It was July 2, 1964.
After decades of racial turmoil, and a year of anguished debate, including a record 83-day filibuster in the Senate, Congress—in the face of still solid southern resistance—had passed the most sweeping civil rights legislation since the post-Civil War period. President Lyndon Johnson was about to sign it, and the White House spared no effort to dramatize the moment.
The Civil Rights Act was rushed to the president within hours of final congressional approval. In the East Room the stage had been set for a full production signing ceremony at which the president’s message would be loud and clear. The media had been alerted so that the word would go forth during prime time.
All the leaders of the civil rights movement, the most powerful members of Congress, and the key figures of the Justice Department had been invited to share the moment that would crown their labors and establish the law. Heralded as one of the legislative milestones in modern American history and as the most far reaching civil rights measure ever enacted in the United States, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a historical event in American law and politics. Its passage was in many ways a culmination of the struggle civil rights movement to achieve equality.
In many ways, it was just the beginning.