The Civil Rights Act of 1964 hastened the end of legal Jim Crow. It secured African Americans equal access to restaurants, transportation, and other public facilities. It enabled blacks, women, and other minorities to break down barriers in the workplace. It also made access to equal education a reality for the many Southern and Northern African Americans who began attending integrated schools in the wake of the act’s enforcement. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 expanded these protections to voting and housing, and provided new protections against racially motivated violence. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and President Johnson’s War on Poverty complemented these civil rights milestones by attacking the economic inequalities that had so long accompanied racial discrimination and exclusion.
The civil rights struggle and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also served as blueprints and inspiration for many other groups of Americans seeking equality and access. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which barred employment discrimination based on sex as well as race, color, religion, and national origins, energized the women’s movement and led to the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. Emboldened by the remarkable achievement of the 1964 act, activists have convinced Congress to protect such groups as older Americans, people with disabilities, and pregnant women so that they could participate fully in public and private life.
Even so, the struggle for equality is far from over. As transformative as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its successors have been, the exclusion, exploitation, and discrimination that it targeted were deeply entrenched and have proved difficult to end. The act and its subsequent enforcement continue to prompt new debates about what equality means, what government can do to promote it, and how ordinary Americans can continue to achieve it. The future of civil rights, like its past, will be shaped by citizens’ participation in lobbying, litigation, politics, and public protests.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
An act to enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States, to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains eleven segments or Titles. Some of the Titles, especially those that establish prohibitions on discrimination in public accommodations (Title II), federal funding (Title VI), and employment (Title VII), have generated a number of important cases in the courts. Other Titles, which were largely procedural in nature and have generated few judicial interpretations in the years since, have not. Listed below particular Titles are selected cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court or a lower court issued landmark decisions that established precedent for interpreting provisions of the act.
TITLE I: Voting Rights
Barred unequal application of state voter registration requirements for federal elections.
African Americans, waiting to register to vote, form a long line outside the Dallas Courthouse in Selma, Alabama, February 1965. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
TITLE II: Public Accommodations
Prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in certain places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment.
- Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. U.S. (1964)
- Upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibition of race discrimination in hotels and motels as a valid exercise of Congress’s Interstate Commerce Clause power (Georgia)
- Katzenbach v. McClung (1964)
- Upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibition of race discrimination in restaurants as a valid exercise of Congress’s Interstate Commerce Clause power (Alabama)
- Hamm v. City of Rock Hill (1964)
- Dismissed state breach-of-the-peace charges against sit-in demonstrators at a lunch counter because the charges conflicted with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (South Carolina)
TITLE III: Desegregation of Public Facilities
Permitted the U.S. Justice Department to sue to secure desegregation of certain public facilities owned, operated, or managed by any state or subdivision of a state.
- U.S. v. Wyandotte County (1973)
- Found that a county jail’s policy of segregating prisoners by race violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964; a vague fear of violence could not justify such a policy (Kansas)
TITLE IV: Desegregation of Public Education
Authorized the U.S. Attorney General to receive complaints alleging denials of equal protection, to investigate those complaints, and to file suit in U.S. District Court to seek desegregation of the school. Also authorized the Secretary of Education to provide funds to school boards to assist their desegregation efforts.
Warren K. Leffler. African American and white school children on a school bus, riding from suburbs to an inner city school in Charlotte, North Carolina, 1973. U.S. News and World Report Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
TITLE V: Civil Rights Commission
Addressed procedures for the Civil Rights Commission, broadened its duties, and extended its life through January 1968. Its duties included investigating allegations that citizens were deprived of their right to vote or to have their vote properly counted. It also studied legal developments related to a denial of equal protection of the law, particularly in the domains of voting, education, housing, employment, public accommodations, transportation, and the administration of justice.
TITLE VI: Nondiscrimination in Federally Assisted Programs
Prohibited discrimination by recipients of federal funds on the basis of race, color, and national origin.
- Lau v. Nichols (1974)
- Ruled a school that accepted federal funds and did not provide adequate English courses or other educational benefits to students of Chinese ancestry, who did not speak English, violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (California)
- Cannon v. University of Chicago (1979)
- Determined that Title VI created a private remedy as well as authorized the withholding of federal funds from education programs that discriminated on the basis of race (Illinois)
- Alexander v. Sandoval (2001)
- Determined that Title VI only authorized private remedies for lawsuits based on intentional discrimination and not on evidence of disparate impact (Alabama)
- Gratz v. Bollinger (2003)
- Held that discrimination, which violates Equal Protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment, committed by an institution that accepts federal funds also constitutes violation of Title VI (Michigan)
TITLE VII: Equal Employment Opportunity
Outlawed employment discrimination by businesses affecting commerce with at least twenty-five employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971)
- Ruled that the use of tests to determine employment that were not substantially related to job performance and that had a disparate impact on racial minorities violated Title VII (North Carolina)
- Phillips v. Martin Marietta (1971)
- Ruled that not hiring mothers of preschool-aged children while hiring fathers of preschool-aged children violated Title VII; the first sex discrimination case to go to the U.S. Supreme Court (Florida)
- McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973)
- Found that an employee who presents initial evidence of racial discrimination requires an employer to show a legitimate lawful reason why the employee was not hired. The employee is then entitled to show that employer’s conduct was a pretext for racial discrimination (Missouri)
- Hazelwood School District v. United States (1977)
- Ruled that statistical evidence comparing the racial composition of an employer’s workforce with that of the relevant labor market could substantiate an initial case of discrimination (Missouri)
- Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. Manhart (1978)
- Determined that an employer may not use the fact that women, as a group, live longer than men to justify a policy of requiring female employees to make larger contributions to a pension plan in order to receive the same monthly pension benefits when they retire (California)
- United Steelworkers v. Weber (1979)
- Held that Title VII permitted private sector employers and unions to implement voluntary affirmative action plans to remedy past discrimination (Louisiana)
- Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986)
- Held that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination also included a prohibition on sexual harassment (Washington, D.C.)
- Johnson v. Transportation Agency, Santa Clara County (1987)
- Ruled voluntary affirmative action programs for women in fields where they had previously been excluded were constitutional under certain circumstances (California)
- International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls, Inc. (1991)
- Ruled that barring women of childbearing age from certain jobs due to potential harm to a fetus constituted sex discrimination under Title VII (Wisconsin)
- Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc. (1998)
- Ruled that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII (Louisiana)
- Ricci v. DeStefano (2009)
- Held that New Haven officials violated Title VII by ignoring results of a test in which white firefighters performed better than black and Latino firefighters (Connecticut)
EEOC Chairman Clifford Alexander, Jr., on Title VII
Clifford Alexander, Jr., (b. 1933), chairman from 1967–1969 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), created by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discusses limitations of the commission’s power resulting from an amendment to the bill authored by Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL). The interview was broadcast May 26, 1969, on Black Journal over National Educational Television, shortly after Alexander had resigned as EEOC chairman, while remaining on the commission.
EEOC Chair Eleanor Holmes Norton on Title VII
Eleanor Holmes Norton (b. 1937), chair from 1977–1981 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), created by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, answers questions about Title VII from columnist George Will on Meet the Press, broadcast July 2, 1978, on NBC and discusses the responsibilities of employers for ending discrimination.
Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Courtesy of NBC News
TITLE VIII: Registration and Voting Statistics
Directed the Census Bureau to collect registration and voting statistics based on race, color, and national origin but provided that individuals could not be compelled to disclose such information.
Warren K. Leffler. Demonstrators with signs outside the White House, protesting police brutality against civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, 1965. U.S. News and World Report Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
TITLE IX: Intervention in Court Cases
Permitted the United States to intervene in pending suits alleging a denial of equal protection of law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on account of race, color, religion, or national origin.
TITLE X: Community Relations Service
Created the Community Relations Service to aid communities in resolving disputes relating to discriminatory practices based on race, color, or national origin.
- Hernandez v. Erlenbusch (1973)
- Referred a case involving a tavern that had adopted a policy prohibiting the use of a foreign language at the bar to the Community Relations Service to see if they could provide assistance (Oregon)
- Goldsby v. Carnes (1977)
- Described how the Community Relations Service assisted the parties to a consent judgment regarding the conditions and administration of a county jail (Missouri)
TITLE XI: Court Proceedings and Legalities
In any proceeding for criminal contempt arising under Title II, III, IV, V, VI, or VII of this act, the accused, upon demand therefore, shall be entitled to a trial by jury.
- United States v. Rapone (1997)
- Held that a Department of Corrections official charged with criminal contempt for violating court order prohibiting retaliation against witnesses was entitled to a jury trial under Title XI (Washington, D.C.)
Civil Rights Activist Ruby Sales Interviewed by Joseph Mosnier in 2011
Civil rights activist Ruby Sales (b. 1948) discusses the meaning of the "Freedom Movement" instead of the "Civil Rights Movement" in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Civil Rights History Project Collection (AFC 2010/039), American Folklife Center
Lawyer Derrick Bell Interviewed by Camille O. Cosby in 2005
Lawyer Derrick Bell (1930–2011) discusses the limits of civil rights law and ending segregation in an interview conducted by Camille O. Cosby (b. 1945) for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2005.
National Visionary Leadership Collection (AFC 2004/007), American Folklife Center
Haywood Burns on Limitations of the Civil Rights Law
Haywood Burns (1940–1996), director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, discusses structural inequality and other limitations of the civil rights law in a panel discussion broadcast February 15, 1972, on Black Journal on National Educational Television.