By: Push, A Student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, as part of Heather Nelson’s Service Learning Academy class.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was one of the most important parts of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. It was first introduced in 1963 while John F. Kennedy was President, and was supported by his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. The law prohibited discrimination based on skin color, race, sex, religion, or national origin and helped put an end to segregation in the United States. It was passed by the United States Senate on June 19, 1964. Tomorrow, during the Omaha Freedom Festival, it will be the 57th anniversary of the law passing the United States Senate.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had successfully passed the House of Representatives, but everyone knew the real battle would take place in the Senate. That is because in the United States Senate, there is no limit to the amount of time you can debate a bill. This allows for something called a filibuster, where politicians who oppose a bill can endlessly continue on debate over the bill, refusing to allow a vote and let it become a law. The pro-segregation Senators did just that. The pro-segregation politicians filibustered the Civil Rights Act for sixty workdays from late March to June.
Fortunately, there is a way around this, called a cloture. If enough Senators are willing, they can forcefully end a filibuster, called cloture. However, cloture is very difficult to pull off. In 1964, a cloture required two thirds of the Senators to vote in favor for it to pass. Senator Majority Whip Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota and Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois fought to gain enough votes to have cloture and pass the bill into law. On June 10, 1964, Everett Dirksen delivered a powerful speech that convinced many of his fellow Republicans to join their side. There now, finally, seemed enough votes to pass the Civil Rights Act.
So, on June 10, 1964, a group of 44 Democrats and 27 Republicans voted for cloture and put an end to the debate. Famously, California Senator Clair Engle, who was terminally ill with a brain tumor, was brought in on a wheelchair in order to vote for an end to the filibuster. Then, on June 19, the United States Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with 73 votes. It was signed into law on July 2 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Segregation was finally illegal in America.
Tomorrow, while so you are having fun at Freedomtainment, remember the civil rights activists who fought against white supremacy and helped create a more equal country. Celebrate the freedom that they fought so hard for.