United States and American History: Late 1964

About the history of the United States in late 1964, Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act and gets reelected, a long hot summer of riots, Martin Luther King gets the Nobel Peace Prize.


July 2 President Johnson signed the most comprehensive civil rights act in U.S. history. It integrated public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, gas stations, recreational facilities) and prohibited job discrimination by both employers and labor unions with over 25 employees or members on the basis of sex, religion, or race. It also had voting, education, and Federal funding provisions, and simplified legal complaint procedures. Civil rights groups immediately began testing the new law and were generally successful. One exception was in Atlanta, where restauranteur Lester Maddox chased away blacks with a pistol and sold ax handles to white patrons, starting a political career which made him governor of Georgia in 1966.

July and Aug. The "long, hot summer" was marked by riots, 1st in New York City, then Rochester, then Philadelphia, Chicago, and 3 New Jersey cities, where looting blacks rampaged through their ghettos. In New York City, for instance, the riot was triggered July 18 when an off-duty policeman shot a black youth. In the riot that followed, one more black died, 114 were injured (including 35 police), 185 were arrested, and 112 businesses were damaged before the police regained control of the streets.

Aug. 2 The U.S. Government announced that a U.S. destroyer had been attacked by North Vietnamese PT boats in the Gulf of Tonkin 30 mi. off North Vietnam. On August 4-5, the U.S. unleashed 64 bombers on North Vietnam in "reprisal raids." Later disclosures showed that the U.S. had provoked the "attack" by accompanying South Vietnamese boats shelling North Vietnam within 10 mi. offshore, and that the sunken PT boats may not have fired a single shot while chasing the destroyer out to sea. Nonetheless, on August 7 Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, empowering the President to take military action in response to aggression against U.S. forces and to support our allies in Southeast Asia on request. This became the substitute Declaration of War used to justify the constitutionality of all further U.S. actions in Southeast Asia.

Oct. 14 The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., received the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the civil rights movement and his advocacy of nonviolence.

Oct. 16 China exploded an A-bomb and became the 5th nuclear power.

Nov. 3 President Johnson led the Democrats to their easiest win since 1936 with a landslide (61%) victory over Republican Barry Goldwater. Johnson managed to brand Goldwater as an extreme conservative and as "trigger-happy" in Vietnam, making himself the sensible, progressive "peace" candidate.

Dec. 4 Most students at the University of California's Berkeley campus "struck" (stopped attending classes) after 796 students had been arrested in a sit-in at the administration building. This was part of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) to stop the administration's monitoring of political activity on campus and generally to reduce arbitrary authority over students' lives. With the support of the faculty, students attained a "free speech area" and the chancellor resigned, but 293 students were convicted in the following spring for the sit-in. The FSM heralded a movement of student activism directed at college authorities across the nation.

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