July 2 (UPI) -- Tuesday marks the 55th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act -- landmark legislation that outlawed discrimination in the United States based on race, religion, sex and national origin.
"Today, we celebrate this monumental legislation and recommit ourselves to the noble mission of advancing equality, justice, and freedom," President Donald Trump said Tuesday. "The United States was founded on the fundamental truth that all people are created equal and endowed by their creator with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 more than a half century ago helped further enshrine this into our law."
The legislation, which originated with Kennedy, formally ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination. It also prohibited the use of federal funds for any discriminatory program and authorized the Department of Education to assist with the desegregation of schools, which was still happening in the South.
Kennedy proposed the bill in 1963 as a means to combat state practices, such as Jim Crow laws that continued to oppress African Americans after the post-Civil War amendments that abolished slavery. He declared that "the United States will not be free until all of its citizens are free."
After Kennedy was assassinated that November, Johnson took up the cause.
"Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined," he said in his first State of the Union address.
Getting the law passed, however, was not easy. Johnson worked with the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and members of Congress to ensure the bill's passage -- but encountered staunch resistance among some southern congressmen who opposed a federal ban on discrimination, arguing it infringed on civil liberties and states' rights.
Images of flagrant discrimination at lunch counters and firefighters turning fire hoses on black Americans in the South fueled Johnson's resolve to pass the bill. UPI reporter Paul Phillips saw the fire hoses firsthand in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.
"'They're turning the hose on us,' I shouted to another newsman," he reported. "Elvin Stanton, of radio station WSGN, jumped into [a] phone booth with me. We braced for the blast of water which hit the glass wall with a roar."
The bill was ultimately met with a 75-day filibuster in the Senate, where Johnson was president before becoming Kennedy's vice president in 1961. At one point, former West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd spoke for 14 consecutive hours.
After securing a two-thirds majority necessary to invoke cloture and end the debate, the Senate passed the bill and Johnson signed it into law on the second day in July. Activist and civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described the original version of the bill as nothing less than a "second emancipation."
King was an instrumental figure of the law's passage, having led the issue in a still divided nation. In August 1963, he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
"Massed on the Lincoln memorial grounds after marching from the Washington monument, they heard their leaders lay down 10 civil rights demands ranging from equal access to jobs to total school desegregation now," UPI reported at the time, noting a crowd of about 200,000.
"There was agreement from several members of Congress, who when they appeared before the throng were greeted with shouts of 'pass the bill, pass the bill.'"
The law was later expanded to include disabled Americans, the elderly and women -- and led to the Voting Rights Act a year later and the Fair Housing Act in 1968, which banned discrimination in housing transactions.
"My administration continues to work to ensure that all Americans have an equal opportunity to pursue the American Dream," Trump added in a statement Tuesday commemorating the historic law.