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Senate Passes Civil Rights Act

On June 19, 1964, the U.S. Senate passed the most comprehensive civil rights bill ever designed. Championed by Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of color, race, religion, national origin, and sex in the areas of housing, employment and public life. But the victory had not come easily.

Opponents tried to tie the bill up in debate. They held a long and grueling filibuster arguing the points of the law for 57 consecutive days. Debating ended on June 10 when Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey called for a cloture vote - the procedure by which debate is ended if two-thirds of the members agree and call for an immediate vote.

When it came time for the cloture vote, the Senate chamber was filled to capacity with on-lookers. Hundreds of people waited outside to see whether debate would indeed be halted. The clerk began calling roll, and members offered their votes.

When the roll call reached California's Clair Engle, there was silence. The Democrat had lost his ability to speak as the result of a brain tumor. However, Engle managed to cast his vote. Slowly raising a crippled arm, Engle pointed to his eye, signaling a "yes" vote.

Cloture was invoked by a vote of 71 to 29. It was the first time in history such a measure had been taken on a civil rights bill, and the first time cloture had been called for in any Senate debate since 1927.

Nine days later the Senate approved the act itself.

By Associate Producer Joshua Platt and Coordinating Producer Andre Rodriguez

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