Tuesday, July 2, 2024

On This Day: Civil Rights Act of 1964 Signed Into Law

Amber Lemus Christian Author
Blogger: Amber Lemus

On this day, July 2, 1964, a very important change came to the United States of America. The Civil Rights Act was signed by President Johnson, which made segregation illegal and went a long way in promoting equality over racism in the workplace and public spaces.

Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Public Domain

But did you know this wasn't the first effort to legislate Civil Rights? The 1964 law was actually the culmination of years of activism and protest by civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., who had advocated for an end to segregation and discrimination since the emancipation proclamation.

The first civil rights law in the United States was the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which was enacted on April 9. This pivotal legislation was the first to define citizenship and affirm that all citizens are equally protected by the law. Since this was the first law to be passed in the aftermath of the Civil War, it was primarily aimed at protecting the civil rights of persons of African descent born in or brought to the United States. Congress passed the law twice; however it was vetoed twice by President Andrew Johnson. Congress then voted to override his veto, which made it the first major law to be passed without Presidential signature.

While the 1866 law granted all citizens, regardless of color or previous enslavement, the right to make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, many argued that Congress didn't yet have the authority to enforce such a law on individual states. It wasn't until the passage of the 14th amendment two years later, which officially gave Congress the power to prevent discrimination by states and bestow certain protections equally under the law. Still, this first legislation fell short. Efficacy of the law was continually undermined by the activities of groups such as the KKK, and while it was "technically" illegal to discriminate for housing and employment based on race, the law failed to provide federal penalties for doing so, which basically meant it was left up to individuals or states where people who couldn't afford or acquire legal representation suffered.
President Grant Portrait 1875
Public Domain

In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant requested legislation prohibiting race-based violence against African Americans. It was passed within a month of his request and is also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. President Grant utilized the authority granted to him under this law many times during his presidency, and as a result he successfully disbanded the Ku Klux Klan, or at least the first era of it.

In 1875, Congress took yet another step toward racial equality and added legislation prohibiting discrimination in "public accommodations and transportation", and also stating that no one could be excluded from jury service because of race. It was also signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant but this was later overturned by the Supreme Court in 1883 who ruled it as unconstitutional, stating Congress could not regulate conduct of individuals. It would be a hundred and thirty years before the repeal of this law was rectified.

Amos T. Akerman, appointed Attorney General by Grant,
who vigorously prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan
Public Domain

From 1875 until 1957, no more Civil Rights laws were passed. Our African American population suffered with few laws to protect them from mistreatment, and authorities who hesitated to enforce the laws that were on the books. Activists and protests increased until what is known as the "Civil Rights Movement" was born.

The Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, although limited, marked the first attempts since Reconstruction to deal with civil rights. The 1957 Act established a Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department and a Commission on Civil Rights to investigate discriminatory conditions. The 1960 Act provided for federal voting referees to assist in voter registration. These acts laid the groundwork for the comprehensive 1964 Act, which would decisively outlaw segregation and discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
President Kennedy Addressing the Nation regarding Civil Rights
Public Domain

The passage of the act was a battle. It was introduced by President Kennedy in 1963, but met with fierce opposition from some lawmakers, who argued that it was an overreach of federal power. They stifled the bill within committees, and proponents of the bill struggled to get it brought to the Senate floor for a vote. Even when they did, it was killed by a filibuster more than once. After the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson pushed the bill forward and was finally the one to sign it into law.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a major milestone in the struggle for equality and justice in the United States. It paved the way for further legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and continues to be an important tool for combating discrimination and promoting equality today.


Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Lemus inspires hearts through enthralling tales She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives near the Ozarks in her "casita" with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a boy mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at http://www.amberlemus.com/ and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. Thank you for posting this summary of the efforts to bring civil rights to all. Too bad you can't legislate the hearts and actions of men. May God's Spirit convict those who hold discrimination in their souls.

  2. Great research, Amber. Thank you for sharing. I fear that so many citizens today do not read about our nation's history. Well written.