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What Is the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 cemented many of the bedrock federal protections against discrimination in this country.

President Barack Obama delivered a speech Thursday at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, marking 50 years of the Civil Rights Act opening "doors of opportunity for millions of Americans," including himself, The New York Times reports.

What exactly is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and what does it cover?

11 Titles Form Foundation of Civil Rights

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains 11 titles addressing different forms of discrimination and adversity. Here's a quick summary:

  • Title I: Voting. Although arguably made irrelevant by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Title I prohibits unequal application of voting requirements.
  • Title II: Public Accommodations. This title prevents private businesses that serve the public from discriminating based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Many states have expanded that list, including discrimination based on gender/gender identity, disability, and sexual orientation.
  • Title III: Public Facilities. This title creates a cause of action for those denied equal access to public facilities on account of race, color, religion, or national origin.
  • Title IV: School Desegregation. This gives the federal government more power in encouraging desegregation in public schools.
  • Title V: Commission on Civil Rights. The Civil Rights Commission had been created in 1957, but Title V gives it additional powers to evaluate civil rights issues.
  • Title VI: Discrimination by Government Programs. Federally funded programs can potentially have their grants and loans terminated for discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  • Title VII: Discrimination by Private Employers. One of the most powerful tools in fighting employment discrimination, Title VII prohibits discrimination by private employers based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It was later amended to include pregnancy discrimination.
  • Title VIII: Voters and Fair Housing Act. This requires the collection of voting data in certain areas and includes the Fair Housing Act.
  • Title IX: Removal to Federal Court. This provision made it easier to move a case from state to federal court for fear of prejudiced state courts.
  • Title X: Community Relations Service. Established the Community Relations Service to deal with discrimination at the community level.
  • Title XI: Criminal Contempt. Creates a criminal contempt punishment for anyone pitching a fit or attempting to obstruct the Civil Rights Act titles.

On signing the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964, President Johnson remarked that "[i]ts purpose is to promote a more abiding commitment to freedom, a more constant pursuit of justice, and a deeper respect for human dignity."

And those words still ring true after 50 years.

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