Today marks the 45th anniversary of the signing of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin. President Lyndon B. Johnson had failed to persuade Congress to pass a civil rights bill in 1966 with a fair housing provision. Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and amidst the riots in the wake of his assassination, Congress passed civil rights legislation, which included Title VIII that banned discrimination in the sale and rental of 80 percent of housing. The bill also contained anti-riot provisions and protected persons exercising specific rights—such as attending school or serving on a jury—as well as it protected civil rights workers urging others to exercise these rights. The bill included the Indian Bill of Rights, which extended constitutional protections to Native Americans not covered by the Bill of Rights.
Upon signing the bill into law, President Johnson delivered remarks to Congress and the nation on the progress made:
I shall never forget that it was more than 100 years ago when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation—but it was a proclamation; it was not a fact.
In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we affirmed through law that men equal under God are also equal when they seek a job, when they go to get a meal in a restaurant, or when they seek lodging for the night in any State in the Union…
In the Civil Rights Act of 1965, we affirmed through law for every citizen in this land the most basic right of democracy—the right of a citizen to vote in an election in his country. In the five States where the Act had its greater impact, Negro voter registration has already more than doubled.
Now, with this bill, the voice of justice speaks again.
It proclaims that fair housing for all—all human beings who live in this country—is now a part of the American way of life.
LBJ also addressed Dr. King’s assassination and the riots, urging an end to violence and redress through the process of law:
We all know that the roots of injustice run deep. But violence cannot redress a solitary wrong, or remedy a single unfairness.
Of course, all America is outraged at the assassination of an outstanding Negro leader who was at that meeting that afternoon in the White House in 1966. And America is also outraged at the looting and the burning that defiles our democracy.
We just must put our shoulders together and put a stop to both. The time is here. Action must be now.
LBJ concluded by calling on Congress to go further and enact measures for social justice that he recommended in some twenty messages sent to Congress in January and February of that year that would provide more than $78 billion to enact major domestic programs for all Americans.
Read LBJ’s full remarks in our archives here.