The assassination of John Kennedy in November 1963 left most civil rights leaders grief-stricken. Kennedy had been the first president since Harry Truman to champion equal rights for black Americans, and they knew little about his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Although Johnson had helped engineer the Civil Rights Act of 1957, that had been a mild measure, and no one knew if the Texan would continue Kennedy's call for civil rights or move to placate his fellow southerners.
But on November 27, 1963, addressing the Congress and the nation for the first time as president, Johnson called for passage of the civil rights bill as a monument to the fallen Kennedy. "Let us continue," he declared, promising that "the ideas and the ideals which [Kennedy] so nobly represented must and will be translated into effective action." Moreover, where Kennedy had been sound on principle, Lyndon Johnson was the master of parliamentary procedure, and he used his considerable talents as well as the prestige of the presidency in support of the bill.
On February 10, 1964, the House of Representatives passed the measure by a lopsided 290-130 vote, but everyone knew that the real battle would be in the Senate, whose rules had allowed southerners in the past to mount filibusters that had effectively killed nearly all civil rights legislation. But Johnson pulled every string he knew, and had the civil rights leaders mount a massive lobbying campaign, including inundating the Capitol with religious leaders of all faiths and colors. The strategy paid off, and in June the Senate voted to close debate; a few weeks later, it passed the most important piece of civil rights legislation in the nation's history, and on July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed it into law.
Some members of Congress, however, worried whether the law would pass constitutional muster, since in 1883 the Supreme Court had voided the last civil rights measure, declaring such action beyond the scope of congressional power. They need not have worried this time. The Supreme Court accepted two cases on an accelerated basis and in both of them unanimously upheld the power of Congress under the Fourteenth Amendment to protect the civil rights of black Americans.
Title II, of which sections are reprinted here, is the heart of the law, and deals with public accommodations, so that African Americans could no longer be excluded from restaurants, hotels and other public facilities.
For further reading: Charles and Barbara Whalen, The Longest Debate: A Legislative History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (1985); Carl M. Brauer, John F. Kennedy and the Second Reconstruction (1977); and Doris Keans, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976).
Sec. 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
(b) Each of the following establishments which serves the public is a place of public accommodation within the meaning of this title if its operations affect commerce, or if discrimination or segregation by it is supported by State action:
(1) any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests, other than an establishment located within a building which contains not more than five rooms for rent or hire and which is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as his residence;
(2) any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including, but not limited to, any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment; or any gasoline station;
(3) any motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium or other place of exhibition or entertainment; and
(4) any establishment (A)(i) which is physically located within the premises of any establishment otherwise covered by this subsection, or (ii) within the premises of which is physically located any such covered establishment, and (b) which holds itself out as serving patrons of such covered establishment.
(c) The operations of an establishment affect commerce within the meaning of this title if (1) it is one of the establishments described in paragraph (1) of subsection (b); (2) in the case of an establishment described in paragraph (2) of subsection (b), it serves or offers to serve interstate travelers or a substantial portion of the food which it serves, or gasoline or other products which it sells, has moved in commerce; (3) in the case of an establishment described in paragraph (3) of subsection (b), it customarily presents films, performances, athletic teams, exhibitions, or other sources of entertainment which move in commerce; and (4) in the case of an establishment described in paragraph (4) of subsection (b), it is physically located within the premises of, or there is physically located within its premises, an establishment the operations of which affect commerce within the meaning of this subsection. For purposes of this section, "commerce" means travel, trade, traffic, commerce, transportation, or communication among the several States, or between the District of Columbia and any State, or between any foreign country or any territory or possession and any State or the District of Columbia, or between points in the same State but through any other State or the District of Columbia or a foreign country.
(d) Discrimination or segregation by an establishment is supported by State action within the meaning of this title if such discrimination or segregation (1) is carried on under color of any law, statute, ordinance, or regulation; or (2) is carried on under color of any custom or usage required or enforced by officials of the State or political subdivision thereof; or (3) is required by action of the State or political subdivision thereof...
(e) The provisions of this title shall not apply to a private club or other establishment not in fact open to the public, except to the extent that the facilities of such establishment are made available to the customers or patrons of an establishment within the scope of subsection (b).
Sec 202. All persons shall be entitled to be free, at any establishment or place, from discrimination or segregation of any kind on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin, if such discrimination or segregation is or purports to be required by any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, rule, or order of a State or any agency or political subdivision thereof.
Sec. 203. No person shall (a) withhold, deny, or attempt to withhold or deny, or deprive or attempt to deprive, any person of any right or privilege secured by section 201 or 202, or (b) intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person with purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by section 201 or 202, or (c) punish or attempt to punish any person for exercising or attempting to exercise any right or privilege secured by section 201 or 202.
Source: U.S. Statutes at Large 78 (1964): 241.