The Civil Rights Act of 1964



The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of federal legislation that outlawed major forms of discrimination against minorities and women.  Join Active Minds as we examine the act over 50 years later and evaluate its impact on civil rights in the United States.

Key Lecture Points

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the most sweeping civil rights legislation passed in the US since Reconstruction.  This major legislative achievement took place within the context of the civil rights movement and the social upheaval of the 1950s and 1960s.
  • As a result of the shocking 1963 media coverage of the police brutality used against civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, and the efforts of the Governor of Alabama to bar black students from enrolling in the state university, President Kennedy went on television to ask Congress for comprehensive civil rights legislation.
  • After Kennedy’s assassination, President Johnson pressed for passage of the bill as a memorial to the slain President and as the cornerstone for his vision of a Great Society.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed July 2. This legislation ended racial segregation in public accommodations and sought federal remedies to provide for equal educational and employment opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin or sex.
  • By itself the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not change attitudes that had been a part of American society for two hundred years, but it did create an environment in which attitudes could change and opened the door to further progress.  It altered American race relations forever by saying that discrimination was no longer legal or tolerated.
  • 50 years after its passage, the legacy of the Civil Rights Act is being revisited as the US Supreme Court revisits the constitutionality of Federal and state actions in the areas of voting rights and affirmative action. 

Exploration Questions

  • What was the effect of the Civil Rights Movement on the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
  • What are the key elements of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
  • How has this legislation changed American society?
  • Are movements like Black Lives Matter an effective continuation of the civil rights movement?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you remember when busing was first introduced to desegregate public schools?  What did you think about this tactic at the time?  Has your thinking changed since then?
  • Do you think the goals of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have been achieved?  How? If not, why not?
  • Do you think President Kennedy would have been able to pass the Civil Rights Act?

More to Explore

  • Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library Click here
  • Milestones in the Civil Rights Movement Click here

Books for Further Reading

  • Caro, Robert A.  The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. IV (paperback).  Vintage, 2013. 768 pages. The author describes Lyndon Johnson’s assumption of the presidency after the Kennedy assassination.
    Click here to order
  • Chappell, David L. Waking From the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Random House, 2014. 272 pages.  This book explores the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and discusses those who continued the fight for civil rights after his assassination.
    Click here to order