BRIEF HISTORY OF
Excerpted from David C. Kozak and Kenneth N. Ciboski, editors, The American Presidency (Chicago, IL: Nelson Hall, 1985), pp. 411-419.
Civil Rights Act of 1957 was considered an historic breakthrough because
it was the first major civil rights bill to get through Congress in the
20th Century. The new law was badly watered down, however, to meet the
criticisms of southern Democrats in the Senate. The 1957 law thus had
little or no effect on racial segregation in the United States. A 1960
Civil Rights Act, equally watered-down to meet southern requirements, was
regarded as equally ineffectual.
February 28, 1963, President John F. Kennedy sent Congress a strong
message on the immediate need for civil rights legislation: "The
Negro baby born in America today ... has about one-half as much chance of
completing high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same
day-one-third as much chance of completing college-one third as much
chance of becoming a professional man-twice as much chance of becoming
unemployed ... a life expectancy which is seven years less-and the
prospects of earning only half as much."1
forthright statement was not backed up with a strong civil rights
legislative proposal. President Kennedy limited his recommendations to
minor improvements in voting rights laws (none of which were very
effective in the South), technical assistance to school districts
desegregating voluntarily, and an extension of the Civil Rights
Commission, a government body which could study civil rights problems but
had no power to remedy them.
were the presidentís words so strong and his proposed legislation so
weak? "President Kennedy was never one to demand congressional action
on need alone. His sense of timing told him he could not overcome the
legislative roadblocks in the way of civil rights legislation, and defeat,
no matter how gallant, had no appeal for him."2 As had happened so
often in American political history, a United States president was bowing
to the reality that a strong civil rights bill, one that would really end
racial segregation and racial oppression in the southern United States,
was simply not politically achievable, no matter how much of his political
will and his political strength a president might throw into the battle.
Southern Civil Rights "Veto"
obstacles to passing a civil rights bill were truly formidable in early
1963. In the House of Representatives, regular legislative committees such
as the House Judiciary Committee do not report bills directly to the House
floor for a vote. Because debate is limited in the House of
Representatives, committee bills first go to the House Rules Committee,
where the length of time the bill will be debated and the manner in which
the bill will be debated is decided. Many bills that make it through the
regular committees, however, often are not reported out of the Rules
Committee at all, and usually when this happens the particular bill is
dead for the remainder of that session of Congress.
1963 the chairman of the House Rules Committee was Howard Smith, a
conservative southern Democrat from Virginia. Smith was ardently opposed
to all civil rights legislation, and it was clear he would use his powers
as chairman of the Rules Committee to delay any civil rights bill as long
as possible. If Democratic President Kennedy wanted a tough civil rights
bill, he would have to blast it past Democratic Rules Committee Chairman
in the Senate, the situation was even more difficult. The chairman of the
Senate Judiciary Committee was James 0. Eastland, a Democrat from
Mississippi and, as one would expect, a staunch opponent of civil rights.
Eastland had used his powers as judiciary Committee chairman to kill more
than one hundred proposed civil rights bills throughout the late 1950s and
early 1960s. If Democrat Kennedy wanted a civil rights bin, he would have
to find a way around Democrat Eastland and his Judiciary Committee.
big obstacle to a civil rights bill in the Senate, however, was the
filibuster. Senate rules provide for unlimited debate, which means that a
group of senators can kill a bill by simply talking it to death. Over the
years southern Democratic senators had clearly established the idea they
would filibuster any strong civil rights proposal. In fact, the reason the
1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts were so weak was that southern filibusters
had succeeded. Rather than wait-out a lengthy filibuster, liberal senators
supporting civil rights had compromised on both bills to the point where
the southern Democrats would stop talking and let the bill come to a vote
and, eventually, final passage.
Kennedy's real problem with civil rights, however, was the crucial role of
the South in the Democratic Party. In 1963, the Democratic party was made
up of an uneasy coalition of conservative southern Democrats on the one
hand and liberal northern and western Democrats on the other. The only way
Kennedy could hope to get a major tax-cut bill and other economic programs
through the Congress was to keep the Southerners in the Democratic fold.
Pushing hard for civil rights, however, would have antagonized the
addition, there was the political problem of keeping the support of
southern Democratic voters in the upcoming 1964 presidential election.
Kennedy had defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 in one of the closest
presidential races in American history. The electoral votes of several
southern states, particularly Texas, had been essential to Kennedy's
victory. Kennedy was going to need that southern Democratic support again
in the 1964 presidential race. Similar to all Democratic presidents,
Kennedy knew that, as of 1963, no Democrat had ever been elected president
of the United States without carrying a substantial portion of the South.
To antagonize the South with a strong push for civil rights could well be
presidential political suicide.
president also was aware that a civil rights battle could harm his foreign
policy proposals and weaken his position in international affairs.
Overseas problems such as the Soviet construction of the Berlin Wall and
the Cuban missile crisis could be handled more successfully if public
opinion in the United States was united behind the chief executive.
Kennedy was currently negotiating a nuclear test ban treaty with the
Soviet Union that would require a two-thirds vote of ratification in the
Senate. The president knew that "to provoke a bitter national
controversy (over civil rights) without achieving any gain would divide
the American people at a time when the international scene required
maximum unity."3 As had so often been the case in the past, Kennedy
elected to press forward in the international field, where the
Constitution gave him much greater freedom of movement, and go slow in the
domestic field, where presidential options are much more limited.
Thus it was that, when dealing with civil rights, President Kennedy faced all the crippling constraints that hamper a presidentís ability to act on domestic policy. Clearly it would be better to forget about civil rights legislation and only do for black Americans those things which a president can do without congressional approval-appoint large numbers of blacks to important government jobs and order the Justice Department to help black and white integrationists arrested in civil rights demonstrations.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Shortly after President Kennedy's recommended civil rights bill was released to the press and public, the leaders of more than seventy civil rights organizations, operating under the name of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, met to discuss the Kennedy proposal. They were dismayed. "The consensus was clear; President Kennedy had yielded on civil rights legislation before the fighting had even begun. The proposed bill was hardly worth the fight. Such comfort as there was came from the hope that (if Kennedy were reelected in 1964) the second Kennedy administration would be different."4
so often happens to American presidents, unexpected external events
totally changed the picture and completely undid Kennedy's political
strategy. In May of 1963, Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian
Leadership Conference began a series of nonviolent demonstrations
protesting the rigid segregation of public facilities in Birmingham,
Alabama. The city police chief, T. Eugene (Bull) Connor, was an avowed
segregationist and brought out police dogs, fire hoses, and, most shocking
of all in every sense of the word, electric cattle prods ordinarily used
to drive reluctant cattle from the holding pen into the slaughter house.
photographs and evening television reports of the violence in Birmingham
brought about an immediate change in national public opinion on civil
rights, particularly in the North and the West. The nation had seen first
hand the worst aspects of Southern white oppression of blacks. Demands for
action began pouring into the White House and the Congress from across the
Kennedy was well aware that it was Birmingham that had forced him to
change his position on civil rights. At a White House strategy meeting
with civil rights leaders, one of those present referred in a hostile way
to Bull Connor. Kennedy responded that "Bull Connor has done more for
civil rights than anyone in this room."5 Thereafter the president was
often heard to say, "The civil rights movement should thank God for
Bull Connor. He's helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln."6
John F. Kennedy and his White House advisers were flooded with advice on
what form a new administration proposal for civil rights legislation
should take. The leadership conference on civil rights sent message after
message to the president detailing needed civil rights reforms. At the
presidentís weekly breakfasts with the Democratic congressional
leadership, Senate Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota advised
and urged the president to send up to Capitol Hill a really strong bill.
Kennedy responded by having his brother Robert, the attorney general, draw
up the most sweeping civil rights proposal that any president has ever
presented to Congress.
Kennedy Civil Rights Bill
civil rights bill, which President Kennedy sent to Congress in June of
1963, included a strong provision giving black Americans equal access to
all public accommodations throughout the United States. It would make
illegal the segregated restaurants, cocktail lounges, hotels, and motels,
which were the most visible, forms of racial discrimination in the
American South. It also provided for the cut-off of any U.S. government
aid programs in the South that were administered in a racially
most important of all, the new Kennedy civil rights package gave the
attorney general of the United States the power to sue southern state
governments that operated segregated schools. This "power to
sue" would free the individual black citizen in the South from having
to publicly stand up and file a suit in the local court to desegregate the
local school system. Such personal attempts to gain civil rights by
southern blacks were too frequently met by covert white reprisals, the
most violent and brutal of which were beating and lynching.
Write It in the Books of Law"
assassin's bullet that killed President Kennedy in Dallas changed many
things, but nothing quite so much as the political situation concerning
civil rights. Kennedy's successor, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, was a
Democrat from Texas. At first civil rights supporters believed this would
doom the civil rights bill, but actually the reverse was the case. As a
southerner, Lyndon Johnson was mainly concerned with winning political
support in the North. Similar to Kennedy, he would have to run for
re-election in 1964, and he had less than a year to convince skeptical
northern and western liberals that a Southerner was an acceptable leader
for the national Democratic party.
seized on the civil rights bill as the perfect instrument for establishing
his credentials with northern and western liberals. Five days after
Kennedy's assassination, the new president told a joint session of the
House and Senate: "We have talked long enough in this country about
equal rights.... It is time now to write the next chapter-and to write it
in the books of law."7 Johnson then asked the Congress to adopt the
civil rights bill in memory of his slain predecessor, John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy's behavior on civil rights was a case study in a president trying
to avoid a divisive domestic issue that could not be avoided, Johnson's
behavior was a case study in what a president can do when he throws
himself and the vast powers of his office totally into the fight.
Johnson's first move was to call black leaders and civil rights leaders to
well publicized meetings in the oval office at the White House.
Johnson himself told it: "I spoke with black groups and with
individual leaders of the black community and told them that John
Kennedy's dream of equality had not died with him. I assured them that I
was going to press for the civil rights bill with every ounce of energy I
spoke out in favor of the civil rights bill at every suitable
occasion-press conferences, public speeches, messages to Congress, and so
on. Knowing that civil rights advocates feared this civil rights bill
would be compromised and watered down the way all the previous ones had,
Johnson took the position that he and his administration would not
compromise with the segregationist southern Democrats in any way. "So
far as this administration is concerned," Johnson told a press
conference, "its position is firm."9 There would be no room for
bargaining. Johnson would win his spurs as a pro civil rights president by
getting the newly strengthened civil rights bill past the House Rules
Committee, the House, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Senate
filibuster. Furthermore, he would get the bill through substantially
Kennedy, who had been something of an outsider when he was in the House
and the Senate, Lyndon Johnson had been the Senate majority leader when he
was elected vice-president in 1960. Johnson thus was a congressional
insider, a man with a detailed knowledge of the way things work on Capitol
Hill and with an abundance of contacts and friendships. President
Kennedy's funeral was hardly ended when the telephones began ringing in
the House of Representatives. Members of Congress in key positions began
hearing first-hand from the president about how he wanted the civil rights
bill moved out of the House Rules Committee and on to the House floor.
December 9, 1963, House Judiciary Chairman Emanuel Celler filed a petition
to discharge the civil rights bill from the Rules Committee. If a majority
of the members of the House signed the discharge petition, the civil
rights bill would move directly from the Rules Committee to the House
floor. Signatures were hard to obtain at first, mainly because senators
and representatives believe in the committee system of reviewing
legislation and are hesitant to ever bypass a committee or its chairman.
By the time of the Christmas recess, the discharge petition still was more
than fifty signatures short.
situation changed immediately after the Christmas recess. Members of
Congress had found strong support for the civil rights bill when they went
home to their districts for the holidays. President Johnson's constant
referrals to the civil rights bill were having a dramatic effect on home
town public opinion.
suddenly had become aware of the bill and knew that the president wanted
it moved quickly through the House and Senate. The number of signatures on
the discharge petition began nearing a majority, and a sizable number of
the signatures were from Lyndon Johnson's fellow Texans in the House of
Representatives. Both the Democratic and the Republican leadership in the
House joined the president in pressuring Chairman Smith to release the
the pressure became too great and Chairman Smith gave in, saying, "I
know the facts of life around here."10 Rather than suffer the
embarrassment of having a bill discharged from his committee without his
consent, Smith allowed the bill to be reported out to the House floor.
Johnson was never one to miss any opportunity to increase the public
awareness of civil rights. The president repeatedly linked the civil
rights bill to Abraham Lincoln and the fact that the nation had just
celebrated (in July of 1963) the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation
Proclamation. In response to a reporter's question about the civil rights
bill at a White House press conference, Johnson said: "I hope it is
acted upon in the House before the members leave to attend Lincoln Day
birthday meetings throughout the nation, because it would be a great
tribute to President Lincoln to have that bill finally acted upon in the
House before we go out to celebrate his birthday."11
a ten-day debate on the House floor, President Johnson and his
congressional allies beat back every attempt to weaken the civil rights
bill by amending it. Johnson had pledged he would pass the Kennedy bill,
and that was essentially what occurred. In fact, the only major amendment
to the bill actually furthered the cause of civil rights. It outlawed
discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race in all the major
provisions of the bill. On a Monday night, February 10, 1964, the House
passed the civil rights bill by a vote of 290 to 130 and sent it to the
Rest with Lyndon
the hard-working lobbyists for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
might have expected to have a moment of rest once the civil rights bill
had been passed by the House. There was no rest, however, with Lyndon
Johnson running the show. Clarence Mitchell, Washington director of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, recalls that
the bill had just passed the House when a message came to call the
president. 'What are you fellows doing about the Senate," the
commander-in-chief had called to say, very much at his post 'We've got it
through the House, and no~ we've got the big job of getting it through the
the Senate Judiciary Committee
President Johnson's support, the Democratic leadership in the Senate made
short work of Senator Eastland and his Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate
Democratic leader Mike Mansfield of Montana moved, on February 26, to
place the civil rights bill directly on the Senate calendar, thereby
bypassing the Judiciary Committee completely. Although this procedural
move provoked a small filibuster of its own from the southern Democrats in
the Senate (labeled by Senate insiders as a "mini-buster"), by
March 30 the civil rights bill was on the floor of the Senate and the main
event, an extended southern filibuster, was underway.
Johnson had skillfully arranged for the Senate to pass every piece of
legislation he considered critical before the civil rights filibuster
began. Thus the Kennedy tax-cut bill and a wheat and cotton bill had both
been moved out of the Senate before the civil rights bill arrived.
"President Johnson had made it clear ... that he would not care if
the Senate did not do another thing for three months until the civil
rights bill was enacted. This removed the filibusterers' greatest weapon
that they could hold out until other needed legislation required the
Senate to put aside the civil rights bill."13
strategy was to let the southerners; talk and talk until it became clear
to everyone that a small minority was frustrating the majority will in the
Senate. As the debate droned on through the month of April and then into
early May, the president kept the pressure on with a regular weekly
statement that he wanted a bill, and he wanted a strong bill. One week the
president was quoted as saying he was "committed" to the bill
with "no wheels and no deals."14 Another week he stated: "I
believe at the proper time, after all members have had a chance to present
their viewpoints both pro and con, the majority of the Senate will work
its will and ... we will pass the bill."15 Late in April the
president said: "We need a good civil rights bill, and the bill now
pending in the Senate is a good bill. I hope it can be passed in a
Wallace Candidacy for President
in 1964, Alabama Governor George Wallace announced that he was a candidate
for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States and that
he would run on a platform of all-out opposition to the civil rights bill.
Governor Wallace would be a formidable candidate running on the anti-civil
rights issue. He had gained tremendous national publicity by personally
"barring the school house door" at the University of Alabama in
a futile attempt to prevent integration of the university by U.S.
marshals. Although Wallace had been forced to stand aside and let the
university be integrated, he had emerged from the fracas as a southern
segregationist hero and as the national symbol of opposition to school
integration and black civil rights.
Wallace candidacy called for quick action on President Johnson's part, and
such action was soon forthcoming. Unwilling to permit "open
season" on his presidential administration by running against Wallace
himself, Johnson set to work recruiting stand-in candidates to run against
Wallace in three crucial Democratic presidential primaries Wisconsin,
Indiana, and Maryland.
Wallace threat to the civil rights bill was serious. Everywhere he went
Wallace stated that his presidential candidacy was a referendum on the
civil rights bill then being filibustered in the Senate. If Wallace could
win only one presidential primary outside the old South, President
Johnson's chance of beating the filibuster would be seriously jeopardized.
Johnson himself noted that the Wallace campaign "stiffened the
southerners' will to keep on fighting the civil rights measure until the
liberal ranks (in the Senate) began to crumble."17
Governor Wallace polled 33.9 percent of the vote in the Wisconsin primary
and did almost as well in Indiana, political analysts began writing that
Wallace just might win the Democratic presidential contest in Maryland.
Maryland had not seceded from the Union during the Civil War, but it was,
after all, a former slave state and south of the Mason Dixon line. If
Wallace could get more than 30 percent of the vote in a northern state
like Wisconsin, he could conceivably get 50 percent or more in a border
state like Maryland.
pulled out all the stops in his support of his Maryland stand-in, U.S.
Senator Daniel Brewster. A key White House aide, Clifton Carter of the
Democratic National Committee, was dispatched to help Brewster in every
way possible. Money for the Brewster campaign was raised and spent freely
by the Democratic National Committee. Johnson even arranged for a top
campaign publicist to come to Maryland and help Brewster with his campaign
speeches and press releases.
the president never officially endorsed any of his stand-in candidates in
the 1964 Democratic presidential primaries, Johnson skillfully scheduled a
trip to western Maryland to study "Appalachian regional
problems." The president saw to it that Brewster was at his side
every minute he was in Maryland.18
to the presidentís all-out support, Brewster defeated Wallace in
Maryland with more than 57 percent of the vote. A combination of black
votes in Baltimore coupled with upper-income suburban white votes in the
Maryland suburbs produced a clear-cut majority for civil rights. Wallace
and his anti civil rights campaign had been stopped 'in their tracks. The
filibusterers' hope that Wallace would win Maryland and start a national
groundswell of opposition to the civil rights bill quickly faded.
the presidentís position with regard to domestic policy so tenuous that
he has to intervene in presidential primary elections in order to get what
he wants out of Congress? In the case of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it
appears clear that such action was required. In this case, the president
and his political allies proved equal to the challenge.
rules provided that extended debate (a filibuster) could be brought to a
close by two-thirds vote of those present and voting. Such a vote is
called a cloture vote. Although cloture votes had been attempted many
times in the past on civil rights bills, none had ever succeeded. The main
reason was that Senators from small states, mainly in the Midwestern and
western United States, viewed the filibuster as the only instrument by
which small states could protect themselves from the large states. Even if
they believed firmly in civil rights, Midwestern and western senators,
most of them Republicans, did not want to weaken the idea of the
filibuster by voting for cloture.
thus was clear from the beginning that a small group of Republican
senators, mainly from small Midwestern and western states, would be the
key to getting a two-thirds vote for cloture. It was equally clear that
the man who could persuade these small-state Republicans to vote for
cloture was Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois, the Republican leader in
the Senate. Dirksen had worked hard to gain the confidence of his fellow
party members in the Senate, and it was believed that his support for the
civil rights bill would bring along the necessary Republican votes to put
the two-thirds cloture vote over the top.
Johnson saw from the very first that Dirksen was the key to getting the
civil rights bill out of the Senate. Shortly after President Kennedy's
assassination, Johnson telephoned Dirksen and asked him to convey to his
Republican colleagues in the Senate that the time had come to forget
partisan politics and get the legislative machinery of the United States
moving forward. As Johnson recalled the phone conversation: "There
was a long pause on the other end of the line and I could hear him (Dirksen)
breathing heavily. When he finally spoke, he expressed obvious
disappointment that I would even raise the question of marshaling his
party behind the president. 'Mr. President,' he said, 'you know I
Senator Dirksen's general statement of support for the president into
support for a cloture vote on the civil rights bill was something else
again. The strategy designed by Johnson was to give Dirksen the
opportunity to be a "hero in history!" Johnson noted: "I
gave to this fight everything I hid in prestige, power, and commitment. At
the same time, I deliberately tried to tone down my personal involvement
in the daily struggle so that my colleagues on the Hill could take
tactical responsibility-and credit so that a hero's niche could be carved
out for Senator Dirksen, not me."20
lion's share of the task of winning Everett Dirksen over to the civil
rights bill fell to Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic whip in the Senate.
Humphrey recalls a telephone call from Johnson just as the civil rights
bill was arriving in the Senate. "Now you know that this bill can't
pass unless you get Ev Dirksen," the President told Humphrey.
"You and I are going to get him. You make up your mind now that
you've got to spend time with Ev Dirksen. You've got to let him have a
piece of the action. He's got to look good all the time."21
in May, Senator Dirksen invited Senator Humphrey to his office to begin
negotiating amendments to the civil rights bill that would make the new
legislation acceptable to Dirksen and his band of Midwestern and western
Republicans. Representatives from the Justice Department as well as other
Democratic and Republican senators began attending these meetings. In some
areas Dirksenís amendments actually strengthened the bill. As a general
rule, however, Dirksen pressed to have the bill affect only those states
and those business organizations where a "pattern or practice"
of racial discrimination could be shown. Dirksen did not want the U.S.
government interfering in isolated personal instances of discrimination,
and his view eventually prevailed with the civil rights supporters. By
mid-May Humphrey and Dirksen emerged from Dirksen's office with an amended
bill that had both Dirksen's support and the approval of the Leadership
Conference on Civil Rights.
retrospect, everyone realized that the meetings in Dirksen's office to
write amendments for the bill had, in effect, been the Senate committee
meetings on the civil rights bill. The Senate had bypassed the regular
channel, consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Everett
Dirksen succeeded in seeing that the equivalent of the committee work took
place in his office.
Dirksen and Humphrey had negotiated an amended bill, the outcome was
inevitable. On June 10, 1964, for the first time in its history, the U.S.
Senate voted cloture on a civil rights bill. Soon afterward the Senate
adopted the Dirksen-Humphrey amendments, and then the final bill as
amended. The House of Representatives quickly agreed to the Senate
amendments, and on July 2, 1964, before an audience of more than one
hundred senators, representatives, cabinet members, and civil rights
leaders, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into
Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly demonstrates the constraints on the
president of the United States in the general area of domestic policy.
Both President Kennedy and President Johnson had to deal with opposition
in Congress, opposition within the Democratic Party, and the political
realities of their prospective campaigns for re-election.
is important to note that, in the case of Congress, the two presidents
were forced, almost every step of the way, to support extraordinary
measures to get the civil rights bill passed. President Kennedy had to set
up special negotiating sessions at the White House to get an acceptable
compromise bill out of the House Judiciary Committee. President Johnson
had to support a discharge petition to get the bill out of the House Rules
Committee. The Judiciary Committee had to be bypassed in the Senate, and
the ultimate extraordinary measure, a cloture vote, had to be used to end
the filibuster in the Senate. The fact that such unusual and rarely used
techniques were required to get the bill passed is a measure of the severe
constraints facing any presidential effort to enact a civil rights bill.
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 illustrates the constraints on the president
in regard to domestic policy making, the act also illustrates what is
required for the president to successfully achieve domestic changes.
Clearly the crisis created by the white violence in Birmingham against
black demonstrators was required for this legislation to get the push
needed to move through Congress. This clear relationship between violent
crisis and the presidentís ability to act raises a real question for
American democracy, however. Can a governmental system long survive if a
major crisis, often involving violence, is required every time conditions
on the domestic front are going to change?
all, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 illustrates the effective powers the
president has at his disposal once he commits himself to a particular
course of action. Both Kennedy's and Johnson's use of television to
dramatize the nature of the civil rights crisis to the American people was
outstanding and in both cases effective. Johnson also demonstrated how the
president, making effective use of the telephone, can put the most intense
kinds of personal pressure on members of Congress. Never underestimate the
psychological impact, and the excitement and self-esteem, that comes from
receiving a phone call from the principal resident of the White House.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 also revealed that Congress really can change
conditions in the United States if it truly wishes to do so. The act ended
virtually immediately and completely all forms of public segregation in
the nation, both North and South. The threat of cutting off U.S. funds to
government programs and business concerns that discriminate against
minorities has made "equal employment opportunity" and
"affirmative action in hiring" fixed institutions in American
life. The act empowered the attorney general of the United States to sue
for the desegregation of schools, a program that has resulted in the use
of school busing to achieve racial balance in the nation's schools. The
act was the first national law to guarantee significant equal rights for
women, and it set the precedent for using cloture to stop a filibuster on
a civil rights bill - a precedent that was used in 1965 to pass a national
law guaranteeing equal housing opportunity.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally illustrates that there are times in a
presidentís career when a domestic issue cannot be avoided, regardless
of the final outcome. A politician who also happened to be a good poker
player once told Lyndon Johnson that there comes a time in every
presidentís career when he has to throw caution to the winds and bet his
entire stack of chips. President Johnson studied the political tumult
surrounding the civil rights bill and "decided to shove in all my
stack on this vital measure."22 The president gambled, and that time
around he won - big!
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Mar. 8, 1963,303.
Unpublished manuscript on the role of the Leadership Conference on Civil
Rights in the civil rights struggle of 1963 - 1964, Joseph Rauh, legal
adviser to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Washington, D.C.,
Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper and Row, 1965),
Rauh manuscript, 2.
Sorensen, Kennedy, 489.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Nov- 29, 1963,2089
Lyndon B. Johnson, The Vantage Point (New York: Popular Library,
Rauh manuscript, 15.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Feb. 7, 1964, 281.
Merle Miller, Lyndon (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1980), 367.
See also Rauh manuscript, 19.
Rauh manuscript, 21.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Feb. 28, 1964, 385.
Ibid., April 17, 1964, 747.
Ibid., April 24, 1964, 789.
Johnson, The Vantage Point, 159.
Personal interview with former U.S. Senator Daniel Brewster, Baltimore
County, Aug. 1982.
Johnson, The Vantage Point, 30.
Miller, Lyndon, 368.
Johnson, The Vantage Point, 37.