Wednesday, June 19, 2013


June 19, 2013


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."


June 19, 1963

To the Congress of the United States:

Last week I addressed to the American people an appeal to conscience--a request for their cooperation in meeting the growing moral crisis in American race relations.  I warned of a "rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety" in many parts of the country.
I emphasized that "the events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries of equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them."  "It is a time to act," I said, "in the Congress, in State and local legislative bodies and, above all, in all of our daily lives."

In the days that have followed, the predictions of increased violence have been tragically borne out.  The "fires of frustration and discord" have burned hotter than ever."

On February 28, I sent to the Congress a message urging the enactment this year of three important pieces of civil rights legislation:

1. Voting
2. Civil Rights Commission
3. School Desegregation

Neither House has yet had an opportunity to vote on any of these essential measures.  In the continued absence of Congressional action, too many State and local officials as well as businessmen will remain unwilling to accord these rights to all citizens.

In short, the result of continued Federal legislative inaction will be continued, if not increased, racial strife.  No American, I feel sure, would prefer this course of tension, disorder and division--and the great majority of our citizens simply cannot accept it.

For these reasons, I am proposing that the Congress stay in session this year until it has enacted...the most responsible, reasonable and urgently needed solutions to this problem.

The...Civil Rights Act of 1963 (will also include) titles on public accommodations, employment, federally assisted programs, a Community Relations Service, and education.

President Kennedy then discussed the following points:

I. Equal Accommodations in Public Facilities
II.Desegregation of Schools
III.Fair and Full Employment
IV.Community Relations Service
V. Federal Programs

The President continued...

Many problems remain that cannot be ignored.  The enactment of the legislation I have recommended will not solve all our problems of race relations.  This bill must be supplemented by action in every branch of government at the Federal, State and local level.  It must be supplemented as well by enlightened private citizens, private businesses and private labor and civic organizations, by responsible educators and editors, and certainly by religious leaders who recognize the conflict between racial bigotry and the Holy Word.

This is not a sectional problem--it is nationwide.  It is not a partisan problem.  The proposals set forth above are based on a careful consideration of the views of leaders of both parties in both Houses of Congress.

The legal remedies I have proposed are the embodiment of this Nation's basic posture of common sense and common justice.  They involve every American's right to vote, to go to school, to get a job and to be served in a public place without arbitrary discrimination--rights which most Americans take for granted.

In short, enactment of "The Civil Rights Act of 1963" at this session of the imperative.  To paraphrase the words of Lincoln: "In giving freedom to the Negro, we assure freedom to the free--honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve."

I...ask every member of Congress to set aside sectional and political ties, and to look at this issue from the viewpoint of the Nation.  I ask you to look into your hearts...for the one plain, proud and priceless quality that unites us all as Americans:  a sense of justice.

In this year of the Emancipation Centennial, justice requires us to insure the blessings of liberty for all Americans and their posterity--not merely for reasons of economic efficiency, world diplomacy and domestic tranquility--but, above all, because it is right.*


"Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963.  United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1964.