President Lyndon B. Johnson's
Radio and Television Remarks Upon Signing the Civil Rights
July 2, 1964
[ Broadcast from the East Room at the White House at
6:45 p.m. ]
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.
One hundred and eighty-eight 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 in
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 Viet-Nam, each generation has been equal to
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
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 imbedded 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 principles of our freedom forbid
it. Morality forbids it. And the law I will sign tonight forbids
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 the 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, restaurants, 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."
First, I will send to the Senate my nomination of LeRoy Collins
to be Director of the Community Relations Service. Governor Collins
will bring the experience of a long career of distinguished public
service to the task of helping communities solve problems of human
relations through reason and commonsense.
Second, I shall appoint an advisory committee of distinguished
Americans to assist Governor Collins in his assignment.
Third, I am sending Congress a request for supplemental appropriations
to pay for necessary costs of implementing the law, and asking
for immediate action.
Fourth, already today in a meeting of my Cabinet this afternoon
I directed the agencies of this Government to fully discharge
the new responsibilities imposed upon them by the law and to do
it without delay, and to keep me personally informed of their
Fifth, I am asking appropriate officials to meet with representative
groups to promote greater understanding of the law and to achieve
a spirit of compliance.
We must not approach the observance and enforcement of this
law in a vengeful spirit. Its purpose is not to punish. Its purpose
is not to divide, but to end divisions--divisions which have all
lasted too long. Its purpose is national, not regional.
Its purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom,
a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human
We will achieve these goals because most Americans are law-abiding
citizens who want to do what is right.
This is why the Civil Rights Act relies first on voluntary
compliance, then on the efforts of local communities and States
to secure the rights of citizens. It provides for the national
authority to step in only when others cannot or will not do the
This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us to go to
work in our communities and our States, in our homes and in our
hearts, to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved
So tonight I urge every public official, every religious leader,
every business and professional man, every workingman, every housewife--I
urge every American--to join in this effort to bring justice and
hope to all our people--and to bring peace to our land.
My fellow citizens, we have come now to a time of testing.
We must not fail.
Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for
wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences
and make our Nation whole. Let us hasten that day when our unmeasured
strength and our unbounded spirit will be free to do the great
works ordained for this Nation by the just and wise God who is
the Father of us all.
Thank you and good night.
NOTE: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is Public Law 88-352 (78
Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States:
Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-64. Volume II, entry 446, pp. 842-844. Washington,
D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1965.
June 6, 2007