Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

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Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act


By: Everett Dirksen

Date: July 2, 1964

Source: Civil Rights Act of 1964. Public Law 88–352, Title VI, Sec. 601, 78. U.S. Statutes at Large (July 2, 1964).

About the Author: Republican Senator Everett Dirksen (1896–1969) represented the state of Illinois from 1950 until his death in 1969. Elected to the senate minority leader post in 1959, he worked with Lyndon Johnson in the Senate and later with President Johnson in crafting the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


While the issue of civil rights for minorities and women in the United States had been handled through a series of constitutional amendments, court decisions, state laws, and federal laws, by the late 1950s clashes between civil rights activists and anti-civil rights groups—composed largely of white southerners—fueled the need for sweeping federal legislation to address this issue. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, gave African American males the right to vote, and the Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in 1920, broadened voting rights to include all women. By the mid-twentieth century, however, African Americans continued to face numerous obstacles to voting, including poll taxes, literacy tests, harassment, and intimidation. In addition, Supreme Court decisions in 1950 and 1954 requiring integration in public education led to violent standoffs in southern states such as Arkansas and Alabama. Civil rights acts in 1957 and 1960 had helped to flesh out legal protections for minorities, but Lyndon Johnson, a Senate Democrat from Texas and future president of the United States, found these laws lacking in substance and difficult to enforce.

By 1963, civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) expressed frustration that the legal protection and Supreme Court decisions, while important steps forward in the fight for equality under the law, were not enough. In response, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) addressed the nation on June 11, 1963, and called for new civil rights legislation. Five months later, Kennedy was assassinated, and Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973), then vice president of the United States, assumed the presidency.

Johnson's long-held desire for a stronger civil rights law played itself out in his negotiations with Senate and House leaders; in the end the Civil Rights Act of 1964 granted minorities and women legal protections in the areas of federal assistance, housing, employment, education, and voting rights. Title VI specifically prohibits discrimination against recipients of federal assistance or those enrolled in programs or institutions receiving federal funds.


TITLE 42-The Public Health and Welfare


Sec. 2000d. Prohibition against exclusion from participation in, denial of benefits of, and discrimination under federally assisted programs on ground of race, color, or national origin

No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.


Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers educational institutions and any other agency or institution receiving or disbursing federal funds; this section also applies to all public welfare and health programs. The provision gives legal protection to minorities and legal immigrants, and over time, African Americans, Hispanics, women, the disabled, and the elderly used Title VI to broaden their legal rights in terms of federal financial assistance.

Title VI reached into the schools but also into health-care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, nursing home programs, adoption agencies, hospitals, alcohol and drug addiction treatment programs, day care centers, and mental health clinics. The provisions of this law also include a ban on segregation on the basis of race or national origin among recipients of services.

Passed ten years after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas , part of the purpose of Title VI was to speed up the process of school desegregation, according to author Stephen C. Halpern. In his 1995 book On the Limits of the Law: The Ironic Legacy of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act , Halpern argues that the purpose of Title VI was to reinforce Brown and to use litigation and federal law to push integration. He notes, however, that while Title VI forbids discrimination, it did not solve the problem. It became the responsibility of the court to "identify the parameters of the legal right blacks had to equal, nondiscriminatory treatment in schools. There are formidable conceptual and political problems associated with defining that right."

In essence, like the Brown v. Board of Education case, Title VI provided legal rights and protections, but the underlying causes of discrimination could not be addressed by legal institutions. The 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, known for creating the "separate but equal" doctrine, had noted that while law could create conditions protecting individual rights, it could not force society or individuals to change opinions and attitudes about race. While many civil rights leaders hailed the 1964 law as a major leap forward in advancing equality for all Americans, the social conditions leading to racial discrimination remained a substantial obstacle for civil rights leaders and everyday citizens to overcome.



Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Halpern, Stephen C. On the Limits of the Law: The Ironic Legacy of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Klarman, Michael J. From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Rosenberg, Jonathan and Zachary Karabell. Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003.

Web sites

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. "Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights." <http://www.jfklibrary.net/j061163.htm> (accessed May 29, 2006).