of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(Public Law 88-352)
application of voter registration requirements, but did not abolish
literacy tests sometimes used to disqualify African Americans and
poor white voters.
in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations
engaged in interstate commerce; exempted private clubs without defining
"private," thereby allowing a loophole.
desegregation of public schools and authorized the U. S. Attorney
General to file suits to force desegregation, but did not authorize
busing as a means to overcome segregation based on residence.
did not require withdrawal of federal funds from programs which practiced
in employment in any business exceeding twenty five people and creates
an Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to review complaints,
although it lacked meaningful enforcement powers.
Case History: The 1964 Civil Rights Act
The 1964 Civil
Rights Act was a landmark in legislative attempts to improve the
quality of life for African Americans and other minority groups.
Although civil rights had a long history as a political and legislative
issue, the 1960s marked a period of intense activity by the federal
government to protect minority rights. The Act did not resolve all
problems of discrimination. But it opened the door to further progress
by lessening racial restrictions on the use of public facilities,
providing more job opportunities, strengthening voting laws, and
limiting federal funding of discriminatory aid programs.
The story of
the 1964 Civil Rights Act is interesting and instructive because
it illustrates how an historically important piece of legislation
became part of our nation's heritage. An examination of the Act
also provides a way to understand the climate of opinion regarding
African American rights, the nature of civil rights activity, the
obstacles to political and social change, the role of politics in
the way issues are handled, the actions of individual senators and
representatives, and the nature of legislative activity in general.
The intricate process that makes a bill become law is a combination
of all these factors.
Pressure for Legislative Action
the United States Constitution contains no express reference
to federal protection of minority rights, amendments ratified
after the Civil War directly addressed the civil rights matter.
The 13th, 14th,
and 15th amendments outlawed slavery,
provided for equal protection under the law, guaranteed citizenship,
and protected the right to vote for African American Americans.
The amendments also allowed Congress to enforce these provisions
by enacting appropriate, specific legislation.
In the nine
years spanning 1866 through 1875, Congress passed five major pieces
of legislation designed to enact the spirit of the amendments. By
the early 20th century, however, further legislative modifications
and judicial decisions rendered by the United States Supreme Court
restricted severely the application of civil rights measures. As
a result, individual states controlled the treatment of blacks,
with southern states generally the harshest in their abuse of civil
rights. The federal government took very little action to enforce
civil rights after 1900. The climate of opinion did not yet favor
comprehensive legislative action by Congress to remedy the increasing
disregard for the rights of African Americans.
for civil rights legislation picked up speed after 1945 as a result
of black migration to northern cities and the experiences of black
soldiers in World War II. Bills introduced in Congress regarding
employment policy brought the issue of civil rights to the attention
of representatives and senators. In 1945, 1947, and 1949, the House
of Representatives voted to abolish the poll tax restricting the
right to vote. Although the Senate did not join in this effort,
the bills signaled a growing interest in protecting civil rights
through federal action. The executive branch of government, by Presidential
order, likewise became active by ending discrimination in the nation's
military forces and in federal employment and work done under government
Court joined the civil rights forces in the 1950s and, in the process,
added to the historical pressure for sweeping legislation a decade
later. In a number of cases after World War II, the federal courts
began to protect the civil rights of minorities in certain specific
circumstances, gradually making it possible for African Americans
to participate in some activities on an equal basis with whites.
The Supreme Court took its most memorable step in this direction
when it agreed in 1954 to hear a case dealing with racial segregation
in public schools.
of separating African American and white children in public schools
had always been unpopular among civil rights leaders who viewed
proper education as a means for African Americans to escape racial
discrimination. They argued that the mere fact of segregation in
schools doomed African Americans to inferior education and deprived
whites and African Americans of an important educational experience.
In Brown v. Board of Education
of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court struck down the legal
support for maintaining "separate
but equal" educational facilities:
separate black children from others of similar age and qualifications
solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority
as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts
and minds in a way never to be undone . . . We conclude that in
the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal
has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
decision meant that white and African American children could not
be forced to attend separate public schools.
Court s landmark decision was one of the single most important features
of the climate of opinion that began to encourage federal action
to protect civil rights. Yet the Brown ruling did not settle the
controversy surrounding the treatment of minorities in the United
States. Although the Supreme Court made its commitment to equal
rights unmistakably clear, the cause of civil rights still required
affirmative action by Congress to become a reality for most African
The United States
Congress began to take its first, tentative steps to enact major
civil rights legislation soon after the Brown decision. Although
Congress considered a civil rights bill each year from 1945 until
1957, every measure failed to pass into law. It was not until Congress
turned its attention to voting rights in 1957 that the first civil
rights act of the 20th century actually became law. Congress followed
the 1957 Civil Rights Act with
another in 1960. Together these
measures made moderate gains for minorities. More importantly, they
foreshadowed increasing support for more substantial civil rights
guarantees in the 1960s and contributed to a climate of opinion
favoring these guarantees.
By the early
1960s, the nation s congressional history contributed to growing
legislative pressures for a comprehensive civil rights law. Although
political pressures prevented President John F. Kennedy's administration
from proposing legislation to Congress in 1961 and 1962, the President
took steps to ensure minority rights in voting, employment, housing,
transportation, and education by executive action. The stage was
set for a new legislative initiative to deal with the problem of
federal protection of civil rights.
The nature of
American society also hastened the movement towards civil rights
legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only represented a
period of intensity in legislative activity but it also reflected
the changing nature of social conditions in the United States. Minority
groups grew more vocal and persuasive in their demands, and many
white Americans began to see the need for civil rights laws. These
social conditions contributed mightily to the climate of opinion
demanding congressional action.
Americans became increasingly vocal and better mobilized for political
action after World War II. During the 1950s, they began to protest
their treatment more publicly and actively as they demanded comprehensive
protection of their civil rights.
protesters pointed to a number of social inequalities from which
they suffered. Segregation prevented them from using a variety of
public facilities on an equal basis with whites. African Americans
were restricted in their use of public city buses, park facilities,
and restrooms, for instance. Educational opportunities were limited
sharply by the practice of separating African Americans and whites
and providing African Americans with inferior instructional equipment.
As late as 1963, for example, only 12,000 of the 3,000,000 African
Americans in the South attended integrated schools, in spite of
the Brown decision. Finally, employment practices throughout the
South and in many northern cities restricted African Americans'
ability to advance economically.
to challenging segregation in the courts, African Americans relied
increasingly upon direct action to publicize their plight by staging
sit-ins and boycotts. Perhaps the most dramatic of the early protests
was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s
demonstration in Montgomery, Alabama,
in 1955. Protesting rules that required them to sit in the backs
of buses, African Americans refused to use public transportation
and picketed against the regulations. The protest soon spread as
African Americans boycotted white Montgomery businesses in an effort
to slow down business and to force businessmen to support African
American demands. After months of confrontation and some violence,
the city agreed to end seating requirements on buses, signaling
a symbolic victory for civil rights workers in the South. Similar
protests grew up throughout the South, highlighted by violence in
Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957
during school desegregation
the legacy of the 1950s, the pace of social protest increased dramatically
in the four years before passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In
February 1960, African American students demonstrated against segregation
at a department store lunch counter in Greensboro,
North Carolina, by conducting a sit- in protest that soon spread
to more than one hundred other communities. Later that year, after
violence erupted over New Orleans's school racial policies, the
Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana statute blocking integration.
In January 1961, two African American students enrolled in the University
of Georgia at Athens marking the first desegregation in public education
protests against segregation increased, many civil rights organizations
gained new strength through increasing membership and financial
support. The Congress of Racial
Equality (CORE) set an example of non-violent direct action
that proved effective even though whites dominated CORE. The
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
set up legal defense funds to aid jailed protestors. The Southern
Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student
Non- Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Urban
League all prospered as organizations representing the civil
A major development
in the civil rights direct action protest movement occurred with
the formation of the Freedom Rides
in the early 1960s. Groups of African Americans and whites entered
southern cities by bus to test segregation barriers in transportation
facilities. Frequently, they were met with violence. In May 1961,
while riders were in Alabama, rioting broke out, forcing the U.S.
Attorney General to protect civil rights workers with U.S. marshals.
During the fall of 1962, James
Meredith's attempt to enroll as the first African American in
the University of Mississippi in Oxford generated extreme hostility.
Two men were killed and 375 injured as the state resisted Meredith's
continued to mount in 1963. Martin Luther King organized peaceful
demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, to protest segregation in
public facilities, but many whites responded angrily. Throughout
the spring, an escalating cycle of violence consumed Birmingham,
forcing President Kennedy to alert federal troops and to warn Governor
George Wallace that continued
violence against peaceful civil rights marchers would bring the
troops into action. The murder of civil rights workers Medger
Evers and William L. Moore
added fuel to the controversy. Birmingham whites killed several
other African Americans, including four young girls who were attending
Sunday school when their church was bombed.
news media covered the Birmingham episodes in depth, bringing pictures
into homes throughout the country of whites beating African Americans,
of dogs snarling at protesters, of fire hoses being turned against
marchers, and of police using electric cattle prods to control the
crowd. Civil rights leaders and sympathizers protested the senseless
violence through letters and telegrams to their congressmen. Many
African Americans expressed their outrage by rioting. By 1964, there
were unmistakable signs that social conditions for African American
Americans required legislative attention in the U.S. Congress.
rights ceased to be only a southern problem as the social pressure
for action surfaced in northern cities. During the summer of 1963,
New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Trenton and Newark, New Jersey,
joined other cities in taking action to bar discrimination in the
construction industry. To respond to civil rights activists, a number
of communities established biracial committees to examine the human
rights of citizens and to explore ways of guaranteeing civil rights.
rarely occurs unless there are social pressures encouraging action.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 certainly was no exception. As African
Americans organized and demonstrated, other groups formed in reaction.
On many occasions the result was peaceful accommodation between
the two groups and a working out of difficulties. In several cases,
however, violence resulted, forcing the nation as a whole to review
its treatment of African Americans and other minorities.
of opinion had changed dramatically between World War II and 1964.
It appeared that a vocal majority of churches, representatives and
senators, and the nation favored civil rights legislation. The National
Opinion Research Center discovered this change of attitude in a
sample survey of northern whites in 1963. The Center determined
that the number who approved neighborhood integration had risen
30% in twenty years, to 72% in 1963. The proportion favoring school
integration had risen even more impressively to 75%.
The nature of
social conditions for African American Americans had created an
atmosphere ripe for civil rights activity. According to the government,
there were nearly 1,000 civil rights demonstrations in 209 cities
in a three-month period beginning May 1963. Newsweek published a
survey in July showing that 40 % of African Americans interviewed
had taken part in a civil rights protest. Pressure mounted in the
nation's Capitol to respond.
and senators could not ignore the impact of social protest. In a
confidential memorandum, one Republican senator asked in May 1963
that Republicans meet the challenge by proposing a legislative initiative
to revise Senate rules to make it easier to pass a civil rights
bill which would cut off federal funds to programs that discriminated
against African Americans. In suggesting this action, the senator
made the link between social conditions and legislation clear when
he said that "recent events in racial relations in Birmingham, Alabama
and elsewhere, in the North and the South, have demonstrated the
critical need for further action by the Congress . . . toward righting
the wrongs and ending the disadvantages of the past."
of civil rights legislation can be viewed from a number of perspectives.
In general, the political situation reflected the nation's social
transition in its uncertainty and ambiguity. Although a consensus
favoring civil rights legislation eventually emerged, it is difficult
to point to specific political trends that dominated the process.
Political factors influenced different people in contrasting ways.
The impact of politics was complicated and diffuse. One way to understand
the role of politics in the enactment of civil rights legislation,
however, is to look at the way President
John F. Kennedy approached the legislation. In a very important
sense, Kennedy came to endorse a civil rights bill because political
circumstances allowed him to support what once had been a controversial
and unpopular legislative program.
John F. Kennedy's
civil rights record before 1963 was neither a clear endorsement
nor rejection of civil rights legislation. As a senator from Massachusetts,
he had an opportunity to vote on the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the
first passed in the 20th century. Kennedy apparently had enough
reservations about the bill to vote to send it to the conservative
Senate Judiciary Committee
where it probably would have been pigeonholed. Another indication
of his lukewarm support for the Act was his vote to allow juries
to hear contempt cases. Southerners preferred jury to bench trials
since all-white juries rarely convicted white civil rights violators.
At the same time, Kennedy supported efforts to end discrimination
in education. His record in the 1950s did not mark the future President
as a civil rights activist. It indicated that Kennedy, much like
the rest of the nation, had complicated and sometimes contradictory
views about civil rights.
As a presidential
campaigner in 1960, Kennedy largely avoided the civil rights issue
for basically political reasons. Although he endorsed some kind
of federal action, he could not afford to antagonize southern Democrats
whose support he desperately needed to defeat Republican candidate
Richard M. Nixon. In outlining
the most important issues for the campaign early in 1960, Kennedy
ignored civil rights rather than jeopardize his political support.
After his election
in November 1960, the new President failed to suggest any new civil
rights proposals in 1961 or 1962, again for political reasons. He
needed southern support in Congress for his other foreign and domestic
programs. It was particularly risky to introduce specific civil
rights legislation in the Senate. The Senate filibuster
rule made it possible for a minority of senators to prevent passage
and to obstruct other Senate business. To overcome this obstacle,
67 members would have to support some version of civil rights legislation
and vote to end the inevitable filibuster. It was difficult for
the Kennedy administration to propose a bill without considering
carefully the politics of congressional passage.
accomplished some strictly limited improvements in equal rights
by executive action, the civil rights movement generally proceeded
without Presidential support. When Kennedy did act in June 1963
to propose a civil rights bill, it was because the climate of opinion
and the political situation forced him to act.
Ideas for legislation
can come from many different sources. When an issue is as important
and controversial as civil rights was in 1963, the final bill may
reflect the ideas of individual citizens, organized groups, members
and committees of Congress, congressional staff, and the executive
source of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was the President of the United
States. John Kennedy began the process of gaining support for the
legislation in a nationally televised address on June 11, 1963.
Discouraged by the violence accompanying the Birmingham demonstrations,
Kennedy urged in eloquent language that Americans take action to
guarantee equal treatment of every individual, regardless of color.
that Congress consider a civil rights act dealing with the following
subjects: voting rights, public accommodations, desegregation of
public schools, establishment of a Community Relations Service,
continuation of the Civil Rights Commission, nondiscrimination in
federally assisted programs, and formation of an Equal Employment
Opportunities Commission. One hundred years after Abraham
Lincoln announced his Emancipation
Proclamation, the executive branch of government readied itself
to ask Congress to pass a major civil rights bill into law. (Click
for link to Press Release of Kennedy's Request)
for link to letter from Senator Thomas Dodd.
Bill is Written
Department was charged with the responsibility of converting
the President's words into legislative form. Department officials
developed a proposal to address the serious problems of racial
discrimination which at the same time recognized the politics
of the situation. After consulting with congressional leaders in
both parties, drafters of the bill avoided any controversial and
unnecessary language that could have alienated potential support
in Congress. The bill's sponsors kept a close eye on the 67 votes
needed in the Senate to overcome any filibuster against civil rights.
specific recommendations and lining up bipartisan
support, the Kennedy administration sent its proposal for a bill
to Congress on June 19. Political factors continued to shape the
President's attitude. He worked to secure Republican congressional
assistance; he sought unsuccessfully to ward off opposition from
the southern wing of his own party; and he urged African American
leaders to control demonstrations more carefully so as not to scare
off potential supporters by inciting violence in the streets. Kennedy
likewise marshaled support by conducting discussions with businessmen,
religious leaders, labor officials, and other groups. He sought
by these means to stimulate Congress to action by mobilizing pressure
for passage without at the same time jeopardizing the fragile political
coalition needed to pass the bill.
Bill is Introduced
It was against
this background that the administration's proposal went to Congress.
On the Senate side, the bill was introduced in three forms: the
entire bill, introduced by Senate majority leader Mike
Mansfield, went to the Judiciary Committee for consideration
as did the entire bill minus Title II; controversial Title II, co-sponsored
by Mansfield and Everett Dirksen, went to the Commerce Committee
for special study. Title II barred discrimination in a wide range
of public accommodations, regardless of whether or not they were
owned privately, and was the object of a good deal of criticism.
The strategy here was to isolate the most objectionable part of
the bill so as not to jeopardize consideration of the remainder.
Eventually, 42 senators joined in co-sponsorship of the omnibus
civil rights bill. On the House side, the entire bill was sent as
a unit to the House Judiciary Committee.
Consideration in House and Senate
house of Congress could have taken the lead in considering civil
rights legislation in 1963 and 1964, the Senate preferred to delay
action until the House considered the legislative package proposed
by the President. Senate leaders prevented the Judiciary Committee
and the Commerce Committee from formally reporting any of the several
civil rights proposals they considered in 1963, including S.1731
and S.1732 which contained the Justice Department's proposals.
(For a legislative history, click here.)
If a bill had been reported, it could have been called up for consideration
and debate on the Senate floor. The leadership did not want to risk
a filibuster they knew would result because it would delay other
Senate business. It was more difficult to get a bill through Senate
committee for another reason: both the Judiciary and the Commerce
committees were chaired by southern conservative senators.
As a result
of this strategy on the part of the Senate leadership, the initial
focus of activity on what was to become the Civil Rights Act of
1964 took place in the House of Representatives.
Republicans meet in conference to plan legislative strategies
during May 1964 [64/5/0-3]
Action in the House:
R. 7152 was referred for consideration to the House Judiciary
Committee chaired by civil rights supporter Emanuel
Celler. As is the case with most major bills, a subcommittee
considered the proposal in depth. From the perspective of civil
rights advocates, the choice of Celler as chairman of Subcommittee
Number 5 was fortunate in that Celler had a strong, positive civil
rights record. The ranking Republican member of Judiciary, William
M. McCulloch, joined Celler in maneuvering the bill through
the committee process.
conducted lengthy hearings from May into August of 1963 on the civil
rights bill, inviting many witnesses to testify in favor of, or
in opposition to, the proposal. The subcommittee, in weighing the
evidence, actually rewrote the Justice Department's draft of H.
R. 7152 to make it stronger. In general, the subcommittee draft
made it more difficult to prevent African Americans from voting,
outlawed discrimination in all public accommodations, gave the Attorney
General the right to sue on behalf of integration in education,
and guaranteed equal employment opportunities.
Members of the
subcommittee approved the bill with little trouble. Northern Democrats
welcomed the measure, and Republican subcommittee members voted
for the bill in order to receive some credit for its passage. More
interesting is the fact that some southern Democrats who opposed
the administration's bill favored the more liberal subcommittee
bill because they felt that a stronger bill would be impossible
to pass on the floor of the House.
administration apparently saw the correctness and the danger of
the southern Democrats' reasoning. When the entire Judiciary Committee
considered the subcommittee's draft of the bill, Attorney General
Robert Kennedy appeared before
the full committee in executive session in mid-October to urge that
it report a more moderate bill. The Kennedy administration knew
that a strong civil rights bill would be more difficult to pass
because Republicans would find little in it to support. Republican
support was absolutely crucial for Senate passage and only slightly
less so for House passage. The administration's successful efforts
to moderate the bill naturally aroused suspicion among some civil
rights groups, but Kennedy probably had little choice: compromise
or no bill.
As a result
of the administration's urging, Democratic and Republican House
leaders on the Judiciary Committee worked together to produce a
more acceptable piece of legislation. Republicans were able to modify
voting registration procedures, the status of the Civil Rights Commission,
and enforcement procedures. The resulting compromise received the
Judiciary Committee's endorsement, 23 to 11, on October 29, 1963,
after the original subcommittee proposal was defeated, 19 to 15.
The Judiciary Committee formally reported H. R. 7152 on November
The new bill
accomplished more in the areas of civil rights protection than the
Kennedy administration's first request. The process of legislative
bargaining and compromise produced a much different bill than had
been introduced earlier in the year by the Justice Department. This
is true of most major legislation. The bipartisan civil rights bill
exceeded early versions by extending the Justice Department's enforcement
powers; by requiring government agencies to seek nondiscrimination
in federal programs; by establishing an Equal
Employment Opportunities Commission; and by other modifications.
Judiciary Committee issued a favorable report on H. R. 7152 in November,
the House Rules Committee still had to grant it a rule before it
could be considered on the House floor and voted upon. It was the
Rules Committee that determined when and under what conditions bills
could be brought up for formal consideration by the entire House
membership. Rules Committee chairman Howard
W. Smith of Virginia, a longtime opponent of civil rights, refused
to grant the bill a rule before the end of 1963. When civil rights
advocates, including Congressman Celler, threatened to sign a discharge
petition to free the bill from the Rules Committee, Smith promised
to grant a rule early in January 1964. The Rules
Committee finally cleared H.R. 7152 for floor consideration
on January 30, 1964.
Dirksen and Lyndon Johnson compare notes on the legislative
agenda in January 1964. Hubert Humphrey is on the left; House
Speaker Carl Albert is at the right. [64/1/8-8]
Debate and Passage
The House of
Representatives debated the bill for nine days and rejected nearly
one hundred amendments designed to weaken the bill before passing
H.R .7152 on February 10, 1964. Of the 420 members who voted, 290
supported the civil rights bill and 130 opposed it. Republicans
favored the bill 138 to 34; Democrats supported it 152-96. It is
interesting to note that Democrats from northern states voted overwhelmingly
for the bill, 141 to 4, while Democrats from southern states voted
overwhelmingly against the bill, 92 to 11. A bipartisan coalition
of Republicans and northern Democrats was the key to the bill's
success. This same arrangement would prove crucial later to the
Senate's approval of the bill.
on the bill had been nearly exhaustive. In total, the House held
70 days of public hearings, listened to 275 witnesses, and published
5,792 pages of testimony. It was now up to the Senate to decide
the bill's ultimate fate: Would H. R. 7152 become the most important
civil rights law of the century or would it die like so many previous
Introduced in Senate
civil rights legislation came up for consideration in 1964, the
Senate set the stage for a lengthy civil rights debate when it considered
changing the Senate rule governing the shutting off filibusters.
The filibuster permitted one or more senators to speak on any subject
without a time limit. In contrast to the House where debate is limited,
Senate Rule XXII stated that
the only way to limit debate was for two-thirds of the senators
present and voting* to vote for cloture. Cloture
ends debate and makes it possible to vote on a bill. Senate liberals
who anticipated a filibuster by opponents of civil rights wanted
to make it easier to shut off debate by decreasing the number of
votes needed to end debate. The Senate, however, refused to change
Rule XXII on January 31 by a 53 to 42 vote. This set the stage for
the impending Senate consideration of the House passed version of
the civil rights bill by making it possible for a minority of senators
to block action with a filibuster.
* Changed March 7, 1975, to three-fifths of the total
membership of the Senate.
After the House-passed
H. R. 7152 on February 10, the bill went to the Senate for its consideration.
It was held for a few days by the House before it was "messaged"
to the Senate on February 17. The bill promptly went to the desk
of the president pro tempore of the Senate where it received its
had prepared for the legislative controversy over H. R. 7152 in
a number of ways. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which was the
logical committee to consider a civil rights bill, was manned by
conservatives who probably would have delayed or even pigeonholed
the bill. Senate leaders knew that since the bill had passed the
House, it could be placed directly on the Senate calendar without
having to go through committee. Although the Senate rules permit
this bypassing of its committee structure, the tactic is employed
rarely. Opponents of the civil rights bill opposed the leadership
strategy, but supporters gathered enough votes to place H.R .7152
directly on the Senate calendar by a 54 to 37 vote on February 26,1964.
This action was crucial since it meant that southern conservatives
could not kill the bill in committee and would have to rely on the
filibuster to defeat civil rights legislation on the Senate floor.
maneuvering did not cease immediately, however. After the bill reached
the Senate calendar, the Senate considered a motion to take up,
or debate, the bill on March 9. This preliminary proposal to begin
debate itself caused a sixteen-day debate before, on March 26, the
Senate voted 67 to 17 to begin formal consideration of the civil
rights legislation. Another effort to refer the bill to the Judiciary
Committee failed by a vote of 50 to 34.
Floor Debate: Leadership Strategy
When the House-passed
bill reached the Senate floor in March 1964, three groups of senators
formed: pro-civil rights Democrats, southern Democrats opposed to
the bill, and Republicans. Senator Hubert
H. Humphrey led the Democrats who supported the bill and worked
actively for its passage. As Senate majority whip, Humphrey enjoyed
the support of Mike Mansfield, Senate majority leader. Together
they were determined to pass the legislation and even arranged grueling
twelve-hour daily sessions to wear down the opposition. Humphrey's
task was to line up supporters to defend the bill in debate, to
persuade reluctant members of his party to vote for passage, to
encourage publicity, and to count votes. The Senator from Minnesota
labored hard for passage and sought cooperation from many sources,
including the Republicans.
Russell, Democrat from Georgia, led the so-called opposition
forces. The group was also known as the "southern
bloc." It was composed of eighteen southern Democrats and one
Republican, John Tower of Texas.
Although a hopeless minority, the group exerted much influence because
Senate rules virtually guaranteed unlimited debate unless it was
ended by cloture. The "southern bloc" relied on the filibuster to
postpone the legislation as long as possible, hoping that support
for civil rights legislation throughout the country would falter.
The Democratic leadership and Humphrey could not control the southern
wing of the party.
disliked civil rights legislation for several reasons. Many
feared that their southern constituents would vote them out
of office if, as senators, they voted for equal rights for
African Americans. The "southern bloc" held up consideration
of the bill from March into June hoping that presidential
candidate George Wallace, a segregationist from Alabama, would
do well in the early presidential primaries. If Wallace seemed
popular, Russell would argue that the nation as a whole did
not support federal civil rights legislation and that the
Senate should not pass an unwanted bill. For Senator Russell
s letter to the president, click here.
Southern senators could not compromise. Only by forcing cloture
could they demonstrate to their constituents that they had
fought to the end against hopeless odds.
Filibuster to Cloture
forces knew that they faced a long and tiring battle. Their opponents
had anticipated and planned for the filibuster. In fact, Humphrey
personally opened full-fledged debate on the civil rights bill on
March 30 with a three hour, eleven-minute speech from a 68 page
speech of his own in defense of H. R. 7152. Both Humphrey and Thomas
Kuchel (R-CA), Senate Minority Whip gathered enough senators
together so that at any time a quorum call came up, the pro-civil
rights forces could answer it. Northerners also combated the "southern
bloc" by answering southerners' criticisms of the bill on the floor
rather than simply letting the filibusterers speak indefinitely
without response. To respond to the organized opposition, southerners
formed a platoon system composed of three six- member filibuster
teams. When one team had the floor for the filibuster, the other
two would rest and then prepare to take turns speaking on the floor.
Party was not so badly split as the Democrats by the civil rights
issue. Only one Republican senator participated in the filibuster
against the bill. In fact, since 1933, Republicans had a more positive
record on civil rights than the Democrats. In the twenty-six major
civil rights votes since 1933, a majority of Democrats opposed civil
rights legislation in over 80 % of the votes. By contrast, the Republican
majority favored civil rights in over 96 % of the votes.
pro-civil rights forces were blessed with gifted leadership. Although
Senate minority whip Thomas Kuchel initially managed the party's
forces, it increasingly became clear to Democrats, Republicans,
the press, civil rights groups, and the White House that Everett
McKinley Dirksen was the key man in the entire civil rights
H. R. 7152 in March, Dirksen began to work more closely in late
spring with Humphrey and the civil rights forces to fashion a strategy
that would secure passage of the bill. Dirksen organized Republican
support for the bill by designating a floor captain for each of
the bill's seven sections. He and the bipartisan leaders believed
that five or six "swing" votes held the key to cloture and the end
of debate. Almost all of these uncommitted senators were conservative
Republicans from rural states without racial difficulties. Their
constituents opposed the legislation because it involved expanded
federal powers. The problem facing the leadership was how to enlist
the support of these uncommitted senators.
By working with
Dirksen to swing key votes and by marshaling public opinion and
constituent support for the civil rights measure, Senate leaders
moved forward with the legislation.
for Senate Action
the legislative course of H. R. 7152 was not confined to Congress.
Outside pressure on Congress came from ordinary citizens, civil
rights organizations, church organizations, and the executive branch
responded to the civil rights battle in the Senate in amazing numbers.
In June 1964, for example, Senator Dirksen estimated that he had
heard from at least 100,000 people about the bill. Senate offices
could not keep up with the thousands of letters they received daily
and had to respond by form letter. Many citizens urged adoption
of H. R. 7152 without change in the Senate; others clamored for
a seemingly endless variety of modifications. Public opinion was
at fever pitch. "Sharp opinions have developed," Dirksen observed
allegations have been made. Extreme views have been asserted. The
mail volume has been heavy. The bill has provoked many long-distance
telephone calls, many of them late at night or in the small hours
of the morning....Thousands of people have come to the Capitol to
urge immediate action....
and letters all expressed the climate of opinion that shaped the legislative
struggle and pressured Congress to act.
and church organizations joined in the massive lobbying effort.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,
the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Urban League, the
Southern Regional Council, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,
and others sought to represent the African American interest in
civil rights. These groups combined, for example, to sponsor the
successful March on Washington in 1963. At times, however, the vocal
pressure exerted by African American groups worked to their disadvantage.
One such case
involved Senator Dirksen. African American groups in Illinois had
not supported Dirksen for reelection to the Senate in 1962 and suspected
his loyalty to African Americans during the civil rights debate.
African American organizations knew the importance of Dirksen's
vote and intended to force him to support an unchanged H. R. 7152
by demonstrating and picketing his Chicago office. James
Farmer, director of CORE, publicly declared that there would
be "extensive demonstrations" in Illinois against the Senator personally.
Farmer added that "people will march en masse to the post
offices there to file handwritten letters" protesting Dirksen's
Dirksen meets with black leaders in 1964. [64/0/0-3]
had almost directly the opposite impact. Dirksen strongly objected
to what he believed were uncalled-for tactics by African American
groups; he resented their lack of trust in his judgment and his
favorable civil rights record. On February 17, 1964, Dirksen complained
on the Senate floor about the harassment and let it be known that
such pressure would not affect his judgment. "When the day comes
that picketing, distress, duress, and coercion can push me from
the rock of conviction, that is the day," Dirksen announced, "that
I shall gather up my togs and walk out of here and say that my usefulness
in the Senate has come to an end." Richard Russell, leader of the
filibuster forces, thought that Dirksen might desert the civil rights
proponents because of the incident, but the minority leader did
not forsake the northern Democrats. Hubert Humphrey made sure, however,
that African American groups did not risk Dirksen's support by similar
tactics. Click here.
In spite of
CORE's mistake, group pressure generally proved effective in creating
support for civil rights legislation. Labor unions, including the
powerful AFL-CIO, joined the
lobbying effort in impressive numbers. The National Council of Churches,
the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, the National
(Jewish) Community Relations Advisory Council, and the National
Student Christian Federation added potent strength to the cause
of civil rights by marshaling organized religious support behind
the bill. Other interest groups which testified for the bill, or
coordinated support for it, included the Americans
for Democratic Action, the American Civil Liberties Union, the
Japanese-American Citizens League, the Women's
International League for Peace and Freedom, and the American
Veterans Committee. In all, nearly one hundred major national organizations
representing multiple interests combined to favor the omnibus civil
rights act. Click here.
branch of government conducted a lobbying campaign of its own. Both
President John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had worked out legislative
strategy with; a view toward persuading Congress to accept civil
rights legislation. President Johnson even assigned two members
of his White House staff to cultivate Dirksen's commitment to H.
R. 7152 . Conferences between the executive and Congress abounded.
lt was very clear to contemporary observers that the administration
had brought its full persuasive powers to bear on the civil rights
Debate, "The Long Hard Furrow"
As the civil
rights debate unfolded, it became increasingly clear that the southern
bloc objected most strongly to two sections of the bill, the cut-off
of federal funds to projects that discriminated against African
Americans and the provision for fair employment practices enforcement.
Many Republicans, including the "swing" senators, joined the southerners
in their concern about the impact of fair employment provisions
on business, particularly small businesses. Even in states with
no racial problem, the prospect of making employers comply with
the law seemed to many Republican to be an unwarranted expansion
of federal power. Early in April 1964, Everett Dirksen, who had
expressed reservations about the bill, indicated to the press that
he might offer amendments to the fair employment practices title.
Although President Johnson had made it clear that the administration
wanted the Senate to accept the House bill without change, the Republicans
met in study groups throughout April in an effort to make the bill
more acceptable through modification.
discussed his proposals to modify the bill with the Senate Republican
Policy Committee on March 31 and then with all Republican senators.
Dirksen knew that to persuade Republicans to support northern Democrats
in their effort to end the filibuster, he would have to make the
bill itself acceptable to the "swing"
senators. He met repeatedly with his Republican colleagues in
an attempt to forge a consensus on appropriate changes. The task
was not an easy one, and several senators objected to Dirksen's
tactics and recommendations. At one point Dirksen explained his
goal as ". . . first, to get a bill; second, to get an acceptable
bill; third, to get a workable bill; and, finally, to get an equitable
bill." Slowly the rough consensus that Dirksen sought began to emerge.
stressing the moral or racial questions involved, Dirksen focused
on a compromise that emphasized state responsibility for civil rights
enforcement. The Senate minority leader realized that the "swing"
votes would not be persuaded social arguments but by assurances
that federal government intervention in local affairs would be kept
to a minimum. Dirksen eventually proposed ten amendments for his
colleagues' consideration that assured the states primary jurisdiction
over complaints about discrimination during a transition period
before the federal government entered the picture. Dirksen's modified
bill appeared to satisfy enough Republicans to guarantee that the
prolonged filibuster would be ended when a vote could be scheduled.
filibuster continued throughout the entire month of April into May.
Two- hour speeches were common, but occasionally a senator would
speak without interruption for eight hours. Senator Dirksen remembered
that one of his colleagues brought a 1,500 page speech to deliver
on the Senate floor. The filibuster virtually immobilized the Senate
in all its other activities.
administration realized that it would have to fashion some kind
of compromise with the Republicans and Everett Dirksen in order
to persuade the "swing" votes under Dirksen's influence to favor
During the first
week in May, Dirksen began talks in his office with Senate Democratic
and Republican civil rights advocates and with Justice Department
officials to achieve an acceptable package of civil rights legislation.
On May 13, after 52 days of filibuster and five negotiation sessions,
Dirksen, Humphrey, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy agreed to
propose a "clean bill" as a substitute for H. R. 7152. Senators
Dirksen, Mansfield, Humphrey, and Kuchel would cosponsor the substitute.
This agreement did not mean the end of the filibuster, but it did
provide Dirksen with a compromise measure which was crucial to obtain
the support of the "swing" Republicans.
civil rights bill worked out in Dirksen's office did not seriously
weaken the original H. R. 7152 . The bargainers were careful not
to include any changes that might cause the House to reconsider
the entire bill once the Senate had finished its work. The "clean
bill" made somewhat over seventy changes in H. R. 7152 , most of
them concerning wording and punctuation and most of them designed
to win over reluctant Republicans and to allow cloture. The major
change in what was called the Dirksen-Mansfield substitute was to
lessen the emphasis on federal enforcement in cases of fair employment
and public accommodations violations. The substitute gave higher
priority to voluntary compliance than the House bill. It encouraged
more private, rather than official, legal initiatives. The compromise
also reserved a period for voluntary compliance before the U.S.
Attorney General could act in discrimination suits.
had done was to put together a substitute for the House-passed H.
R. 7152 that was near enough to the original version that it satisfied
the Justice Department and the bipartisan civil rights coalition
in Congress, and sufficiently different in tone and emphasis to
win a few Republican converts to support cloture.
Armed with the
compromise bill and moving toward consensus within his own party,
Everett Dirksen became the man of the hour. The fate of civil rights
legislation rested squarely on his shoulders. Dirksen overcame the
continuing reluctance of some of his party colleagues to cooperate
during a June 5 Senate Republican conference and indicated to Senate
majority leader Mike Mansfield that the time had come to vote on
cloture. Dirksen and Mansfield then joined to offer a motion to
invoke cloture and thereby end the filibuster.
On June 10,1964,
after an impassioned plea by Dirksen on
behalf of the compromise bill, the Senate voted 71 to 29 to close
off the civil rights filibuster. Every member of the Senate was
present for the vote, including Senator
Engle of California who had suffered a stroke and could not
speak but pointed to his eye as a sign of his "aye" vote. The margin
was four votes larger than the 67 required. It ended 57 days of
debate, the longest debate since the cloture rule had been adopted
in 1917. Forty four Democrats and 27 Republicans supported cloture;
23 Democrats and 6 Republicans opposed it.
of the civil rights bill in the Senate celebrate the cloture
vote on June 10, 1964 [64/6/10- 10]
combined to impel senators to vote for cloture besides the merits
of bill. Many simply wished to move on to other Senate business.
Some were candidates for reelection in 1964 and wanted to speed
up the work so they could return home to campaign. Still others
needed to prepare for the up-coming national party conventions.
Finally, there were the "swing" Republicans who had listened to
Dirksen and had senators voted for cloture because Dirksen had persuaded
them: Carl Curtis and Roman
Hruska of Nebraska; Karl Mundt
of South Dakota; and Jack Miller
of Iowa. Without Dirksen's assistance, there is little doubt that
the civil rights forces would have been defeated in their attempt
to end debate.
Everett Dirksen and Hubert Humphrey share in the victory as
the Senate ends debate on the civil rights bill. Humphrey holds
the vote tally sheet on the cloture motion. June 10, 1964. [64/6/10-6]
Under the Senate
rules, after cloture is invoked each senator may speak for one hour
on the bill or pending amendments. Although southerners called up
many amendments between June 10 and June 17 to stall action further,
the Senate leadership allowed only those it wanted to be adopted.
Most of the amendments were defeated by large margins. On June 17,
the Senate voted by a 76 to 18 margin to adopt the bipartisan substitute
worked out by Dirksen in his office in May and to give the bill
its third reading. Two days later, the Senate passed the bill by
a 73 to 27 roll call vote. Six Republicans and 21 Democrats held
firm and voted against passage. In all, the the 1964 civil rights
debate had lasted a total of 83 days, slightly over 730 hours, and
had taken up almost 3,000 pages in the Congressional
to the House
Since the Senate-passed
version of the bill differed from the House passed H. R .7152, the
measure returned to the House of Representatives for reconsideration.
During the long
months of debate in the Senate, the House leadership had watched
anxiously. Neither the Senate nor the House wanted to jeopardize
passage of the bill by making wholesale changes in it that would
undermine its support in the other body. Consequently, when the
Senate sent its approved compromise substitute bill back to the
House for action, every attempt was made to accept compromise in
the House without change to avoid beginning another lengthy debate
and to avoid sending the bill to conference committee.
Bill Accepted by House; Conference Committee Avoided
The chief stumbling
block in the plan was the southern-dominated Rules Committee. A
bipartisan coalition of committee members quickly surmounted this
obstacle by seizing control from chairman Howard Smith and, on June
30, the House Rules Committee reported H. Res.789 providing for
the acceptance of the Senate bill without change.
brought the resolution up for floor consideration on July 2 where
members quickly approved the Senate-passed civil rights bill, 289
to 126. Only six representatives changed their votet from February
when the House first sent H. R. 7152 to the Senate. Because there
were no differences in the two bills, there was no need for a conference
committee and the bill went immediately to the White House for President
Johnson s signature.
welcomed the bill he had sought for so long. Within a few hours
of passage, he signed it into law in a nationwide television broadcast
from the White House. On July 2, 1964, President Johnson spoke the
following words before signing the bill:
believe that all men are created equal -- yet many are denied equal
treatment. We believe that all men have certain inalienable rights.
We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty
-- yet millions are being deprived of those blessings, not because
of their own failures, but because of the color of their skins.
are deeply embedded in history and tradition and the nature of
man. We can understand without rancor or hatred how all this happens.
But it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our
Republic, forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it.
Morality forbids it. And the law I sign tonight forbids it....
Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [64/7/2-3]