“But he was on the floor and heard a fellow Louisianan get up and give a speech saying that there was no discrimination in the state and that blacks could vote in Louisiana as easily as whites. And he just couldn’t stand it. So he got up and made, really, what many people thought was the best speech of his life, for voting rights. It was quite a moment. Because, of course, that piece of legislation is really the signal piece of legislation in the whole civil rights movement, having more effect, really, than any other piece of legislation.”
This Edition for Educators focuses on the House's impact on important civil rights legislation featured in the Minorities in Congress series (Women in Congress, Black Americans in Congress, and Hispanic Americans in Congress).
The best places to find major civil rights legislation on our site are three charts referenced in the minorities series. Each chart details major civil rights acts and constitutional amendments relevant to that exhibition.
The 13th Amendment
On January 31, 1865, the House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States.
The Equal Rights Amendment
On August 10, 1970, Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan successfully released the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from the Judiciary Committee and brought the legislation to the House Floor for a vote.
Resident Commissioner Manuel Quezon of the Philippines
On August 19, 1878, Resident Commissioner Manuel Quezon was born in Baler, Tayabas Province, Philippines. During his maiden speech to Congress, Quezon submitted a petition requesting Philippine sovereignty. He also asked Members to support legislation that endorsed Philippine independence. One of those acts was the Philippine Autonomy Act.
The House and Civil Rights
Spurred by a growing grassroots movement during the mid-20th century, Congress passed landmark legislation to protect Americans’ civil rights, to end discrimination, and to ensure access to the ballot. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 focused on access to public accommodations and equal employment.
Outside of the Galleries of the House of Representatives During the Passage of the Civil Rights Bill
This print shows the delight of women reformers, newly enfranchised African Americans, and Union veterans at the passage of the first civil rights bill in April 1866.
Agreement on Civil Rights Bill
This image features Senator William Knowland; House Speaker Sam Rayburn; Minority Leader Joe Martin; and Senator Lyndon Johnson gathered on August 23, 1957, to announce that agreement had been reached on civil rights legislation. Passed four days later, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 had been watered down by the Senate but was nonetheless the first significant legislation to address African-American civil rights since 1875.
Missouri's Ratification of the 19th Amendment
On June 12, 1919, Missouri Governor Frederick D. Gardner called for a special session of the state general assembly to convene on July 2 to consider the amendment, saying, “Missouri must take the lead in this long-deferred justice to the state and the nation.” On July 3, as packed galleries observed, the Missouri senate followed the lead of the state house and voted to ratify the amendment.
Engrossed Bill, Voting Rights Act of 1965
This featured document is the U.S. House’s engrossed copy of the bill for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has been reconciled by substitute, meaning that the full text of the bill that passed the Senate (S. 1564) is being replaced by the version of the text that passed the House as H.R. 6400 on July 9, 1965, after five weeks of debate.
In addition to an entire oral history exhibit on Civil Rights, which includes the clip featuring the Cokie Roberts quotation at the top of this page, the Office of the Historian prepared a documentary on the demonstrations in Selma, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the annual pilgrimage Representatives undertake each March since 1998.
Documentary: Selma and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory