The King Center Calls on the Nation to Commemorate the Civil Rights Act of 1964


President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2nd, 1964, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands directly behind him. Also pictured are a host of congressional leaders. Photo by Cecil Stoughton, White House photographer. This photo is in the public domain and may be used free of charge by everyone.

Fifty years ago, as America was faced with the decision of whether to continue to deny basic rights to African-Americans or to usher in a new wave of democracy and freedom, an act was passed that confirmed a national shift for human rights. It proved to be historic legislation which profoundly transformed America for the better in a myriad of ways.

That act was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in attendance.  “Despite the difficulties and obstacles that remain on our path to the Beloved Community of my father’s dream, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made possible tremendous strides toward a more just nation”, says Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. King and Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and CEO of The King Center.

The King Center is encouraging people to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act with community-based commemorative programs, which educate, inspire and challenge people to pursue, not just equality under the law, but genuine brotherhood and sisterhood. In addition, Americans and global citizens can commemorate the Act by calling on corporations to provide equal pay for women, petition Congress and corporate America to increase the minimum wage and to ask congress to reinstate the bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 1965, with a full-strength pre-clearance provision.

The challenge to citizens, in the words of Ms. King, is to “reach out and engage people of other races, religions and cultures in fellowship and community service and to honor those who made great sacrifices to end segregation. Let’s make July 2nd a great day of workshops, forums and dialogues of diversity, voter registration and challenging each other to move America forward toward a better future for all.”

As part of the nation-wide celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Ms. King participated in the June 24th ceremony honoring her parents, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King with the Congressional Gold Medal. Joining her at this ceremony were her brothers, Martin (King Center, Board Member) and Dexter (King Center, Board Chair). Ms. King was also joined at the ceremony by her aunt, Dr. Christine King Farris (King Center, Vice Chair and Treasurer). The King Center will also be co-sponsoring and hosting a forum on the 50th anniversary of Civil Rights Act with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on July 11th.  Prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement will be in attendance.    

Summary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Act, which outlawed segregated public facilities and accommodations, has 11 titles: Title I banned unequal application of voter registration requirements and required that voting rules and procedures be applied equally to all races. Title II outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce. It exempted private clubs without defining the term "private". Title III Prohibited state and municipal governments from denying access to public facilities on grounds of race, color, religion or national origin. Title IV encouraged the desegregation of public schools and authorized the U.S. Attorney General to file suits to enforce the act. Title V expanded the Civil Rights Commission established by the earlier Civil Rights Act of 1957 with additional powers, rules and procedures. Title VI prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds. If an agency is found in violation of Title VI, that agency may lose its federal funding.

Title VII prohibits discrimination by covered employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Title VII applies to and covers an employer "who has fifteen (15) or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year." Title VII also prohibits discrimination against individuals because of their association with another individual of a particular race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. There are partial and whole exceptions to Title VII for four types of employers: the federal government; federally-recognized native American tribes; religious groups; And bona fide nonprofit private membership organizations.

Title VII also provides that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as well as certain state fair employment practices agencies (FEPAs) enforce Title VII. The EEOC and state FEPAs investigate, mediate, and may file lawsuits on behalf of employees. Title VII also provides that an individual can bring a private lawsuit and 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 20 or more weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

Title VIII required compilation of voter-registration and voting data in geographic areas specified by the Commission on Civil Rights. Title IX made it easier to move civil rights cases from state courts with segregationist judges and all-white juries to federal court. This was of crucial importance to civil rights activists who could not get a fair trial in state courts. Title X established the Community Relations Service, tasked with assisting in community disputes involving claims of discrimination. Title XI gives defendants accused of certain categories of criminal contempt under title II, III, IV, V, VI, or VII of the Act the right to a jury trial. If convicted, the defendant can be fined an amount not to exceed $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than six months.

For the complete text of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, click here.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – A Chronology

It took a long and difficult struggle to pass the Civil Rights act of 1964. Efforts to desegregate public facilities began decades before, but the following chronology covers the intense period of activity associated with the progress of the Civil Rights legislation from 1963 to enactment in 1964:

February 28, 1963. President John F. Kennedy sends a “Special Message on Civil Rights” to Congress along with proposed improvements in voting rights laws and an extension of the Civil Rights Commission. Civil rights supporters praise Kennedy for his stirring words but criticize his legislative proposals as “weak.”

April-May, 1963 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., joins with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and others in leading extended civil rights protests against racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. King is arrested on April 12 and writes his famous “A Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The Birmingham campaign marked the first time the Movement against segregation received broad television coverage, awakening many Americans to the viciousness of racial repression.

June 11, 1963 - Alabama Governor George Wallace “stands aside” at the University of Alabama and two black students register for classes. That evening, President Kennedy addresses the nation on television and pledges to send a strengthened civil rights bill to Congress. The president says: “The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. . . . Next week I shall ask Congress . . . to make a commitment . . . to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law.”

June 19, 1963 – A strengthened Kennedy civil rights bill is submitted to Congress. The new bill guarantees blacks access to public accommodations (hotels, motels, restaurants, snack bars, etc.), permits the U.S. Government to file suits to desegregate public schools, and cuts off U.S. Government funds to state and local programs that discriminate. In the Senate, a “backup” bill is introduced that only integrates public accommodations. This bill is routed to the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Warren Magnuson (Dem., WA), a strong civil rights supporter. If the Kennedy administration bill is defeated or substantially altered in the House of Representatives, Senator Magnuson will introduce his backup public accommodations bill for action in the Senate. As it turns out, the backup Senate bill is not needed.

August 28, 1963. - Over 200,000 persons participate in the peaceful “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., gives his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. President Kennedy does not attend the march, but afterwards he meets at the White House with King and other prominent civil rights leaders.

September 15, 1963. Four young African-American girls attending Sunday School, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair are killed, and 22 others are injured when a bomb is thrown into the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The church had been a central headquarters for civil rights meetings during the Birmingham demonstrations the previous spring.

October 15, 1963 - Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in support of H.R. 7152.

November 20, 1963 - A version of the bill passes from the House Judiciary Committee on to the House Rules Committee.

November 22, 1963 - Lee Harvey Oswald assassinates President John F. Kennedy.

November 27, 1963 - President Lyndon B. Johnson, speaking before a Joint Session of Congress, says, "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long."

January 1964 - The House Rules Committee debates the bill.

Jan. 23, 1964  - The 24th Amendment abolishes the poll tax, which originally had been instituted in 11 southern states after Reconstruction to make it difficult for poor blacks to vote.

February 10, 1964 - The bill passes the U.S. House of representatives.

March 30, 1964-June 10, 1964 - The Senate debates the bill for 60 working days, including seven Saturdays with many attempts to filibuster the bill. The Senate Committee on the Judiciary is not involved.

June - August, 1964 - SNCC organizes a voter registration drive in Mississippi known as Freedom Summer.

June 9-10, 1964 - Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia filibusters the bill for 14 hours and 13 minutes before the Senate votes 71 to 29 to cloture the bill. A motion to cloture forces an immediate vote. This vote by two-thirds or more brings all debate to an end.

June 9, 1964 – Rev. Andrew Young, a top aide to Dr. King is brutally beaten by a racist mob while leading a desegregation protest march in St. Augustine, Florida.

June 11, 1964 – Dr. King is arrested while protesting against segregation at the Monson Motel Restaurant in St. Augustine. His arrest increases attention on St. Augustine protest and the need for a civil rights legislation banning segregation of public accommodations. The brutality in St. Augustine, “the only movement where our hospital bills were larger than our bond bills,” in the words of Andrew Young, was instrumental in securing enactment of the Civil Rights Act, in the final days of congressional debate. Dr. King’s hotel room in St. Augustine was riddled with gunfire, but fortunately, he was not in the room at the time. As the Civil Rights movement website notes of the demonstrators in St. Augustine, “Their courageous actions had a direct impact on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

June 18, 1964  – 16 rabbis, invited to join the St. Augustine protest by Dr. King, are arrested in the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history.

June 19, 1964 - In a 73 to 27 vote, the Senate adopts an amended bill, which is sent back to the House. To see how the members of the Senate voted, click here.

June 21, 1964 - Three young men volunteering for the voter registration drive Freedom Summer disappear in segregated Mississippi. Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Earl Chaney were driving to a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) office in Meridian, Mississippi, that evening. This leads to a national outcry, protests, and a FBI investigation.

July 2, 1964 - The House of Representatives adopts the Senate version of the bill 289-126. To see how House members voted, click here.

July 2, 1964 –  President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin. The law also provides the federal government with the powers to enforce desegregation.

August 4, 1964 - August 4 - The bodies of three civil-rights workers, two white, one African American, are found in an earthen dam in Neshoba County, Mississippi, six weeks into a federal investigation backed by President Johnson. James E. Chaney, 21; Andrew Goodman, 21; and Michael Schwerner, 24, had been registering African American voters in Mississippi, and had gone to investigate the burning of a black church on June 21. They were arrested by the police on speeding charges, incarcerated for several hours, and then released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, who murdered them.

October 14, 1964 – It is announced that Dr. King will be the recipient of the 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace.

December 14, 1964 - The Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the act in the interstate commerce case Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. the United States of America. The case, initiated by an Atlanta motel seeking to discriminate among its customers based on race, proves to be a major test of the Civil Rights Act.

December 10, 1964 - The Nobel Foundation awards MLK the Nobel Peace Prize.