Civil Rights Act of 1964

Using its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce, the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to outlaw segregation in public accommodations involved in interstate commerce, to declare discrimination in employment illegal, and to establish the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

On June 19, 1963, in response to sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and demonstrations by civil rights organizations, President John F. Kennedy, John F.Kennedy proposed the strongest civil rights bill of the twentieth century. This bill included proposals dealing with voting rights, public school desegregation, discrimination in public accommodations, establishment of the federal Community Relations Service, continuation of the Civil Rights Commission, discrimination in federally assisted programs, and the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity CommissionEqual Employment Opportunity Commission. A year later, Congress passed the bill by a vote of 289 to 126 in the House of Representatives and 73 to 27 in the Senate. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Lyndon B.Johnson signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964.Civil Rights Act of 1964

The final bill was organized by broad provisions, or titles. Title I made illegal the unequal application of voter registration requirements. Title III prohibited state and local governments from denying access to public facilities based on race, religion, or ethnicity, while Title IV granted the attorney general the power to file suit to enforce school desegregation. Title X created the Community Relations Service to assist in community disputes involving claims of communications.

Other parts of the act specifically addressed issues related to discrimination in the private sector. Title II outlawed discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce, although it exempted private clubs. It also allowed individuals to file lawsuits to obtain relief. Title VI prohibited discrimination in any program or activity receiving federal funds. If an agency violated that provision, it could lose its federal funding. Title VII prohibited Discrimination;workplacediscrimination in employment on the basis of color, religion, sex, or national origin in any business that employed twenty-five people or more.

Title VII also created the five-member Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to implement the law. Later legislation would expand the role of the EEOC, which would be empowered to enforce laws that prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age in hiring, promoting, firing, setting wages, testing, training, or apprenticeship, as well as all other terms and conditions of employment. The commission was also given the power to investigate, create conciliation programs, file lawsuits, and conduct voluntary assistance programs.

The Civil Rights Act had a significant impact on both the public and the private sectors. Overnight, it virtually eliminated the legal segregation of public accommodations. The threat to government programs and businesses that discriminated in employment of losing federal funds, and the creation of the EEOC resulted in equal opportunity becoming a part of American life for minorities and women.

Further Reading

  • Graham, Hugh Davis. The Civil Rights Era: Origin and Development of National Policy, 1960-1972. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Hasday, Judy L. The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An End to Racial Segregation. New York: Chelsea House, 2007.
  • Loevy, Robert D., ed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Passage of the Law That Ended Racial Segregation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

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