Johnson signs Civil Rights Act - HISTORY
Year
1964

Johnson signs Civil Rights Act

On this day in 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the historic Civil Rights Act in a nationally televised ceremony at the White House.

In the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. The 10 years that followed saw great strides for the African American civil rights movement, as non-violent demonstrations won thousands of supporters to the cause.

Memorable landmarks in the struggle included the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955—sparked by the refusal of Alabama resident Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a city bus to a white woman—and the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally of hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., in 1963.

As the strength of the civil rights movement grew, John F. Kennedy made passage of a new civil rights bill one of the platforms of his successful 1960 presidential campaign. As Kennedy’s vice president, Johnson served as chairman of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities. After Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Johnson vowed to carry out his proposals for civil rights reform.

The Civil Rights Act fought tough opposition in the House and a lengthy, heated debate in the Senate before being approved in July 1964. For the signing of the historic legislation, Johnson invited hundreds of guests to a televised ceremony in the White House’s East Room.

After using more than 75 pens to sign the bill, he gave them away as mementoes of the historic occasion, in accordance with tradition. One of the first pens went to King, leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who called it one of his most cherished possessions. Johnson gave two more to Senators Hubert Humphrey and Everett McKinley Dirksen, the Democratic and Republican managers of the bill in the Senate.

The most sweeping civil rights legislation passed by Congress since the post-Civil WarReconstruction era, the Civil Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education and outlawed racial segregation in public places such as schools, buses, parks and swimming pools.

In addition, the bill laid important groundwork for a number of other pieces of legislation–including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which set strict rules for protecting the right of African Americans to vote–that have since been used to enforce equal rights for women as well as all minorities.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Zeppelin demonstrates airship

In the sky over Germany’s Lake Constance, Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, a retired Prussian army officer, successfully demonstrates the world’s first rigid airship. The 420-foot, cigar-shaped craft was lifted by hydrogen gas and powered by a 16-horsepower engine.Zeppelin had ...read more

Mutiny on the Amistad slave ship

Early in the morning, Africans on the Cuban schooner Amistad rise up against their captors, killing two crewmembers and seizing control of the ship, which had been transporting them to a life of slavery on a sugar plantation at Puerto Principe, Cuba.In 1807, the U.S. Congress ...read more

Amelia Earhart disappears

On July 2, 1937, the Lockheed aircraft carrying American aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Frederick Noonan is reported missing near Howland Island in the Pacific. The pair were attempting to fly around the world when they lost their bearings during the most challenging leg of ...read more

Greece declares war on Central Powers

On this day in 1917, several weeks after King Constantine I abdicates his throne in Athens under pressure from the Allies, Greece declares war on the Central Powers, ending three years of neutrality by entering World War I alongside Britain, France, Russia and Italy.Constantine, ...read more

Helen Wills Moody wins final Wimbledon

On this day in 1938, Helen Wills Moody defeats a hobbled Helen Jacobs 6-4, 6-0 to win her eighth Wimbledon singles title. The victory was the final major championship for Moody, who had been the dominant player in women’s tennis for the better part of two decades.Born Helen Wills ...read more

President Garfield is shot

On this day in 1881, President James A. Garfield, who had been in office just under four months, is shot by an assassin. Garfield lingered for 80 days before dying of complications from the shooting.Garfield’s assassin was an attorney and political office-seeker named Charles ...read more

Men in Black premieres

On this day in 1997, the science fiction-comedy movie Men in Black, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, opens in theaters around the United States. The film grossed more than $250 million in America alone and helped establish the former sitcom star Will Smith as one of ...read more

Pilgrim stampede kills 1,400

A stampede of religious pilgrims in a pedestrian tunnel in Mecca leaves more than 1,400 people dead on this day in 1990. This was the most deadly of a series of incidents over 20 years affecting Muslims making the trip to Mecca. To the followers of Islam, traveling to Mecca in ...read more

President Garfield shot

Only four months into his administration, President James A. Garfield is shot as he walks through a railroad waiting room in Washington, D.C. His assailant, Charles J. Guiteau, was a disgruntled and perhaps insane office seeker who had unsuccessfully sought an appointment to the ...read more

Soviet Union rejects Marshall Plan assistance

Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov walks out of a meeting with representatives of the British and French governments, signaling the Soviet Union’s rejection of the Marshall Plan. Molotov’s action indicated that Cold War frictions between the United States and Russia were ...read more

Fighting continues at the Battle of Gettysburg

On this day in 1863, during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia attacks General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac at both Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top, but fails to move the Yankees from ...read more

Chevrolet builds 1 millionth Corvette

The 1 millionth Corvette, a white LT1 roadster with a red interior and a black roof–the same colors as the original 1953 model–rolls off the assembly line in Bowling Green, Kentucky on this day in 1992. The Corvette, America’s first all-fiberglass-bodied sports car, made its ...read more

Congress votes for independence

On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress, assembled in Philadelphia, formally adopts Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence from Great Britain. The vote is unanimous, with only New York abstaining.The resolution had originally been presented to Congress on ...read more