Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
For the first time since Reconstruction, Congress passed a truly comprehensive civil rights bill in 1964. Earlier civil rights acts dealt chiefly with voting rights, but this bill protected rights in the fields of education, public accommodations, employment, publicly owned facilities and use of federal aid funds. After 83 days of debate, the Senate voted to cut off any further discussion, and The House Rules Committee had to wrest control away from its Southern chairman, Democrat Howard W. Smith of Virginia. An excerpt from The Post of July 3, 1964:
By Laurence Stern
As a solemn assemblage of congressional, religious and civil rights leaders looked on, President Johnson signed into law last night the Nation's strongest civil rights act.
"Let us close the springs of racial poison," entreated the President as he put his pen to the bill. "Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our Nation whole."
The climax to the year-long struggle for the civil rights law came in the ornate East Room of the White House some five hours after it had cleared its tortuous path through Congress.
"It does not give any special treatment to any citizen," he said. "It does say the only limit to a man's hope for happiness, and for the future of his children, shall be his own ability."
A national television audience saw the civil rights law become a reality, a full century after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and a decade after the Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation.
The bill was proposed a year ago last month by President Kennedy in the midst of the Negro revolution, and upon his death became one of President Johnson's most coveted legislative goals.
The President cautioned last night that "we must not approach the enforcement of this law in a vengeful spirit. Its purpose is not to punish. Its purpose is not to divide but to end division..."
In announcing plans to implement the law, the President confirmed earlier reports that he was appointing former Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins as director of the Community Relations Service created by the act.
Collins, he said, will bring "the experience of a long career of distinguished public service to the task of helping communities solve problems of human relations through reason and common sense."
An advisory committee of "distinguished Americans" also will be appointed to assist Collins, the President said.
The President said he will ask Congress "immediately" for funds to pay for necessary costs of implementing the law.
This series is available at www.washingtonpost.com