the southern senators in their filibuster, two conservative western Democratic senators who opposed cloture on principle, and five conservative Republicans, including Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who would shortly thereafter become the Republican Presidential nominee opposing President Johnson that fall.

Shortly thereafter, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 73-27, and quickly passed through the House-Senate conference committee, which adopted the Senate version of the bill. The conference bill was passed by both houses of Congress, and was signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964.

Vote statistics

Vote totals

Totals are in "Yea-Nay" format:

  • The Original House Version: 290-130   (69%-31%)
  • The Senate Version: 73-27   (73%-27%)
  • The Senate Version, as voted on by the House: 289-126   (70%-30%)

By Party

The Original House Version:

  • Democratic Party: 153-96   (61%-39%)
  • Republican Party: 138-34   (80%-20%)
  • Democratic Party: 46-22   (68%-32%)
  • Republican Party: 27-6   (82%-18%)

The Senate Version, voted on by the House:

  • Democratic Party: 153-91   (63%-37%)
  • Republican Party: 136-35   (80%-20%)

Switches in position:

"Yea" to "Nay": Earl Wilson (R-IN), Bob Wilson (R-CA), and Charlotte T. Reid (R-IL)

"Nay" to "Yea": John Jacob Rhodes (R-AZ), J. Edward Hutchinson (R-MI), and Charles Weltner (D-GA).

By Party and Region

The Original House Version:

  • Southern Democrats: 7-87   (7%-93%)
  • Southern Republicans: 0-10   (0%-100%)
  • Northern Democrats: 145-9   (94%-6%)
  • Northern Republicans: 138-24   (85%-15%)

The Senate Version:

  • Southern Democrats: 1-20   (5%-95%) (only Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas voted in favor)
  • Southern Republicans: 0-1   (0%-100%) (this was Senator John Tower of Texas)
  • Northern Democrats: 45-1   (98%-2%) (only Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia opposed the measure)
  • Northern Republicans: 27-5   (84%-16%) (Senators Wallace Bennett of Utah, Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Edwin L. Mechem of New Mexico, Milward L. Simpson of Wyoming, and Milton R. Young of North Dakota opposed the measure)

Women's rights

Howard W. Smith, the powerful Virginian who chaired the House Rules Committee, opposed civil rights laws for blacks, but he supported them for women. Smith had long been close to Alice Paul, one of the leaders of the suffrage movement since 1917. At her urging he included sex as a protected category. He forged an alliance with Congresswoman Martha Griffiths, a liberal feminist from Michigan, to include sex as a protected category in the Civil Rights Law of 1964. Griffith and Smith defeated the liberals of the AFL-CIO who had long opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, as well as the black leaders who wanted the bill to focus on race.

William Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, articulated in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson: “The prohibition against discrimination based on sex was added to Title VII at the last minute on the floor of the House of Representatives…the bill quickly passed as amended, and we are left with little legislative history to guide us in interpreting the Act’s prohibition against discrimination based on ‘sex.’”

Political Repercussions

President Johnson believed that he could carry the South after passage of the bill--he did so; Johnson dismissed Senator Russell's warning that there would be permanent losses. [2]

Although majorities in both parties voted for the bill, there were notable exceptions. Republican senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona voted against the bill, remarking, "You can't legislate morality." Most Democrats from the Southern states opposed the bill, including Tennessee senator Albert Gore Sr., Arkansas senator J. William Fulbright, and West Virginia senator Robert Byrd. Goldwater went on to secure his party's nomination for the presidency, and in the ensuing election, Goldwater won only his home state of Arizona and five of the Deep South states, two of which had not voted Republican since the disputed presidential election of 1876.

Major Features of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

(The full text of the Act is available online.)[3]

Title I

Barred unequal application of voter registration requirements, but did not abolish literacy tests sometimes used to disqualify African Americans and poor white voters.

"It shall be the duty of the judge designated pursuant to this section to assign the case for hearing at the earliest practicable date and to cause the case to be in every way expedited."

Title II

Outlawed discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce; exempted private clubs without defining the term "private."

Title III

Encouraged the desegregation of public schools and authorized the U. S. Attorney General to file suits to force desegregation.

Title VI

Title VI of the Act prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funding. If an agency is found in violation of Title VI, that agency can lose its federal funding.

Title VII

Title VII of the Act, codified as Subchapter VI of Chapter 21 of Title 42 of the United States Code, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e

et seq., outlaws discrimination in employment in any business on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin (see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2

). Title VII also prohibits retaliation against employees who oppose such unlawful discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII (see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-4 ). The EEOC investigates, mediates, and sometimes files lawsuits on behalf of employees. Title VII also provides that an individual can bring a private lawsuit. An individual must file a complaint of discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of learning of the discrimination or the individual may lose the right to file a lawsuit. Title VII only applies to employers who employ 15 or more employees for more than 19 weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

In the late 1970s courts began holding that sexual harassment is also prohibited under the Act. Chrapliwy v. Uniroyal is a notable Title VII case relating to sexual harassment that was decided in favor of the plaintiffs. In 1986 the Supreme Court held in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), that sexual harassment is sex discrimination and is prohibited by Title VII. Title VII has been supplemented with legislation prohibiting pregnancy, age, and disability discrimination (See Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).

Title VII does not apply to three types of employers:

  • Federal government; (Comment: The proscriptions against employment discrimination under Title VII are now applicable to the federal government under 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e-16)
  • Religious groups performing work connected to the group's activities, including associated education institutions;
  • Bona fide nonprofit private membership organizations.


  • Brauer, Carl M., "Women Activists, Southern Conservatives, and the Prohibition of Sex Discrimination in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act", 49 Journal of Southern History, February 1983
  • Burstein, Paul, Discrimination, Jobs and Politics: The Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity in the United States since the New Deal, University of Chicago Press, 1985.
  • Finley, Keith M. "Southern Opposition to Civil Rights in the United States Senate: A Tactical and Ideological Analysis, 1938-1965", Louisiana State University PhD dissertation, 2003. online version
  • Freeman, Jo. "How 'Sex' Got Into Title VII: Persistent Opportunism as a Maker of Public Policy" Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, Vol. 9, No. 2, March 1991, pp. 163-184. online version
  • Graham, Hugh, The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960-1972, Oxford U P, 1990.
  • Harrison, Cynthia, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women's Issues 1945-1968, U. California Press, 1988.
  • Loevy, Robert D. To End All Segregation: The Politics of the Passage Of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (1990)
  • Loevy, Robert D. ed; The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Passage of the Law That Ended Racial Segregation State University of New York Press. (1997)
  • Loevy, Robert D. "A Brief History of the Civil Rights Act OF 1964," in David C. Kozak and Kenneth N. Ciboski, ed., The American Presidency (Chicago, IL: Nelson Hall, 1985), pp. 411-419. online version
  • Rodriguez, Daniel B. and Barry R. Weingast; "The Positive Political Theory of Legislative History: New Perspectives on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Its Interpretation" ';University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 151. (2003)
  • Whalen, Charles and Barbara Whalen, The Longest Debate: A Legislative History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act Cabin John, Maryland: Seven Locks Press. (1985).
  • Woods, Randall. LBJ: Architect of American Ambition (2006) ch 22.


  1. Transcript from the JFK library.
  2. Randall Woods, LBJ (2006) p. 473; It is frequently stated that LBJ said the Democrats would lose the South for a generation. He did not say that or believe it.
  3. Full text of act.

See also

de:Civil Rights Act von 1964

fr:Civil Rights Act nl:Civil Rights Act

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