President Johnson’s speech was delivered just two days before the 188th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In it the president cited the phrase “all men are created equal” and pointed out that historically many Americans were denied equal treatment. The Civil Rights Act, he said, provides that “those who are equal before God shall now all be equal” in all aspects of American life. As President Johnson said, this was a long journey to freedom.

Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration


Lyndon Baines Johnson: My fellow Americans, I am about to sign into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I want to take this occasion to talk to you about what that law means to every American. 188 years ago this week a small band of valiant men, began a long struggle for freedom. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom. Not only for political independence, but for personal liberty. Not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice and the affairs of men. That struggle was a turning point in our history. Today in far corners of distant continents the ideals of those American patriots still shape the struggles of men who hunger for freedom. This is a proud triumph. Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure, only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning. From the minutemen at Concord, to the soldiers in Vietnam, each generation has been equal to that trust.

Americans of every race and color have died in battle to protect our freedom. Americans of every race and color have worked to build a nation of widening opportunities. Now, our generation of Americans has been called on to continue the unending search for justice within our own borders. We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights.  We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings. Not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skin. The reasons are deeply embedded in history and tradition and the nature of man. We can understand without rancor or hatred, how this all happened, but it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our republic forbids it. The principals of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And the law I will sign tonight forbids it. That law is the product of months of the most careful debate and discussion. It was proposed more than one year ago by our late and beloved president, John F. Kennedy. It received the bipartisan support of more than two-thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate. An overwhelming majority of Republicans, as well as Democrats voted for it. It has received the thoughtful support of tens of thousands of civic and religious leaders, in all parts of this nation. And it is supported by the great majority of the American people.

The purpose of this law is simple; it does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others. It does not give special treatment to any citizen. 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. It does say that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, and restaurants, and movie theaters and other places that provide service to the public." I am taking steps to implement the law under my constitutional obligation to, "take care that the laws are faithfully executed."

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