Civil Rights Act of 1964

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A federal law that authorized federal action against segregation in public accommodations, public facilities, and employment. The law was passed during a period of great strength for the civil rights movement, and President Lyndon Johnson persuaded many reluctant members of Congress to support the law.



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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


What was the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a landmark piece of legislation that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in voter registration, employment, and public accommodations, including ending racial segregation in schools.

How is term pronounced?

[ sivuhl rahyts akt uhv nahyn-teen siks-tee fohr ]

What did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 do?

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s–60s, Black Americans fought hard for basic rights they had been functionally or legally denied. While the movement produced small political victories in 1957 and 1960, the social climate remained pressurized. By June 1963, amid reports of police brutality against Black people, President John F. Kennedy proposed a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill. After his assassination in November 1963, president Lyndon B. Johnson took up Kennedy’s bill, urging Congress to support it, in part, to honor his memory.

The House of Representatives debated Kennedy’s bill, known as HR 7152, for nine days, ultimately rejecting many amendments proposed to weaken it. In the Senate, however, HR 7152 opponents filibustered the bill for over 50 days.

After revisions and compromises, the new version passed in the Senate and in the House. Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill on July 2, 1964 in the presence of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.

Impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was extensive. In addition to outlawing discrimination based on the protected classes of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, it made equal access to public places and equal opportunities for employment mandatory. It also ensured enforcement of the right to vote and demanded desegregation of schools.

While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not put an end to discrimination, it paved the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which outlawed discriminatory voting practices) and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (against discriminatory housing policies), and helped lead to the expansion of civil rights for other Americans, including people with disabilities.

More examples of Civil Rights Act of 1964:

“But rather than using the opportunity to have a fuller discussion of discrimination and equality in the workplace—or even better, to talk about representation in media—one conservative commentator, Selwyn Duke at the New American, took the news as a reason to call for obliterating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 entirely.”
—Imani Gandy, “Yes, We Actually Need Anti-Discrimination Laws to Protect Employees of Color,” Rewire.News, May 2, 2017

“Several transgender people sued the state in federal court last spring, alleging HB2 violated their civil and constitutional rights, and the Justice Department under former President Obama filed its own lawsuit alleging the state violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. North Carolina also sued the Justice Department.”
—Dominic Holden, “North Carolina Paid Private Lawyers Nearly $700,000 To Handle Lawsuits Over Its Anti-LGBT Law,” BuzzFeed, May 24, 2017


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

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