On this day in 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. It included a ban on employment discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as race, color, and religion, making it the most comprehensive civil rights bill in American history and giving the revived women’s movement new legal—and moral—weight. Yet, in an ironic twist, the legislation banned gender discrimination only because of the efforts of Howard W. Smith, U.S. representative from Virginia, a leader of the Conservative Coalition in Congress, and an opponent of civil rights. His tireless attempts to defeat the bill—including adding “sex” as grounds for illegal discrimination, which he believed would guarantee the bill’s failure—resulted in a more expansive bill passing.
Above are televised remarks the president made that evening. He made reference to the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on this day in 1776.
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.
A transcript can be found here.