Everett Dirksen -- Civil Rights Hero / by kevin murray

In this year of the 50th Anniversary of the historic Civil Rights Bill that passed in 1964, there are many people that deserve our credit and praise for the passage of this important landmark bill in which its passage mandated that voting rights were liberalized and applied equally, desegregation was banished, and equal rights were provided to all.   While this was not the end of discrimination in the United States, this legislation helped to build a solid foundation to enable the disenfranchised to be established on a more equal footing now and into the future and this battle continues onto this day.


While one most give a great deal of credit to President Johnson who signed the legislation and as former Senate Majority Leader had the connections, the persona, and the power to persuade recalcitrant Senators to cast their votes for the Civil Rights Bill, LBJ was not the man of the hour.  That man instead was none other than Everett Dirksen of Illinois, the Senator Minority Leader. 


In 1964, the Civil Rights Bill passed the House on February 10, 1964, and was then submitted to the Senate in which when the bill was submitted, the "Southern Bloc" began their effective filibuster, and unless the Senate was to come up with a 2/3rd majority to force cloture on the filibuster, then the Civil Rights Bill would be stuck in the Senate and therefore not come up for vote and consequently it would fail.   From 1927 to 1963, cloture had been attempted on eleven filibusters and each and every time it had failed.  During the time of this filibuster, Senator Dirksen began a collaboration with Senate Majority Whip Humphrey, Senate Majority Leader Mansfield, Senate Minority Whip Kuchel, and Attorney General Kennedy to make modifications that would allow Dirksen to convince fellow Northern Republicans to support the Civil Rights Bill without substantially weakening it or changing the bill in such a way that the House would no longer support it.   In addition to that collaboration, Dirksen's further responsibility was to convince his Northern Republican cohorts that their true interests laid in supporting the party of Lincoln, of emancipation, of the freedom of all men, in conformance with our great moral principles, and to not forge an alliance with the Southern Democratic party against these civil rights and thereby to join hands with the Southern extremists and the remnants of a nation once divided and at civil war.


 On June 10, 1964, Dirksen made his speech to the Senate in defense of the cloture and the civil rights bill in which he invoked Victor Hugo that: "stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come."  Further he went on to say: "The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing in government, in education, and in employment. It will not be stayed or denied. It is here."  Dirksen referenced the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and he discussed also the sacrifices in blood, sweat, and tears of our Black American brethren in wars fought on behalf of America.  He also referenced Lincoln, Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and Gettysburg.  Later that day, cloture was passed in the Senate and the filibuster was over.  On June 19, 1964, the Senate bill passed by a 73-27 Senate vote in which 27 out of the 33 Republican Senators voted in the affirmative, a higher percentage than the Democratic vote of 44 out of 67.  Of the 21 Southern Senate Democrats, only 1 voted for the Civil Rights Bill, Yarborough of Texas, with the end result being that the infamous "Southern Bloc" had been vanquished.


President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964, and said this: "We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights…. 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 it."