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The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The year 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a milestone in the struggle to extend civil, political, and legal rights and protections to African Americans, including former slaves and their descendants, and to end segregation in public and private facilities. The U.S. Senate played an integral part in this story.

The long Senate debate over the Civil Rights Act began on February 10, 1964, when the House of Representatives passed H.R. 7152. When the House-passed bill arrived in the Senate on February 26, Majority Leader Mike Mansfield placed it directly on the Senate calendar rather than refer it to the Judiciary Committee. Chaired by civil rights opponent James Eastland of Mississippi, that committee had become a graveyard for civil rights legislation. Mansfield moved to take up the measure on March 9 and it became the Senate's pending business on March 26, prompting southern senators to launch a filibuster. That protracted filibuster, along with the broader debate over the bill, continued through 60 days of debate, until cloture was invoked on June 10, 1964. This marked the first time in its history that the Senate invoked cloture on a civil rights bill. The Senate passed the bill on June 19, 1964, by a vote of 73 to 27.

The Senate and Civil Rights

In 2014 the United States Senate commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, signed into law on July 2, 1964, with a special feature that highlights the Senate’s important role in that legislative story. Sections focus on the strategy of the bill’s proponents, the Senate debate and filibuster, the cloture motion that allowed for a final vote, and the Senate’s passage of the bill on June 19, 1964. The story begins with an overview of the Senate’s consideration of civil rights legislation from the Civil War era into the early 1960s.



Oral History

Proponents Build a Strategy for Success

On February 17, 1964, the House of Representatives’ controversial civil rights bill, H.R. 7152, arrived in the Senate. The story continues, examining the strategies developed by the bill’s proponents to end the anticipated filibuster of the bill and force the Senate to vote on H.R. 7152. For the first time in modern Senate history, the pro-civil rights forces, a bipartisan coalition, seemed to be as organized as the bloc of opposition. On March 26, 1964, civil rights opponents launched a filibuster and no one could predict its outcome.



Oral History

Debate and Filibuster

When the House of Representatives’ civil rights bill, H.R. 7152, became the Senate’s pending business on March 26, 1964, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia pledged that he and his colleagues in the southern bloc would fight the bill to the bitter end. The story continues as the Senate embarked on a historic debate and filibuster designed to sway public opinion. As the debate wore on, pro-civil rights forces appealed to the one man who could deliver the votes needed to invoke cloture, and then pass the bill: Everett Dirksen of Illinois.



Oral History

Cloture and Final Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

As the lengthy debate over H.R. 7152, the House-passed civil rights bill, continued through the spring of 1964, the Senate’s bipartisan team of civil rights proponents worked tirelessly to gain the necessary 67 votes to invoke cloture on the bill, end the filibuster, and allow for final passage. To reach that difficult goal, the bill’s managers, Hubert Humphrey and Thomas Kuchel, turned to Minority Leader Everett Dirksen. Only Dirksen could provide the Republican votes needed to invoke cloture. On June 10, in a dramatic roll call vote, the Senate achieved that goal, allowing for final passage of the bill.



Oral History


April 16: A bill originally sponsored by Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, the DC Compensated Emancipation Act becomes law.


January 1: President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation (NARA) granting freedom to slaves residing in Confederate states not occupied by Union forces.


December 6: The Thirteenth Amendment is ratified, abolishing slavery.


April 9: Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1866 over President Andrew Johnson’s veto.


July 9: The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified, granting citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States and providing them equal protection under the law.


February 3: The Fifteenth Amendment is ratified, prohibiting states from disenfranchising voters "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

February 25: Hiram Revels (R-MS) becomes first African American to serve in Senate.


November 17: Supreme Court rules in favor of Senate employee Kate Brown in anti-discrimination case.


February 14: Blanche K. Bruce (R-MS) becomes first African American to preside over Senate.

March 1: The Civil Rights Act of 1875 is signed into law (later overturned).


May 18: Supreme Court issues Plessy v. Ferguson decision, stating that segregation is constitutional as long as facilities for blacks and whites are "equal."


August 8: 35,000 Ku Klux Klan members march on Washington.


April 9: Marian Anderson performs on steps of Lincoln Memorial.


January 25: A. Philip Randolph proposes a march on Washington.

June 25: President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues Executive Order 8802 forbidding discriminatory hiring practices by federal contractors.


July 12: Senate candidate Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) calls for civil rights plank at Democratic National Convention.

July 26: President Harry Truman signs Executive Order 9981, de-segregating the armed services.


August 13: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in Executive Order 10479, establishes the Anti-discrimination Committee on Government Contracts.


May 17: Supreme Court issues Brown vs. Board of Education decision, finding racial segregation in public schools to be in violation of the Constitution.


January 15: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in Executive Order 10590, establishes the President’s Committee on Government Policy to enforce nondiscrimination in federal employment.

December 1: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a Montgomery, AL, bus, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.


September 27: The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is signed into law.


February 1: North Carolina college students stage a sit-in at a department store in Greensboro, NC, that refuses to serve them because of their race.

May 6: Civil Rights Act of 1960 is signed into law.


March 6: President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order 10925, creating the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.


June 19: President Kennedy sends to Congress his proposed civil rights bill. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) introduces the bill and it is assigned to the Judiciary Committee. Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL) introduces another bill, co-sponsored with Mansfield, which is similar to the administration's bill but lacks a public accommodations section. Mansfield and Warren Magnuson (D-WA) introduce a separate public accommodations bill which is assigned to the Commerce Committee.

August 28: Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., leads the March on Washington and delivers his speech, “I Have a Dream,” in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

September 15: A bomb at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, in Birmingham, AL, kills four girls and wounds 20 more children.

November 22: President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn-in as president.

November 27: President Johnson delivers a speech to joint congressional session, calling for passage of Kennedy's civil rights bill.


January 23: The Twenty-fourth Amendment, abolishing the poll tax is ratified.

February 10: House passes H.R. 7152, the Civil Rights Act, sending the bill to the Senate.

February 26: Majority Leader Mike Mansfield places H.R. 7152 directly on the calendar, bypassing the Judiciary Committee.

March 9: Mansfield introduces motion to make the Civil Rights Act the Senate's pending business and debate begins.

March 26: Senate votes to make H.R. 7152 pending business, 67-17.

May 26: Mansfield and Dirksen submit a "clean bill" as substitute for H.R. 7152.

June 8: Mansfield and Dirksen file cloture motion.

June 9-10: Senator Robert Byrd delivers the longest speech against the civil rights bill, speaking for 14 hours and 13 minutes.

June 10: For the first time since Rule XXII was established in 1917, the Senate approves cloture on a civil rights bill, with a vote of 71-29. Everett Dirksen offers a memorable speech in support of the bill. Quoting Victor Hugo, he declares, “Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.”

June 17: Senate adopts the Mansfield-Dirksen substitute bill with a roll call vote of 76-18.

June 19: Senate approves the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

July 2: House approves Senate bill, avoiding conference committee, and President Johnson signs Civil Rights Act into law.