It was on this day in 1964 that the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act after a long battle in the Senate. Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law 13 days later. It was this piece of legislation that outlawed all segregation on the basis of race in the United States. The text of the law was extremely specific, listing all the places of public accommodation where segregation was forbidden, including any inn, hotel, motel, restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, gasoline station, motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium or other place of exhibition or entertainment.
The bill was quickly passed in the House of Representatives, but Southern Democrats filibustered it in the Senate for almost three months. Johnson made personal telephone calls to many of the Southern Democrats, and told them that they would be sorry if they didn’t drop their opposition. He reminded the Southerners that he was the first Southerner serving as president since before the Civil War, and if they ruined his agenda, they might not see another Southern president for another hundred years.
The bill finally came up for a vote in the Senate on this day in 1964. Every senator was present, including Senator Clair Engle of California, who was dying of a brain tumor and couldn’t speak. In order to vote yes, he pointed to his eye. Johnson needed 67 votes to break a filibuster. He got 71.
When he signed the bill into law, Johnson said: “We believe all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings … because of the color of their skin. The reasons are deeply imbedded in history and tradition and the nature of man. We can understand — without rancor or hatred — how this happened, but it cannot continue. … Our constitution … forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And [now] the law … forbids it.”