by Jeremy Leaming
Almost 50 years ago this month the U.S. Senate overcame a filibuster that stretched from March to June of 1964 to pass the Civil Rights Act.
The filibuster led by a southern bloc of lawmakers was aimed at saving political lives and continuing the brutal oppression of African Americans nationwide. But pressure from civil rights groups, such as the NAACP as well as many other civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., helped to doom the filibuster, which was vociferously fueled by Sens. Strom Thurmond, Richard Russell and Robert Byrd. (Other organizations that helped build pressure to end the filibuster included the AFL-CIO, the ACLU, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, as well as religious groups.)
The southern bloc had an aversion to civil rights legislation in general. But the bloc was seriously bent on scuttling the civil rights measure’s provisions that yanked federal funding from groups and projects that discriminated against African Americans and barred private and public workplace discrimination.
Sens. Everett Dirksen and Hubert Humphrey pushed a compromise bill, lessening federal enforcement mechanism, which also helped put an end to the filibuster in early June. The debate over the civil rights legislation lasted more than 80 days.
On July 2, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law, saying in part, “We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights.”