The Civil Rights Act of 1957

August 7th Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The limited legislation was the first of its kind in the 20th century. It primarily focused on voting and juries and established the Commission on Civil Rights.

On this date, the House of Representatives passed the initial version of what eventually became the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Propelled by advocacy groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, Congress took up the issue of civil rights during the summer of 1957. “This is an hour for great moral stamina,”

Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of New York, one of three African-American Members in first session of the 85th Congress (1957–1959) told his colleagues. “America stands on trial today before the world and communism must succeed if democracy fails.” The House passed H.R. 6127 by a vote of 286 to 126. Under the direction of Senate Majority Leader and future President Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, the Senate passed a watered-down version of the House bill which removed stringent voting protection clauses.

The House approved the compromise measure on August 27 by a wide margin, 279 to 97. On September 9, 1957, President Eisenhower signed P.L. 85–315. The resulting law—the first significant measure to address African-American civil rights since 1875—established the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for two years, created a civil rights division in the U.S. Justice Department, and authorized the U.S. Attorney General to seek federal court injunctions to protect the voting rights of African Americans.


Credit: Long Wharf Theatre