What is the Civil Rights Act of 1964? - Summary, Effects & Impact

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  • 0:00 Kennedy Introduces…
  • 1:07 Attempts to Block the Act
  • 2:03 Main Components of the Act
  • 3:01 Women and the Civil Rights Act
  • 3:42 Voting and the Civil…
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Amy Lively
This lesson discusses the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Learn more about the history and impact of these landmark pieces of legislation.

Kennedy Introduces Civil Rights Reform

President John F. Kennedy had a problem. As a presidential candidate in 1960, he promised to make racial equality a priority. However, by 1963, little progress had been made in eliminating Jim Crow laws, which legalized segregation in the South. Kennedy's dilemma was that he needed the support of conservatives in Southern states to win the 1964 election. Pushing civil rights legislation too hard would damage that support. Kennedy ultimately was forced into action when Birmingham, Alabama emerged as the center of racial conflict in May 1963. Many Americans were alarmed by images they saw on television and in newspapers. Snarling police dogs and high-powered fire hoses were used to subdue white and black civil rights activists in Birmingham streets. In June, Kennedy gave a televised speech and announced that he was introducing comprehensive civil rights reform.

Attempts to Block the Act

Kennedy did not live to see his bill passed. He was assassinated on November 22, 1963 and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was immediately sworn in as president. Just five days after Kennedy's death, Johnson addressed Congress and said that the most appropriate way to honor the fallen president was to pass civil rights legislation. Not everyone saw it that way. In May 1964, a group of 18 senators from Southern states tried to use a lengthy filibuster to prevent the bill from passing. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, speaking on behalf of his colleagues, said that they would do all that they could to prevent social equality and the mingling of races. Despite all the attempts to block it, the Civil Rights Act eventually passed through Congress in June. President Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964.

Main Components of the Act

Not since Reconstruction nearly 100 years earlier had the government passed such sweeping civil rights legislation. The new laws targeted discrimination based on 'race, color, religion, sex or national origin.' Jim Crow was abolished as laws preventing access to public facilities such as hotels, restaurants, and parks due to race was prohibited. It was no longer legal to base decisions about hiring job applicants or renting property on a person's race, religion, or gender. Public and private schools receiving federal dollars could not use race, religion, or gender to prevent access to an education. Voting rights were addressed in that voter registration requirements were supposed to be applied equally among all voters. However, literacy tests, which often made it more difficult for minorities and poor whites to vote, were not abolished.

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