The landmark civil rights legislation signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on 2 July 1964 was the culmination of years of struggle and advocacy between movement organizations, students, and the Kennedy Administration.
Though it was the Kennedy Administration's sympathetic ear that provided momentum for federal action in 1963, congress had precedent to pull from with the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first legislation addressing the rights of African Americans since Reconstruction. The Act of 1957 established the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission for investigative purposes. However, the Act fell short of being comprehensive and ignited a prolonged campaign for further legislation by various civil rights organizations and individuals such as A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr.
By 1963 racial strife mounted in plain view of both the national and international consciousness. President John F. Kennedy revealed his intention to pursue legislative action in his civil rights speech of 11 June 1963, following the notable Birmingham campaign in which students and children endured attacks by police dogs and high pressure fire hoses. Calling for comprehensive legislation the president argued that "this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free." The Administration was under relentless pressure from civil rights organizations and King, who in an article published after the March on Washington reiterated that African Americans would not be content with tokenism.
King's advocacy was unwavering following Kennedy's assassination in November of 1963, he pressed President Johnson to continue Kennedy's civil rights legacy arguing the human dignity of African Americans would not be denied.
Though ensnared by a filibuster from southern senators, the bill finally passed and was signed into law on 2 July 1964 with King and other civil rights leaders present for its historical enactment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin; and ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in public accommodations. For more on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 please visit our encyclopedia entry here