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Remarks Upon Signing the Civil Rights Act, April 11, 1968

LBJ Library & Museum

Sound | 1968

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  •  Members of the Congress, Members of the Cabinet, distinguished Americans, and guests: 
  •  On an April afternoon in the year 1966, I asked a distinguished group of citizens who were interested in human rights to meet me in the Cabinet Room in the White House.  
  •  In their presence that afternoon, I signed a message to the Congress.  
  •  That message called for the enactment of "the first effective federal law against discrimination in the sale and the rental of housing" in the United States of America. 
  •  Few in the Nation--and the record will show that very few in that room that afternoon--believed that fair housing would--in our time--become the unchallenged law of this land. 
  •  And indeed, this bill has had a long and stormy trip.   
  •  We did not get it in 1966. We plead for it again in 1967. 
  •  But the Congress took no action that year.  
  •  We asked for it again this year. And now--at long last this afternoon--its day has come. 
  •  I do not exaggerate when I say that the proudest moments of my Presidency have been times such as this when I have signed into law the promises of a century. 
  •  I shall never forget that it was more than 100 years ago when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation--but it was a proclamation; it was not a fact. 
  •  In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we affirmed through law that men equal under God are also equal when they seek a job, when they go to get a meal in a restaurant, or when they seek lodging for the night in any State in the Union. 
  •  Now the Negro families no longer suffer the humiliation of being turned away because of their race. 
  •  In the Civil Rights Act of 1965, we affirmed through law for every citizen in this land the most basic right of democracy--the right of a citizen to vote in an election in his country.  
  •  In the five States where the Act had its greater impact, Negro voter registration has already more than doubled. 
  •  Now, with this bill, the voice of justice speaks again. 
  •  It proclaims that fair housing for all--all human beings who live in this country--is now a part of the American way of life. 
  •  We all know that the roots of injustice run deep. But violence cannot redress a solitary wrong, or remedy a single unfairness. 
  •  Of course, all America is outraged at the assassination of an outstanding Negro leader who was at that meeting that afternoon in the White House in 1966.  
  •  And America is also outraged at the looting and the burning that defiles our democracy. 
  •  We just must put our shoulders together and put a stop to both.  
  •  The time is here. Action must be now.  
  •  So, I would appeal to my fellow Americans by saying, the only real road to progress for free people is through the process of law and that is the road that America will travel. 
  •  So I urge the Congress to enact the measures for social justice that I have recommended in some twenty messages.  
  •  These messages went to the Congress in January and February of this year. They broke a precedent by being completed and delivered and read and printed.  
  •  These measures provide more than $78 billion that I have urged the Congress to enact for major domestic programs for all Americans in the fiscal 1969 budget. 
  •  This afternoon, as we gather here in this historic room in the White House, I think we can all take some heart that democracy's work is being done.  
  •  In the Civil Rights Act of 1968 America does move forward and the bell of freedom rings out a little louder. 
  •  We have come some of the way, not near all of it. There is much yet to do.  
  •  If the Congress sees fit to act upon these twenty messages and some fifteen appropriations bills, I assure you that what remains to be done will be recommended in ample time for you to do it after you have completed what is already before you.  
  •  Thank you very much. 
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    On April 11, 1968, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 – also known as the Fair Housing Act – into law. In his broadcasted comments, President Johnson describes the bill as another important step forward in the cause of civil rights. The bill signing took place a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., whose memory President Johnson invokes in his speech. In addition to President Johnson's address and imagery of the President signing the bill, this footage also features voiceover by Dan Rather, then a correspondent for CBS News, providing commentary on the occasion, describing the provisions and prohibitions of the bill, and naming the recipients of the signing pens.
    Thirty-sixth president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was born on a hill country farm near Stonewall, Texas on August 27, 1908, to Samuel Ealy Johnson, a former Texas legislator, and Rebekah Baines Johnson. He attended Southwest Teachers College, now Texas State University, graduating with a degree in history and social science in 1930. LBJ spent one year as principal and teacher in Cotulla, educating impoverished Hispanic elementary school students. LBJ became the secretary to Texas Congressman Richard M. Kleberg in 1931; the four-year position helped him gain influential contacts in Washington. Johnson married Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor on November 17, 1934.
    LBJ acted as Director of the National Youth Administration in Texas from 1935 to 1937. Johnson won his first legislative election in 1937 for the Tenth Congressional District, a position he held for 11 years. He was a firm supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and in 1940 acted as Chairman of the Democratic Campaign Committee. In 1948, following his service as a Lieutenant Naval Commander during World War II, LBJ ran as the Democratic nominee for Senate. In a cloud of controversy, he narrowly defeated former Texas Governor Coke Stevens and easily beat his Republican opponent in the general election. Before winning his second senate term, LBJ was elected Majority Whip in 1951, became the youngest ever Minority Senate Leader in 1953, and was voted Majority Leader in 1954. Johnson unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 but was selected to be Vice President under John F. Kennedy. 
    Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as Commander and Chief aboard Air Force One following President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, and won reelection in 1964. President Johnson passed landmark legislation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Debate over military efforts in Vietnam intensified in late 1963 when the President stated that the United States would not withdraw from Southeast Asia. Escalation of the war against North Vietnam brought disapproval from Democrats, claiming the efforts were misguided, and from Republicans who criticized the administration for not executing sufficient military vigor. Antiwar protests, urban riots, and racial tension eroded Johnson’s political base by 1967, which further dissolved following the Tet Offensive in January 1968. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that we would not seek a second presidential term.
    After returning to Texas, Johnson oversaw the construction of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Throughout his political career, LBJ was an influential figure in Texas affairs; his policies brought military bases, crop subsidies, government facilities, and federal jobs to the state. After suffering a massive heart attack, former President Johnson died at his ranch on January 22, 1973. In February of the same year, NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, in honor of one of the country’s most influential Texans.
    Dan Rather is a journalist best known for anchoring the CBS Evening News. He has won several Emmys and Peabody Awards for his contributions to the field of journalism.  
    Rather was born Daniel Irvin Rather Jr. on October 31, 1931 in Wharton, Texas to Byrl Veda Page and Daniel Sr., a pipeline worker. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Houston, where Rather grew up. He attended Sam Houston State University, where he worked for the school newspaper and a local radio station, and he also reported for the Associated Press, United Press, and the Houston Chronicle. The mass communications building at Sam Houston State was renamed in his honor in 1994.
    After earning a degree in journalism in 1953, Rather planned to join the U.S. Marine Corps, but because he had rheumatic fever as a child, he was discharged. In 1954, he began reading the morning news on KTRH, a Houston-based radio station. For the next few years, he worked his way up until he became a reporter for KTRK and then KHOU, both Houston television stations.  
    In 1961, Rather’s thorough coverage of Hurricane Carla for KHOU earned him a promotion to CBS News correspondent. His reporting on President Kennedy’s assassination led him to become a White House correspondent and a foreign correspondent in London and Vietnam. In the early 1970s, Rather reported on the CBS Sunday Night News, CBS Reports, and 60 Minutes. When Walter Cronkite retired in 1981, Rather took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News, where he remained for 24 years. 
    When he left CBS after 43 years, Rather began a weekly show called Dan Rather Reports. He also contributes to other programs, such as The Daily Show, and runs an independent company called News and Guts Media. He and his wife Jean Goebel have been married since 1957. They have two children, Robin and Dan, and have homes in New York City and Austin.