On this day in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. The law ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Following the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and the Fourteenth Amendment made former slaves citizens. The Fifteenth Amendment then gave all people the right to vote regardless of race. However, it allowed states to determine the specific qualifications for suffrage.
In the following decades, Southern state legislatures used literacy tests, poll taxes, and other discriminatory measures to disenfranchise a majority of Black voters. White-dominated state legislatures were then able to consolidate control and establish Jim Crow laws, a system of segregation that remained in place for nearly a century.
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s led to the Civil Rights Act. The following year, President Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act, which banned literacy tests and other methods used to disenfranchise Black voters. In 1966, the US Supreme Court ruled in Harper v. Virginia Board of Education that poll taxes (which the Twenty-fourth Amendment had eliminated for federal elections in 1964) were unconstitutional for state and local elections as well.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 nothing less than a “second emancipation.” But, as our nation has learned following the horrific death of George Floyd, much remains to be done.
Why the Act was so important and what we can do today
The Bible consistently and strongly condemns racism in all its forms. Paul struck down the racial and social barriers of his day when he proclaimed: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). We are all created by the same Father (Genesis 1:27) and descended from the same original parents (Genesis 3:20).
What Peter told Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles is just as true today: “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Paul restated these same words in Romans 2:11. James was adamant: “If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9).
One day in heaven, we will join “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). Until that day, we must do all we can to share God’s unconditional love with every person we know.
Civil rights leaders across the country used their influence to stand against racial discrimination, leading congressional leaders to use their influence in producing the Civil Rights Act. The president used his influence to support their efforts before signing the Act into law.
Now it’s our turn. How will you model and encourage racial equality today?