This Day in History

On July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. President Lyndon B. Johnson executed the historic bill at the White House via a special ceremony that Americans watched on television.

The passing and signing of the Civil Rights Act was one of the most important moments of the American civil rights movement. The movement started to gain serious momentum in 1954 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision to ban racial segregation at schools. During the next decade, non-violent demonstrations promoting equal rights for African Americans became the norm.

Bill Was Supported by John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy advocated strongly for a new civil rights law. His vice president, Johnson, was the chairman of Kennedy's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities. Johnson carried on with Kennedy's civil rights goals and ultimately had the honor of signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. Still, the Civil Rights Act did not pass the House and Senate without getting through serious and heated opposition.

Johnson held a special televised gathering when he signed the act into law, and he invited hundreds of people to come to the White House's East room to witness the signing. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was gifted one of the pens Johnson used to sign the document. King later referred to the pen as one of his most cherished possessions.

Paved the Way for More Civil Rights-Oriented Laws

The Civil Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in educational and employment contexts. It also prohibited segregation in areas accessible by the general public like buses, schools, swimming pools and parks. The Civil Rights Act also played an important role in the passage of the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights-oriented laws. In addition, it paved the way for people whose civil rights had been violated to assert their rights and seek justice in court.