#TBT: The Civil Rights Act

Posted by Blake Wright on July 10, 2014 at 12:48 PM

Throwback Thursday: Moments of BipartisanshipTBT_Civil_Rights_Act.png

By Alyssa Berg

In June of 1964, 50 years ago last month, bipartisanship overpowered intolerance in the United States Senate as Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the mid-1960s, the United States’ long standing racial tensions came to a head with an explosion of public outcry for change. Escalating race riots, marches, and violent protests made it clear that lawmakers could no longer ignore one of the most divisive issues in American history. In early 1964, the House of Representatives had succeeded in passing a civil rights bill with the support of President Lyndon B. Johnson. However, introduction of the bill in the Senate saw Democrats split along geographic lines, with those from southern states determined to stall its progress.

These dissenting Democrats proceeded to stage the longest filibuster in Senate history, effectively keeping the bill from coming to a vote and convincing Majority Leader Mike Mansfield that bipartisanship alone would move the bill forward.

Reaching across the aisle, Mansfield called on Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen to mobilize his party in support of the bill. He urged, "I appeal to the distinguished minority leader whose patriotism has always taken precedence over his partisanship, to join with me ... in finding the Senate's best contribution ... to the resolution of this grave national issue.”

Sen. Dirksen responded by calling his party to action, ending the filibuster and gathering enough supporters to move the bill to a vote. As he addressed his colleagues in the chamber, Sen. Dirksen elevated the issue above the divisions of partisanship, declaring, “We are confronted with a moral issue. Today let us not be found wanting…”

Together the two Senators from different sides of the aisle led 27 Republicans and 44 Democrats to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on June 19th of that year.

The Civil Rights Act was not a perfect bill, and our nation still struggles today with issues of diversity and discrimination. However, its passage with bipartisan support exemplified the changing tide of political opinion on minority issues at the time and set an unshakeable precedent for future progress on which we continue to build today.


Photos & content courtesy of the Bipartisan Policy Center.