After President John F. Kennedy introduced his Civil Rights Act legislation in June 1963, the bill was put on hold for months. House Rules Committee chairman Howard Smith, a Virginia Democrat, even tried to delay its passage indefinitely by refusing to release it for a vote. He succeeded for a while, until Kennedy's assassination and the March on Washington made the Act a unavoidable issue and the House all but forced Smith to let it proceed out of committee.
Newly sworn in as President, Lyndon Johnson called for reform, claiming that "no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long." The House passed the legislation in February 1964 after only nine days of debate. The Senate wasn't so easily won over by LBJ's appeals. Eighteen Southern Democrats launched a 57-day filibuster during which Senator Robert Byrd famously read an 800-page speech that lasted for 14 hours that only ended when enough Republicans and Democrats joined forces to call for cloture. The bill passed the Senate with a 73-27 vote and Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964.
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