On this day in history President Lyndon B. Johnson signed one of the most far‐reaching civil rights bill in the nation's history. It must be noted John F. Kennedy spoke to the passage of a new civil rights bill one of the platforms of his successful 1960 presidential campaign. As Kennedy’s vice president, Johnson served as chairman of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities.
In a nationally televised address on June 6, 1963, President John F. Kennedy urged the nation to take action toward guaranteeing equal treatment of every American regardless of race. Soon after, Kennedy proposed that Congress consider civil rights legislation that would address voting rights, public accommodations, school desegregation, nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs, and more. After Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Johnson vowed to carry out his proposals for civil rights reform.
July 2, 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the historic Civil Rights Act in a nationally televised ceremony at the White House. This act, prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. This document was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.
During the decade prior to this bill, great strides for the African American civil rights movement were made, as non-violent demonstrations won thousands of supporters to the cause. One of the biggest landmarks was the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional.
Other memorable landmarks included the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955—sparked by the refusal of Alabama resident Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a city bus, and the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. at a rally of hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., in 1963.
The Civil Rights Act fought tough opposition from democrats in the House and a lengthy, heated debate in the Senate before being approved in July 1964. For the signing of the historic legislation, Johnson invited hundreds of guests to a televised ceremony in the White House’s East Room.
Johnson used more than 75 pens to sign the bill, giving them away as mementoes of the historic occasion, in accordance with tradition. One of the first pens went to King, leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who called it one of his most cherished possessions. Johnson gave two more to Senators Hubert Humphrey and Everett McKinley Dirksen, the Democratic and Republican managers of the bill in the Senate.