Today in 1964, Congress approved the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. The law essentially made it illegal to discriminate against any individual because of his/her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in employment or service.
The act followed years of African Americans and white Americans working toward equality. It followed the Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka Kansas ruling that declared separate is inherently unequal. It followed the Mississippi Summer, filled with violence. It followed the Freedom Rides, when African Americans and whites attempted to ride the Greyhound buses into the South. It followed the violent riots in Birmingham that had been aired on televisions across the United States, allowing millions of Americans to witness for the first time the cruelty of racism in an undeniable way. It followed the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. And it followed the assassination of JFK.
Many Civil Rights leaders had hoped that when JFK became president, he would work towards equality for all American (male) citizens. However, foreign policy (specifically with Cuba) took precedent and left many African Americans disappointed. JFK, and his brother Bobby, tried to divert attention to voting rights (hoping that this would be a less controversial issue). However, it only intensified the poor relationship between the races. Then someone (Lee Harvey Oswald most likely) shot JFK and LBJ took the presidency.
LBJ has long been remembered for the Vietnam War. However, he changed the domestic face of the nation. He avidly supported Civil Rights and used the death of JFK to his advantage. He told the American people and Congress that this bill should be passed in honor of the slain president. JFK became a martyr for Civil Rights. And while the bill still had difficulty passing, including an 83-day filibuster, it passed and brought the nation one step closer to equality.