In the year after the bill that would become the Civil Rights Act was introduced into Congress, the president who stumped for it would be killed, his successor would face serious pushback from within his own party and a cadre of southern senators would spend more than seven weeks filibustering it.
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But on July 2, 1964 -- 48 years ago today -- President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law in the East Room of the White House. The Civil Rights Act formally made it illegal to discriminate in public institutions, employment, union membership and federally funded programs.
"My fellow citizens, we have come to a time of testing," Johnson said into the television cameras. "We must not fail. Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our nation whole. Let us hasten that day when our unmeasured strength and our unbounded spirit will be free to do the great works ordained for this nation by the just and wise God who is the father of us all.''
At the signing ceremony, Johnson was applauded by lawmakers and civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, whose activism played a major role in shifting public support for the measure.
''From the standpoint of the politicians, we were looking at it as a great boon," Matt Reese, a political advisor to President Johnson and President John F. Kennedy, told The New York Times on the 25th anniversary of its passage in 1989. "The period of the Kennedys and the new presidency of Lyndon Johnson quite convinced Democratic politicians that the blacks were solidly for the Democrats. We had great hopes of retaining the white southern Democrats and getting the blacks registered in great numbers.''
Behind closed doors, however, Johnson was pessimistic about the electoral fallout of the law's passage. "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come," he told Bill Moyers, his speechwriter.
Although though Johnson would win the presidency in a landslide that November -- bolstered by 94 percent of the black vote, a record that would hold until President Barack Obama's win in 2008 -- his concerns about the South proved justified.
SOURCE: The Huffington Post / Black Voices