The question in the summer of 1964 was not whether senators would approve a civil rights bill, but whether they would vote on one. Using classic filibuster techniques (long speeches and procedural delays), opponents of the 1964 Civil Rights Act delayed a vote for 57 days. Ending debate required two-thirds of the Senate—67 senators.
On June 10, 1964, for the first time since the Reconstruction era just after the Civil War, a coalition uniting many Republicans with northern and western Democrats successfully ended the filibuster. Nine days later, the Senate approved the bill. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned racial discrimination in public facilities and required equal employment opportunities for all Americans, regardless of race. “Stronger than all the armies,” said Republican minority leader Everett Dirksen, quoting Victor Hugo, “is an idea whose time has come.”
“We dare not temporize with the issue which is before us. It is essentially moral in character. It must be resolved. It will not go away. Its time has come.”
—Senator Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, June 10, 1964
Senators rest in the Old Senate Chamber during the 1960 Civil Rights Act debate, March 1, 1960
Despite a 125-hour filibuster, Congress passed civil rights legislation for the second time in three years on May 6, 1960. The 1957 and 1960 Acts established important political and legislative precedents for the more significant legislation that followed.
Courtesy of the Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library
This towering achievement of legislation finally delivered on the promise of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) by guaranteeing the right to vote to previously disenfranchised African-Americans living in southern states.
General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.