Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the most significant achievements of the movement. It marked the end of legal discrimination and segregation by color, race, gender, and origin. It is one of the legacies of President J. F. Kennedy, though it only became law after his assassination (Coleman, 2015). President Kennedy’s successor, L. B. Johnson approved the civil rights bill into a rule in 1964. However, the passing of the legislation was not without resistance. Southern states, through the Senate and Congress, rejected the proposal citing possible undermining of the rules (Coleman, 2015). They also staged demonstrations and racial abuses through different racist groups to oppose the passing of the bill. Despite the strong opposition, the bill became law in 1964, abolishing discrimination and segregation in any possible form. This paper discusses the history, content, and amendments of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Civil Rights Movement

The movement was responsible for the protests in the southern United States in the 1950s that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The primary objective for the group was to push for the abolition of the oppression against African Americans in the southern states (Andrews & Gaby, 2015). Though the thirteenth amendment had abolished slavery almost a century before the movement, southern states continued to oppress African Americans in different ways. The Jim Crow law dictated the limitations of civil rights for African Americans in the south. The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments gave the former slaves civil rights, but there was no legal protection of the rules (Andrews & Gaby, 2015). The movement struggled to attain protection of constitutional civil rights through peaceful protests. They targeted segregation and discriminatory laws that suppressed civil rights.

The movement spearheaded a series of peaceful protests in different parts of the country including Birmingham, Nashville, and Montgomery. The demonstrations included marches, boycotts, sit-ins, and walkouts. The most significant protest was the Birmingham student movement of 1963 that involved prominent figure like Martin Luther King Jr (Hersch & Shinall, 2015). Thousands of learners marched towards the city hall to express their opinion about segregation. The police reacted in heinous retaliation, attacking the protesting students with pressure water and dogs. The aftermath of the riots led to the abolition of apartheid in Birmingham and influenced the crafting of the Civil Rights Bill in 1963 (Andrews & Gaby, 2015). The Birmingham protests raised the world’s attention to the discrimination and oppression of African Americans in the southern states.

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, And Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution

Despite the declaration of independence and the clear statement of the three God-given liberties, African Americans remained slaves. Blacks were not included in the description of people or Americans, and could not enjoy independence (Hersch & Shinall, 2015). Before the civil war, the phrase “all persons” excluded African Americans. The founding leaders and other political leaders avoided the issue of slavery to prevent conflict with the southern states. However, the American civil war undermined the power of the south, leading to the abolition of slavery. After the civil war, the reconstruction period marked the beginning of liberation for African Americans (Andrews & Gaby, 2015). During the reconstruction period, Americans enacted the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the constitution. The three bills ended slavery, introduced civil rights to former slaves, and prohibited denial of the right to vote(Gormley, 2015). They intended to liberate black Americans from bondage and give them liberty to constitutional liberties and freedoms.

The three-reconstruction amendment aimed at creating equality among all Americans born or naturalized. The thirteenth amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude but retained it as a form of punishment. The act passed through the stages of the bill, Congress passing, ratification, and adoption in 1865. The fourteenth amendment (1868) defined citizens and certain privileges, marking the first step towards the acquisition of civil rights (Gormley, 2015). The act included black Americans in the definition of citizens, thus giving them a claim on civil liberties. The amendment states that the phrase “all persons” in the constitution includes African Americans. This inclusion gave them civil and legal rights. The fifteenth amendment prohibited denial of the right to vote (Gormley, 2015). The bill states that race, color, or previous servitude condition cannot form the basis for the denial of the right to vote (Hersch & Shinall, 2015). However, the fifteenth amendments only affected men among black Americans. Women from all races and color only attained the right to vote after the passing and ratification of the nineteenth amendments (Mahoney, 2019). The nineteenth amendment marked the beginning of women liberation

History of the Act

Despite the abolition of slavery, southern states continued to oppress African Americans through strict codes that restricted the latter’s behavior. Though black Americans gained liberties through representation in Congress and the Senate, developments in the south continued to undermine progress among the freemen. The establishment of radical movements like the Ku Klux Klan and the Jim Crow Laws heightened discrimination against blacks (Dirks, 2018). These developments created a hostile environment for the freemen to progress socially and economically. The struggles led to the growth of the civil rights movement that stage demonstrations that opposed oppression. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the civil rights movement staged protests in different locations including Birmingham and Atlanta (Dirks, 2018). The police responded violently to the peaceful demonstration using unorthodox means to confront the protestors.

The events that transpired during the first years of President Kennedy’s term prompted the proposition of the civil rights act in 1963. However, his November 1963 assassination left it in Congress. President Johnson took up the bill and spearheaded its progress through Congress and the Senate to become law (McLain, 2015a). During the time of the debate in both houses, southern states stage resistant demonstrations and brutal attacks on African Americans to oppose it. In the two houses, pro-segregation representatives strongly opposed the bill. However, it eventually became law by winning a majority in Congress and the Senate to the delight of the oppressed. The statement was made a law in 1964 (McLain, 2015a). The new law banned any form of legislation or organization that supported discrimination and segregation.

Significant Case Laws in the Struggle for Civil Rights

Other than the protest from the civil rights movement, several court rulings set the pace the civil rights Act of 1964. One of the most memorable cases involving the concept in the United States is Plessy v. Ferguson 1896, where the court maintained the legality of the different but equal doctrine that segregated people by race. The ruling became the basis for Jim Crow laws and legal oppression of African Americans. However, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict in the Plessy v. Ferguson 1896 during another ruling. In the Brown v. Board of Education 1952, the court decreed that separation of students in learning institutions is against the Constitution (Frazier & Lewis, 2019). The case challenged the legality of school segregation, as schools for black children were different from all-white schools. Brown wanted to enroll his daughter in an all-white school in Topeka, Kansas (Frazier & Lewis, 2019). The court ruled that since the segregated schools are not equal, the doctrine of separate but equal is unconstitutional. By citing the fourteenth amendment, the court stated that the principle violated equal protection provision. The case became the basis of a series of civil rights actions involving the movement.

Contents of Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has seven titles that settle different civil rights problems. Title I eliminated registration requirements and procedures that undermined the voting rights of the minority (Dreiband, Swearingen, & Day, 2015). However, the title retained literacy tests that barred poor whites and minority races from voting. Title II creates equality of voting rights. Title two of the act prohibits any form of segregation or discrimination in public places of interstate commerce. Title III prohibited denial of access to public grounds while title IV desegregated public schools (Dreiband et al., 2015). Title V increased the supremacy of the Civil Rights Commission. Title VI prohibited programs and activities that receive federal funding from discriminating minority groups (Dreiband et al., 2015). However, it does not apply to international funding programs. The first section of the title dictates that programs and activities that receive federal financing shall not exclude any individual in the United States. Title VII covers discrimination in employment.

Together, the titles of the act prohibit racial, religious, gender, and national origin discrimination by states, local governments, and employers. The Act also established an equal employment opening commission (EEOC) (Dreiband et al., 2015). The group had the power to sue on behalf of the aggrieved. The titles also prohibited the use of federal financing on discriminatory programs. It also authorized the office of education to implement the provisions of the Act to eliminate segregation of schools (Dreiband et al., 2015). The Act incorporated the gains of all the previous civil right gains. It also included the benefits of the three reconstruction amendments creating strict requirements.

Amendments to the Act and Follow Up the Legislature

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the first provision was established in 1866 and guaranteed contractual agreements between United States citizens. The Civil Rights Act 1875 banned bias in public housings and the exclusion of blacks from the jury (Dreiband et al., 2015). The Civil Rights Act 1957 established the Commission and the division. It also gave the attorney general the power to seek court injunctions against obstruction to voting liberties. The Act of 1960 introduced criminal penalties and expanded the tenure of the commission (Dreiband et al., 2015). It also created a provision for the preservation of federal election material. The passing of the Act of 1964 brought together the requirements of the previous acts and improved the capacity to enforce the rights. After its enactment, developments in civil rights activism and laws gave powers to a progressive improvement in civil rights laws. The Act of 1965 complemented Title I of the 1964’s Civil Rights Act by suspending the use of literacy tests to disqualify voters from poor white communities and blacks (McLain, 2015a). Title I of the 1964 act restricted the use of discriminatory voter registration procedures but did not eliminate the use of literacy tests (McLain, 2015a). It introduced federal examiners to take care of voter registration. It also abolished poll taxes and established criminal penalties against violations of the Act. The act also gave the attorney general the power to instigate proceedings against violators of the statute.

Another legislation that followed the 1964 Act was the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which outlawed the sale and rent of housing and protected native Americans from oppression. Soon after, the 1970 amendment to the voting act extended the tenure of the previous legislation (Coleman, 2015). The bill became applicable to areas that registered less than half of the eligible population. The Voting Right Act was again amended in 1975 and 1982 (Coleman, 2015). The 1975 amendment further extended the tenure of the 1965 act for seven years and included other minority groups like Asian, Hispanic, and Native Americans. The 1975 amendment permanently abolished the use of literacy tests in voter registration. The 1982 bill extended the 1965 act for a further 25 years and created the jurisdiction to maintain voting rights records for ten years (Coleman, 2015). The amendment also created room for accommodation of illiterate and disabled voters and bilingual elections to accommodate minority voters.

Other improvements include the 1987 civil restoration, the 1988 fair housing act, the 1991 civil rights acts, and the 2006 voting rights amendments. The local restoration act affirmed the provision of title VI of the 1964 bill by stating that requirements for federally funded organizations apply to the whole organization (Coleman, 2015). The 1988 amendment to Fair Housing Act only strengthened the powers of the housing and urban development department (Harris, 2015). However, the 1991 Civil Rights Act established the use of monetary damages in settlement of discrimination cases. The 2006 amendment to the Voting Rights Act extended its tenure for a further 25 years and bilingual elections until 2032 (Coleman, 2015). It also included provisions for the improvement of the effectiveness and efficiency of bilingual voting. The upgrades to civil rights legislation introduced new requirements that sealed the loopholes in prior laws and regulations. Also, the rules helped to improve the efficiency of the existing legislation as a result of new developments and improvements in society.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is complimentary legislation that bases provisions from the three reconstruction amendments to the constitution. It was an end product of the demonstrations of the civil rights movement and different case laws that impacted the political climate (Andrews & Gaby, 2015). Of particular importance is the Birmingham student walkout that led to the abolition of discriminatory laws. The Act marks the legacy of President Kennedy and the leaders of the group like Martin Luther King. The actions of these group of people in the 1950s and 1960s influenced the passing of the act. Also, the work of President Johnson in 1974 that convinced Congress to vote the bill into law. The statement marked the beginning of success for African Americans and other minorities that faced oppression during the time. It also became a basis of reference for future amendments and legislation. However, the act failed to resolve some of the issues facing minority groups like the right to education and the problem of literacy tests.




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Hersch, J., & Shinall, J. B. (2015). Fifty years later: The legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management34(2), 424-456.