On this day in 1964, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, preventing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
The act essentially ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination, and led to other landmark civil rights bills like the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlaws voter discrimination, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, outlawing housing discrimination.
On its 55th birthday, here’s how we got this landmark law, which continues to be relevant today.
How the Civil Rights Act came into law
It started with John F. Kennedy, who asked Congress to enact civil rights legislation in 1963. He’s the one that created the proposal for the act, at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and minorities were vocalizing their dissatisfaction like never before. In a country where many were still living under Jim Crow laws, the significance is clear.
Kennedy was assassinated just months after he proposed the act, ushering in Lyndon B. Johnson as President.
After the longest filibuster in U.S. Senate history — lasting 14 hours and 13 minutes by segregationist Robert Byrd — the act passed the Senate.
On July 2, 1964, Johnson signed the bill into law in a nationally televised ceremony.
“Tonight I urge every public official, every religious leader, every business and professional man, every workingman, every housewife — I urge every American — to join in this effort to bring justice and hope to all our people — and to bring peace to our land,” he said during the signing ceremony. “My fellow citizens, we have come now to a time of testing. We must not fail.”