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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman July 30, 2020

Group of Southern Democrats, not all Democrats, held up 1964 Civil Rights Act

If Your Time is short

  • Southern Democrats held the longest filibuster in Senate history over the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • But it wasn’t led by all Democrats, and the debate lasted 60 days, not 75.

  • Many Democrats from non-Southern states supported the bill and helped end the debate.

When lawmakers want to delay legislation from moving forward, they filibuster. In simple terms, that means they talk for a long time to hold up the bill.

On social media, some users are presenting mangled history about the filibuster to take a swipe at Democrats over civil rights. 

The posts, which have appeared on Facebook and Twitter, say:

"The longest filibuster in U.S. history was 75 days. It took place in 1964, when Democrats tried to block the Civil Rights Act. It’d be a shame if this went viral."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

There was a lengthy fight in Washington before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, but the post gets some aspects of history wrong and lumps all Democrats together in opposition. Democrats introduced the legislation and led its passage. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and provided protection of voting rights, banned discrimination in public facilities and established equal employment opportunity.

Getting it passed wasn’t easy.

The longest continuous debate in U.S. Senate history was brought on by a group of Southern Democrats over the legislation. But many northern Democrats supported the bill, and the filibuster lasted 60 days, not 75, according to the Senate’s website.

Robert Gordon, a legal historian and law professor at Stanford University, told PolitiFact the post’s claim is misleading and pointed to Democratic support of the bill.

Featured Fact-check

"The nay Democratic votes were all from the Southern bloc of the party. The former Confederate states had been effectively one-party states since Reconstruction," Gordon said. "The Civil Rights Act was promoted by a former Southern Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson of Texas, and passed with the help of Northern Democrats and 27 Republicans."

Democrats introduced, led passage of the Civil right Act

Shortly after President John F. Kennedy publicly called for a robust Civil Rights Act, Emmanuel Celler, a New York Democrat, introduced the House version of the bill on June 19, 1963, according to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine.

Following Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson strongly pushed for the measure and addressed a joint session in Congress days later, urging members to pass the bill.

The House passed the measure in February 1964. Once it hit the Senate, it was met with opposition from a group of southern Democratic senators.

The group, known as "the Southern bloc" of the party, represented former Confederate states and was predominantly led by West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.

At the time, a two-thirds vote, or 67 senators, were required to invoke cloture and end the debate. That happened on June 10, when a coalition of 27 Republicans and 44 Democrats ended the filibuster with a 71-29 vote

On June 12, 1964, 46 Democrats and 27 Republicans voted for the legislation, and 21 Democrats and 6 Republicans voted against. It was signed into law July 2, 1964.

Our ruling

Social media posts claim that Democrats hold the longest filibuster in U.S. history, which lasted 75 days, when they blocked the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s true that Democrats hold the longest filibuster in Senate history over the legislation, but it was led by a group of southern Democrats, not all Democrats, and lasted 60 days, not 75. Many Democrats from non-Southern states supported the bill and helped end the debate. Democrats wrote the bill and Democrats led its passage in the Senate. 

The claim contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, June 29, 2020

Twitter post, June 12, 2020

GovInfo, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Accessed July 29, 2020

Senate.gov, Landmark Legislation: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Accessed July 28, 2020
Senate.gov, The Senate and Civil Rights: Debate and Filibuster, Accessed July 28, 2020

Senate.gov, Civil Rights Filibuster Ended, Accessed July 28, 2020

USA Today, Fact check: Southern Dems held up 1964 Civil Rights Act, set filibuster record at 60 days, June 23, 2020

Smithsonian.com, A Deeper Look at the Politicians Who Passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, June 30, 2014

GovTrack.us, HR. 7152. PASSAGE., June 19, 1964

Email interview, Robert Gordon legal historian and law professor at Stanford University, July 29, 2020

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Group of Southern Democrats, not all Democrats, held up 1964 Civil Rights Act

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