Civil Rights Act of 1964

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Civil Rights Act

1964

Overall, this comprehensive federal law was designed to challenge and overturn the overt segregation and discrimination that African Americans continued to confront in southern states such as South Carolina.

(1964). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the most comprehensive federal civil rights legislation passed since Reconstruction. Addressing all spheres of public life–social, political, and economic–the act guaranteed all American citizens access to public facilities, accommodations, and schools that received federal money, as well as ensuring their ability to vote in federal elections and to be employed on a nondiscriminatory basis. It also included, among its ten titles, provisions for the creation of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Overall, this comprehensive federal law was designed to challenge and overturn the overt segregation and discrimination that African Americans continued to confront in southern states such as South Carolina.

The civil rights bill was originally proposed under the administration of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, but it was passed after his assassination when Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded him as president. Johnson used his parliamentary skills to secure the bill. In February 1964 it passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 290 to 130. It took another four months, however, to clear the Senate, where the fear was that Senator Strom Thurmond and other south- ern senators would try to kill it by a filibuster. Thurmond had set a filibuster record (24 hours, 18 minutes) in an attempt to block Senate approval of a previous civil rights bill in 1957. Despite opposition to the bill from southern congressmen such as Thurmond, the Senate voted cloture in June and passed the bill by a vote of 73 to 27. President Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 proved to be important in ending segregation and discrimination in South Carolina’s public schools and public accommodations. From the Brown decision of 1954 through 1963, white citizens adopted the stance of “massive resist- ance” to desegregation and fought the efforts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the federal courts to change the “southern way of life.” The state’s political leadership, for example, passed laws to outlaw the NAACP and to force its members who held public jobs to resign from the organization or be fired. Nevertheless, prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the sit-in movement of 1960 as well as other civil rights agitation in the state had made some progress. In 1963 white leadership in several of the state’s major cities met with African American leaders and began the process of desegregating schools and opening up public facilities and accommodations to African American citizens. In Charleston, for example, African American and white leaders formed a Community Relations Committee to negotiate the desegregation of downtown hotels and other public accommodations. In addition, the state’s two largest uni- versities, Clemson and the University of South Carolina, admitted their first African American students without any violent incidents. Thus, the passage of the act served to encourage and to legitimize the process of desegregation that the state’s African American and white leaders had already undertaken.

Franklin, John Hope, and Alfred A. Moss. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. 8th ed. New York: Knopf, 2000.

Lytle, Clifford M. “The History of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.” Journal of Negro History 51 (October 1966): 275–96.

Smyth, William D. “Segregation in Charleston in the 1950s: A Decade of Transition.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 92 (April 1991): 99–123. Solomon, W. E. “The Problem of Desegregation in South Carolina.” Journal

of Negro Education 25 (summer 1956): 315–23. Sproat, John G. “‘Firm Flexibility’: Perspectives on Desegregation in South

Carolina.” In New Perspectives on Race and Slavery in America: Essays in Honor of Kenneth M. Stampp, edited by Robert H. Abzug and Stephen E. Maizlish. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.

Whalen, Charles W., and Barbara Whalen. The Longest Debate: A Legislative History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Washington, D.C.: Seven Locks, 1985.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Civil Rights Act
  • Coverage 1964
  • Author
  • Keywords federal civil rights legislation, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), ending segregation
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date September 22, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 2, 2016
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