Today, July 2nd, marks 51 years since the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. Passed by President Lyndon Johnson after being introduced by his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, the law is perhaps the most significant and widely-referred act of civil rights legislation in the history of the U.S. 

The Civil Rights Act officially outlawed discrimination based on race, sex, religion and national origin in public agencies, workplaces, public spaces and places receiving federal funds. Although the road to its enforcement was, and still is, fraught with the contestations of various state governments, the Civil Rights Act set the standard by which others would defend their rights in the half-century since its passage.

Despite historic filibusters from several Southern Democratic officials (including longtime South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond), Johnson signed the act into law with Martin Luther King, Jr. at his side (a recognition of his work to bring black civil rights into legislative consciousness, through his work during the Birmingham campaign and other actions. 

Check out a newsreel from the time of the Act’s passing below, and read a transcript of the Act here