President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You may recognize the civil rights leader directly behind Johnson—it's Martin Luther King, Jr. The other African Americans in the photo are Ralph Abernathy (directly behind King) and John Lewis (to the left of Abernathy).
Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office

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  • On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, calling on U.S. citizens to “eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in America.” The act became the most sweeping civil rights legislation of the century.
    The Civil Rights Act provided legal recourse for discrimination in schools, public facilities, and conflict resolution. Its section on voting rights was strengthened a year later by the Voting Rights Act.
    Although majorities in both parties supported the Civil Rights Act, its passage altered the political loyalty of many areas in the South, where opposition to the law was strongest. The South had traditionally supported the Democratic Party, but became a Republican stronghold within 20 years of the act’s passage. 
    “I know the risks are great, and we might lose the South, but those sorts of states may be lost anyway,” said Johnson, a native Texan.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    alter Verb

    to change.

    citizen Noun

    member of a country, state, or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member.

    civil rights Plural Noun

    set of fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all individuals, such as participation in the political system, ability to own property, and due process and equal protection under the law.

    conflict resolution Noun

    theory and practice of bringing peaceful end to conflicts.

    discrimination Noun

    treatment based on a group to which a person belongs, not the person himself.

    eliminate Verb

    to remove.

    legal Adjective

    allowed by law.

    legislation Noun

    law, legal act, or statute.

    loyalty Noun

    faithfulness or consistency.

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    public Adjective

    available to an entire community, not limited to paying members.

    recourse Noun

    access to help or protection.

    South Noun

    loosely defined geographic region largely composed of states that supported or were sympathetic to the Confederate States of America (Confederacy) during the U.S. Civil War.

    sweeping Adjective

    overwhelming and wide-ranging.

    traditionally Adverb

    historically, or established by custom.

    vestige Noun

    hint or trace evidence.

    voting rights Noun

    issues surrounding the legal right and ability to campaign and cast a vote in political elections.

    Voting Rights Act Noun

    (1965) American legislation outlawing practices designed to prevent eligible voters from voting.