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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Why I Vote For Democrats: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964

The act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin and gave the federal courts jurisdiction over enforcement, taking it out of the state courts where justice was uneven at best.

The Civil Rights Act had political ramifications as well. Its adoption caused a mass exodus of angry racists from the Democratic Party in the old south to the Republican Party. And the politics borne of hatred of The Other gave the not so Grand Old Party the presidency for 28 out of the next 40 years.  

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Remarks Upon Signing the Civil Rights Act July 2, 1964

I am about to sign into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I want to take this occasion to talk to you about what that law means to every American.

One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom–not only for political independence, but for personal liberty–not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men.

That struggle was a turning point in our history. Today in far corners of distant continents, the ideals of those American patriots still shape the struggles of men who hunger for freedom.

This is a proud triumph. Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning. From the minutemen at Concord to the soldiers in Viet-Nam, each generation has been equal to that trust.

Americans of every race and color have died in battle to protect our freedom. Americans of every race and color have worked to build a nation of widening opportunities. Now our generation of Americans has been called on to continue the unending search for justice within our own borders.

We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment.

We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights.

We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings–not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skin.

The reasons are deeply imbedded in history and tradition and the nature of man. We can understand–without rancor or hatred–how this all happened.

But it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic, forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And the law I will sign tonight forbids it. […]

The purpose of the law is simple.

It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others.

It does not give special treatment to any citizen.

It does say the only limit to a man’s hope for happiness, and for the future of his children, shall be his own ability.

It does say that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public. […]

We must not approach the observance and enforcement of this law in a vengeful spirit. Its purpose is not to punish. Its purpose is not to divide, but to end divisions–divisions which have all lasted too long. Its purpose is national, not regional.

Its purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom, a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human dignity. […]

My fellow citizens, we have come now to a time of testing. We must not fail.

Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our Nation whole. Let us hasten that day when our unmeasured strength and our unbounded spirit will be free to do the great works ordained for this Nation by the just and wise God who is the Father of us all.

Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-64. Volume II, entry 446, pp. 842-844. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1965.

Here are the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

Title I – Barred unequal application of voter registration requirements.

Title II – Outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce.

Title III – Prohibited state and municipal governments from denying access to public facilities on grounds of race, color, religion or national origin.

Title IV – Encouraged the desegregation of public schools and authorized the U.S. Attorney General to file suits to enforce said act.

Title V – Expanded the Civil Rights Commission established by the earlier Civil Rights Act of 1957 with additional powers, rules and procedures.

Title VI – Prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds.

Title VII – Prohibits discrimination by covered employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin and also prohibits discrimination against an individual because of his or her association with another individual of a particular race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Title VIII – Required compilation of voter-registration and voting data in geographic areas specified by the Commission on Civil Rights.

Title IX – Made it easier to move civil rights cases from state courts with segregationist judges and all-white juries to federal court.

And what about those political ramifications? Here is a breakdown of the votes:

The original House version:

   Southern Democrats: 7-87   (7-93%)

   Southern Republicans: 0-10   (0-100%)

   Northern Democrats: 145-9   (94-6%)

   Northern Republicans: 138-24   (85-15%)

The Senate version:

   Southern Democrats: 1-20   (5-95%)

   Southern Republicans: 0-1   (0-100%)

   Northern Democrats: 45-1   (98-2%)

   Northern Republicans: 27-5   (84-16%)

Southern Democrats (soon to become Republicans) – 7 in the House and 1 in the Senate. Northern Republicans (today known as “Sen. Susan Collins of Maine”) – 138 in the House and 27 in the Senate.

The party of the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln, rejected by those filled with bitterness over the Civil War, became filled with those bitter over the civil rights of people of color after this bill was signed. The party of the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln implemented the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon and followed the dog whistle of States Rights from Ronald Reagan and became powerful enough to infuse their politics of hatred and bigotry into the presidency, the Congress and the federal judiciary for the past 48 years.

What President Johnson did was the right thing and the moral thing to do. But now we need to undo the terrible political injustice that resulted from that courageous action. We need to convince the electorate once and for all that the bitter politics of hate runs counter to that which defines us as Americans: a belief that we all deserve an opportunity to succeed regardless of the circumstances of our birth.

The American dream is for all Americans. And there is only one major political party that believes this to be true: the Democratic Party.

A long history of leaders with the courage of their convictions despite the certain knowledge that the decision will have political consequences … another reason I Vote For Democrats and why you should too.


(A version of this first appeared as part of a series “Why I Vote For Democrats” published during the 2012 election year)


  1. bubbanomics

    The senate count suggests 11 southern states.  which states are considered “southern” here?  Also, I’d have to infer that “northern” in this context merely means not of those 11 southern states.  At any rate, there were 8 brave southern dems at least.

    Interesting post, Jan. The Civil Rights Act is a great Democratic accomplishment.

  2. HappyinVT

    And just last week SCOTUS said, “eff you” to the voters of many of these states.

    Which is why I vote Dem.

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