How Did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Change American History?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, legally known as public law 88-352, changed American history by outlawing de jure discrimination and segregation for protected attributes such as race, gender, color, religion or national origin. Although de facto inequality persisted after its passage, the bill gave the government legitimate recourse to end racial inequality.

The eleven titles of the act addressed inequality for protected statuses in voting registration laws, public accommodations, government agencies, employment and schools as well as strengthened the scope and powers of the Civil Rights Commission, established in 1957. It also gave allowances for situations where the threat of discrimination could prevent a fair hearing in a court of law.

The background for the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act was preceded by two substantial laws: the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The former, which contained much of the same language as the 1964 law, was enacted to protect African Americans from discrimination but was later struck down by the Supreme Court in 1883 as unconstitutional. The later 1957 bill, a prelude to the sweeping changes of the 1964 act, focused on providing equal voting rights throughout the country. It came shortly after the 1954 Supreme Court "Brown versus the Board of Education" decision that forced the integration of public schools.

President Kennedy, in a 1963 speech, called for legislation that afforded equal service in public facilities, such as theaters, hotels and restaurants, regardless of personal attributes or ancestry.