On This Day: The Civil Rights Act of 1968

On April 11, 1968—44 years ago today—President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968, expanding on earlier civil rights legislation through its provisions for equal housing.

Signed only seven days after the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot to death, the Act—which also included an “Indian Bill of Rights” to extend protections to Native Americans—provides for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin.

In his remarks before signing the bill, Johnson decried King’s assassination as well as “the looting and the burning that defiles our democracy.” He celebrated the victories of earlier legislation, but proclaimed that there was more to be done, and that it was now the time for action:

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.

We all know that the roots of injustice run deep. But violence cannot redress a solitary wrong or remedy a single unfairness […]

So, I would appeal to my fellow Americans by saying, the only real road to progress for free people is through the process of law and that is the road that America will travel […]

This afternoon, as we gather here in this historic room in the White House, I think we can all take some heart that democracy’s work is being done. In the Civil Rights Act of 1968 America does move forward and the bell of freedom rings out a little louder.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 thus significantly expanded on previous civil rights legislation and marked a huge step in eliminating the discrimination in one of the most basic elements of life: finding a home.

To read the full text of the Title VIII, the Fair Housing Act, click here.

To read the full text of President Johnson’s remarks, click here.

To see a photograph of Johnson signing the Act, click here.

Click here to listen to audio recordings from conversations between President Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, click here.

3 Responses to “On This Day: The Civil Rights Act of 1968”


  • I think it is important to note that there was a broader political context to this story and like other civil rights legislation, local campaigns largely drove national political action. Throughout the mid-1960s, open housing was a critical (and explosive) issue across the urban North, Midwest and West. California passed and then repealed a state-wide fair housing measure. There were dramatic, and sometimes violent, open housing protests in a number of cities, most notably in Chicago in 1966 and Milwaukee in 1967-68. The 200 consecutive nights of marching in Milwaukee, and the massive white resistance it elicited from local whites, attracted national attention and played an important role in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Sadly, it took the assassination of King and the outpouring of urban unrest that followed to secure the final votes needed to pass this historic legislation. For more on this story, check out my book: The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee (Harvard University Press, 2009)

    best,
    Patrick

  • Patrick,

    This is great information. Thanks very much for the added context, and also for providing LCRM staff and readers with your book title–it will be of much interest! I’ve been reading about the urban unrest of the summer 1967 today (in David Carter’s “The Music Has Gone Out of the Movement”); it’s amazing how much it took before this legislation was finally passed.

    And then of course, we have the modern day version of housing discrimination: https://lcrm.lib.unc.edu/blog/index.php/2011/07/15/environmental-and-municipal-discrimination-suits-common-across-us/

    Best,
    Allie

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