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Remarks Upon Signing the Civil Rights Bill, July 2, 1964

LBJ Library & Museum

Sound | 1964

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  •  My fellow Americans:I am about to sign into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  
  •  I want to take this occasion to talk to you about what that law means to every American. 
  •  One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom.  
  •  They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom--not only for political independence, but for personal liberty--not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men. 
  •  That struggle was a turning point in our history.  
  •  Today in far corners of distant continents, the ideals of those American patriots still shape the struggles of men who hunger for freedom. 
  •  This is a proud triumph.  
  •  Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning.  
  •  From the minutemen at Concord to the soldiers in Viet-Nam, each generation has been equal to that trust. 
  •  Americans of every race and color have died in battle to protect our freedom.  
  •  Americans of every race and color have worked to build a nation of widening opportunities.  
  •  Now our generation of Americans has been called on to continue the unending search for justice within our own borders. 
  •  We believe that all men are created equal.  
  •  Yet many are denied equal treatment. 
  •  We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights.  
  •  Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights. 
  •  We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty.  
  •  Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings--not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skin. 
  •  The reasons are deeply embedded in history and tradition and the nature of man.  
  •  We can understand--without rancor or hatred--how this all happened. 
  •  But it cannot continue.  
  •  Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic, forbids it.  
  •  The principles of our freedom forbid it.  
  •  Morality forbids it.  
  •  And the law I will sign tonight forbids it. 
  •  That law is the product of months of the most careful debate and discussion.  
  •  It was proposed more than one year ago by our late and beloved President John F. Kennedy.  
  •  It received the bipartisan support of more than two-thirds of the Members of both the House and the Senate.  
  •  An overwhelming majority of Republicans as well as Democrats voted for it. 
  •  It has received the thoughtful support of tens of thousands of civic and religious leaders in all parts of this Nation.  
  •  And it is supported by the great majority of the American people. 
  •  The purpose of the law is simple. 
  •  It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others. 
  •  It does not give special treatment to any citizen. 
  •  It does say the only limit to a man's hope for happiness, and for the future of his children, shall be his own ability. 
  •  It does say that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public. 
  •  I am taking steps to implement the law under my constitutional obligation to "take care that the laws are faithfully executed." 
  •  First, I will send to the Senate my nomination of LeRoy Collins to be Director of the Community Relations Service.  
  •  Governor Collins will bring the experience of a long career of distinguished public service to the task of helping communities solve problems of human relations through reason and commonsense. 
  •  Second, I shall appoint an advisory committee of distinguished Americans to assist Governor Collins in his assignment. 
  •  Third, I am sending Congress a request for supplemental appropriations to pay for necessary costs of implementing the law, and asking for immediate action. 
  •  Fourth, already today in a meeting of my Cabinet this afternoon I directed the agencies of this Government to fully discharge the new responsibilities imposed upon them by the law and to do it without delay, and to keep me personally informed of their progress. 
  •  Fifth, I am asking appropriate officials to meet with representative groups to promote greater understanding of the law and to achieve a spirit of compliance. 
  •  We must not approach the observance and enforcement of this law in a vengeful spirit.  
  •  Its purpose is not to punish.  
  •  Its purpose is not to divide, but to end divisions--divisions which have all lasted too long.  
  •  Its purpose is national, not regional. 
  •  Its purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom, a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human dignity. 
  •  We will achieve these goals because most Americans are law-abiding citizens who want to do what is right. 
  •  This is why the Civil Rights Act relies first on voluntary compliance, then on the efforts of local communities and States to secure the rights of citizens.  
  •  It provides for the national authority to step in only when others cannot or will not do the job. 
  •  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. 
  •  Thank you and good night. 
Teach Texas
  •  President Johnson's remarks on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 
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In 1963, President John F. Kennedy introduced a civil rights act that offered broad protection for voting rights and dismantled segregation in public establishments. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – into law in the East Room of the White House. Before signing the bill President Johnson addressed the nation in a televised statement in which he broadly explained the provisions of the law, emphasizing that this bill sought not to limit any individual's freedom but to expand that freedom and legal protection to the entire citizenry. This footage captures President Johnson's remarks as well as his signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many prominent figures are in attendance, including Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
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.