When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964, he said that “the purpose of the law is simple. It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others.”
The act was a major turning point in U.S. history. It moved toward ending the Jim Crow laws that had held sway in many areas of the U.S. for years, and paved the way for future reform legislation.
But while the purpose of the law might have been simple, the act itself was not. As one of the most ambitious pieces of civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction era, it addressed inequality in many different areas of American life.
It prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin in many businesses. It called for the desegregation of public schools. It outlawed segregation in hotels, theaters, restaurants, and many other public spaces. It eliminated the discriminatory use of voter registration requirements.
As the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 draws near, this blog will take a closer look at several important sections of the act through primary sources, using historical artifacts to explore the aspects of life under legal segregation that the act was meant to improve.
These Library of Congress resources provide in-depth background information on the civil rights era, and on the activists whose work helped bring civil rights legislation into being.
- African American Odyssey: The Civil Rights Era
- Civil Rights Resource Guide
- Voices of Civil Rights: A Library of Congress Exhibition
- The NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom
What questions do your students have about the civil rights era? What topics would you like to see us explore?
Update: This series now includes the following posts:
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title I: Who Gets to Vote?
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Titles II and III: The Right to Go Where You Want
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 — Title IV: Equal Education for All
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title VII: The Freedom to Work