JFK SENT CIVIL RIGHTS BILL TO CONGRESS 50 YEARS AGO TODAY
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) President John F. Kennedy sent his Civil Rights proposals of 1963 to Capitol Hill 50 years ago today, June 19, 1963, with the request that this legislation be passed before the end of the year.
President John F. Kennedy
June 11, 1963
Photo by Abbie Rowe
JFK Library Image
The President said:
"The time has come for the Congress to join with the executive and judicial branches in making it clear to all that race has no place in American life or law."
JFK wanted voting rights assured and constitutionally mandated school desegregation continued as well as equal access to public facilities.
He also said:
"Justice requires us to insure the blessings of liberty for all Americans....above all because it is right."*
On November 27, 1963 in his address to a joint session of Congress, President Lyndon B. Johnson said...
"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."
*Congress adjourned on Dec 30, 1963 without taking a vote on JFK's civil rights proposals but on Feb 10, 1964 the bill passed the House (290-130) and on June 19, 1964 passed the Senate (71-29). The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Public Law 88-352, was signed by LBJ on July 2, 1964.
LBJ Signs Civil Rights Act of 1964
July 2, 1964
Photo by Cecil Stoughton
White House Press Office Image
While JFK said in his message of June 19, 1963 "this is not a sectional problem," the breakdown of the vote illustrates while the problem might not have been sectional, the issue definitely was.
On the original Civil Rights bill, southern Democrats in the House voted 93% to 7% against and southern Republicans voted 100% against. Southern Democrats in the Senate voted 95% to 5% against and the only southern Republican, John Tower of Texas, voted against. Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas was the only southern Democrat to vote in favor of the Civil Rights bill.
JFK also said civil rights was not a partisan issue. He hit the nail on the head here as 152 members of his own party in the House of Representatives voted FOR the Civil Rights Act while 138 Republicans also voted FOR the bill.
Of the 130 NAY votes in the House, 3/4 were cast by Democrats.
The Senate's passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came on the 83rd day of a filibuster led by Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. Debate ended with a compromise bill framed by Republican Senate leader, Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois.
Just before the final vote, Democratic Senate leader Mike Mansfield of Montana rose to pay tribute to Senator Dirksen. He said...
"This is his finest hour. The Senate and the whole country are in debt to the Senator from Illinois."
Mansfield also paid tribute to the contributions of Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, the Democratic floor manager and Senator Thomas H. Kuchel of California, the Republican floor manager.
Senator Humphrey called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "the greatest piece of social legislation of our generation."
EXCERPTS FROM A SPECIAL MESSAGE TO THE CONGRESS ON CIVIL RIGHTS AND JOB OPPORTUNITIES BY PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY