60th Anniversary Of The Civil Rights Act Of 1964: 5 Things You Need To Know

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law on July 2. | Source: Photo 12 / Getty

UPDATED: 11 a.m., July 1, 2024

The 1964 Civil Rights Act, which will mark its 60th anniversary on Tuesday was created specifically with Black people in mind to intentionally address racial discrimination in employment, education, voting and more while also addressing segregation, police brutality and freedom of speech.

But even six decades after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on July 2 of that year, all of the aforementioned scourges are still disproportionately affecting Black people and flourishing overall.

MORE: The Work That Remains: Federal Government Jobs And Ensuring Real Economic Progress For Black Americans

Since the 2020 election alone, Republican-led legislatures across the country have eroded protections in voting rights and bodily autonomy by moving to severely restrict abortion access. These and other rights and protections seemingly diminish with each restrictive election law enacted.

The decision in Brown v. Board of Education made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 possible.

Although both helped advance equal opportunities for people of color in the U.S., much work remains today.

Listen to @JNelsonLDF dive deeper ahead of the CRA’s 60th anniversary. pic.twitter.com/tQMrnlAA7x

— Legal Defense Fund (@NAACP_LDF) June 30, 2024

Back in 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision that set a damning precedent for Americans hoping to see the constitutional right to vote made easier and not harder. And not to be outdone, Senate Republicans used a filibuster — which has its roots in anti-Black racism — to prevent the advancement of the For the People Act, a crucial piece of legislation that would have overhauled basically everything about elections in the U.S. and greatly benefitted Black voters, in particular.

LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright, co-founders of Black Voters Matter, said the move by Senate Republicans signaled they were trying to “kill Black voting power.”

Since then, the Supreme Court has gone on to render such civil rights decisions as criminalizing homelessness; deregulating a controversial gun device that makes rifles shoot more bullets faster; approving racist voting maps; and, perhaps most notoriously, striking down affirmative action so colleges cannot consider race in admissions.

That is to speak nothing of a pending Supreme Court ruling on Donald Trump’s appeal for immunity from criminal prosecution.

But to be clear, the rights established by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, have always been under attack and treated as negotiable. People who are used to benefiting from existing systems think equity is oppression. Increasing parity between individuals in this society shouldn’t be viewed as causing harm, and yet there is a dangerous narrative from the right that frames it as such.

President Johnson shakes hands with Martin Luther King, Jr., and hands him a pen to sign the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. | Source: Bettmann / Getty

Here are five things to know about the 1964 Civil Rights Act:

Overcame Filibuster

While not the first time segregationists attempted to derail civil rights legislation with the arcane procedural rule, the 1964 debate marked the first time there were enough votes to put an end to the filibuster of a “full-featured” Civil Rights law. The filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act was an effort of several senators over a 60-day period beginning in mid-March 1964.

Seven years earlier, the 1957 Civil Rights Act survived a filibuster by Sen. Strom Thurmond, but it was a very narrow law and difficult to enforce. According to the Senate’s records the legislative body would pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act nine days later.

Passed In Part To Honor JFK

Former President John F. Kennedy became a proponent of the passage of a Civil Rights Act addressing persisting discrimination. In June 1963, he finally expressed a willingness to pursue legislation providing for comprehensive civil rights. As explained by the HIstory Channel, Kennedy’s successor Lyndon B. Johnson referenced his intention to pursue the legislation in his first State of the Union address. “Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined,” said Johnson.

Pauli Murray Advocated For Inclusion Of Sex As A Protected Category

According to the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, the storied legal advocate and faith leader is credited with advocating for the inclusion of the word sex in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. After the act’s passage, Murray wrote an in-depth legal article outlining the ways existing discrimination laws failed to completely protect Black working-class women. The center also notes that former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg credited Murray in a brief she wrote in an effort to establish  the unconstitutionality of sex discrimination under the 14ht Amendment.

Act Led To Creation of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Created by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was charged with enforcing federal laws related to employment discrimination, job discrimination and harassment. In addition to Title VII, the EEOC is specifically responsible enforcing several other laws including the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Legacy of the Civil Rights Act

The fight for equal rights did not stop with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Over a year later, civil rights advocates would see the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A few years later, a Civil Rights Act passed in 1968 would address fair housing.


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