“Now, at long last, its day has come.”

LBJ's final, great legislative achievement of the civil rights era

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by Jenny Cobb, Exhibit Assistant

On April 4, 1968, civil rights leader and activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Following his assassination, amid a wave of riots in more than 100 cities across the United States, President Lyndon Johnson increased pressure on Congress to pass additional civil rights legislation. Hoping for passage before King’s funeral on April 9, LBJ argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1968 would be a fitting testament to King and his legacy.

Despite the strides taken during the civil rights movement, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, race-based housing patterns remained an obstacle in the late 1960s. While African American and Mexican American members of the U.S. military fought and died for their country in Vietnam, their family members at home had trouble renting or purchasing homes in residential areas because of their race or national origin. Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the G.I. Forum lobbied for new fair housing legislation to be passed. NAACP Washington Director Clarence Mitchell, Jr. proved to be so effective in pushing through civil rights legislation that he was referred to as the “101st senator.”

Missing LBJ's desired deadline of King's funeral by just one day, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 on April 10—the final, great legislative achievement of the civil rights era. An expansion of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, popularly known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental, or financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. 

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“Now, at long last, its day has come.” Artifact from Washington D.C.
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