July 2, 1964 wasn't just a red-letter day at the White House. It was a black ink day, as well. That ink filled the 75 pens that President Lyndon Johnson used to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- arguably the most important piece of civil rights legislation in U.S. history, as it outlawed racial segregation and employment discrimination. Signing the bill into law took 75 pens because Johnson gave them away as souvenirs to mark the historic occasion.
On the receiving end were members of the crowd surrounding Johnson at the signing, including U.S. senators and civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After being handed one of the first pens, Dr. King said it immediately became one of his most cherished possessions, adding that he "really should have got a bunch."
Senators Hubert Humphrey and Everett McKinley Dirksen, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate, respectively, got the first pens for their efforts at shepherding the bill through their chamber. Not to be overshadowed, Attorney General Robert Kennedy grabbed six pens, ostensibly to hand out to Justice Department officials who helped pass the measure. While the day was momentous, Johnson's signature was subdued, reading simply: "Lyndon B. Johnson. approved July 2, 1964, Washington, D.C."
The Civil Rights Act of 1964:
- The Senate finally passed the act after the longest filibuster in its history, lasting 54 days.
- More than 80 percent of Republicans in the Senate and House voted for the bill, compared with approximately 60 percent of Democrats.
- The only meeting between civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X took place during debate on the bill.