On this day, Congress passes the Civil Rights Act

On June 19, 1964, the Senate ended a long debate, overcoming a record-setting filibuster to join the House in approving the Civil Rights Act. The landmark law was a turning point in American history, as it addressed discrimination and segregation on a national level.

Link: See the Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act had been before Congress, in several forms, since the late 1950s. A turning point happened in March 1964, when a group of Southern senators started a record-setting filibuster in March.

No full-featured Civil Rights Act proposal had ever survived a filibuster attempt on the Senate floor. A prior bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, was important but it had a limited impact and it was difficult to enforce. It also had survived a 24-hour filibuster from Senator Strom Thurmond.

As Senate Majority Leader, Lyndon Johnson has been involved heavily in the fight for the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and as President in 1964, he was committed to honoring his own values and Kennedy’s legacy in the fight for the much-more comprehensive 1964 act.

The House had already passed its version of the Civil Rights Act when the Senate filibuster began in April 1964. A cloture motion would be needed to overcome the filibuster, which required a vote in favor of limiting debate by 67 Senators under the rules in place in 1964.

Committed to the filibuster effort were the powerful Senators Richard Russell, Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd, William Fulbright and Sam Ervin. Russell started the filibuster in late March 1964, and it would last for 60 working days in the Senate.

Behind the scenes, two opposing leaders were working to find a way to get 67 votes to break the filibuster: Democratic Senate whip Hubert Humphrey and Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois.

At first, Dirksen opposed the House version of the bill because of certain passages, even though he was a long-time civil rights supporter. Humphrey, a Democrat, worked together with his…

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