Today, July 2, marks the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark legislation that prohibited, under law, discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin, in hiring, promoting, and firing; prohibited discrimination and segregation in public accommodations, enrollment in schools, and banned unequal voter registration requirements.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed under the authority of Congress under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, formed the framework of the civil and human rights legislation that has been passed in the past fifty years on the national, state, and local levels.
In his remarks made to the nation on the occasion of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, President Lyndon B. Johnson said:
“This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us to go to work in our communities and our States, in our homes and in our hearts, to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country. So tonight I urge every public official, every religious leader, every business and professional man, every workingman, every housewife—I urge every American—to join in this effort to bring justice and hope to all our people—and to bring peace to our land.
“My fellow citizens, we have come now to a time of testing. 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.”
The Civil Rights Bill was initially proposed by President John F. Kennedy in June of 1963. Five months later, and five days after President Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson, in an appeal to a joint session of Congress on November 27, 1963, renewed the call for passage of the Civil Rights Act. “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long” Johnson said in his address to Congress.
On June 10, 1964, after 57 days of filibuster in the U.S. Senate, Democratic Majority Whip Hubert Humphrey mustered 71 votes for cloture, successfully overcoming a Senate filibuster of civil rights legislation for the first time since the Reconstruction era. On June 19 the Civil Rights Act passed the Democratic-led Senate by a vote of 73-27, and passed the U.S. House of Representatives on June 24 by a vote of 289-126. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law at the White House on July 2, 1964.
Today, the Democratic Party of New Mexico joins millions of Americans in commemorating the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and joins in renewing President Johnson’s call to “eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country.”
While we celebrate how far we have come in the fifty years since 1964, we know we face many challenges ahead, including some of the very same challenges faced by Americans a half century ago.
We must never turn back. We agree with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all of the champions of freedom of our history that no American is free until all of us are free. We are proud to stand alongside all of the leaders of the American past who sacrificed so much for the civil and human rights of all, and we honor those Americans who continue to work toward that vision, that we all should strive to carry on.
We know there remains much work to be done, and while we celebrate the past today, and the road we have traveled in the past five decades since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we know there is still more work ahead of us to achieve a more perfect union.
Today the Democratic Party of New Mexico calls on all of us to recommit ourselves to the great call of America’s history, to achieve the equality and dignity of all, and to win for ourselves and for our children, the blessings of freedom and the security of justice.
In commemorating the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we call on each of us to work toward those common values we, as Americans, most cherish. Today we should all rededicate ourselves to that dream, and continue to work toward that day when every American is afforded the same opportunities and freedoms regardless of skin color, gender, religious belief, income, sexual orientation, ability or disability, or place of birth.