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On July 2, 1964, with Martin Luther King, Jr., directly behind him, President Lyndon Johnson scrawled his signature on a document years in the making—the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

Civil Rights Act of 1964 , 07/02/1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on, 07/02/1964. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

The first and the signature pages of the act will be on display at the National Archives Rubenstein Gallery in Washington, DC, until September 17, 2014. These 50-year-old sheets of paper represent years of struggle and society’s journey toward justice.

The most comprehensive civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction era, the Civil Right Act finally gave the Federal Government the means to enforce the promises of the 13th,  14th, and 15th Amendments. The act prohibited discrimination in public places, allowed the integration of public facilities and schools, and forbade discrimination in employment.

But such a landmark congressional enactment was by no means achieved easily…

Keep reading at Prologue: Pieces of History » Now On Display: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

Plus more on the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Equal treatment of all Americans, regardless of race, was a major debate for decades in the U.S. Congress. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy urged Congress to take action. Passage of the act was not easy. We’ll be exploring some of the key moments for the Civil Rights Act throughout the day.

On June 19, 1964, the Senate passed the Civil Right Act of 1964, 73 to 27. The House passed the amended bill on July 2, 289 to 126.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson just a few hours after House approval on July 2. The act outlawed segregation in businesses such as theaters, restaurants, and hotels. It banned discriminatory practices in employment and education. Title VII of the act created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to implement the law.

Roll Call Tally on Civil Rights Act 1964, 6/19/1964, Records of the U.S. Senate

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Equal treatment of all Americans, regardless of race, was a major debate for decades in the U.S. Congress. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy urged Congress to take action. Passage of the act was not easy. We’ll be exploring some of the key moments for the Civil Rights Act throughout the day.

Shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress and urged them to pass Civil Rights legislation to honor Kennedy’s memory. He said,

…no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long. We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.“

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress, 11/27/1963, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives