Editor’s note: The following is reprinted from the June 2014 Texas Bar Journal. Click here to read more on the Civil Rights Act from the latest issue. 

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964, he said it was a product of “months of the most careful debate and discussion.” But in reality, as the president knew, the discourse had been raging for much longer.

“We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights,” Johnson had said during his first presidential address to Congress in November 1963, two days after his predecessor’s funeral. “We have talked for a hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.”

Author Todd S. Purdum recounts the scene in An Idea Whose Time Has Come, one of several new books detailing the history of the landmark civil rights legislation. As the State Bar of Texas celebrates the Civil Rights Act’s 50th anniversary during its 2014 Annual Meeting, consider this reading list to help you learn more about the law and its legacy.


An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Todd S. Purdum (2014, Henry Holt and Co.)
This narrative account by Purdum, an editor and correspondent for Vanity Fair, explains how two presidents worked with civil rights leaders and lawmakers from both parties to overcome deep-rooted opposition to the 1964 law, resulting in the country’s first meaningful civil rights legislation in a century.

The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act
Clay Risen (2014, Bloomsbury Press)
New York Times op-ed section editor Clay Risen explores the personalities and political forces at work as Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which the author calls “the most important piece of legislation passed by Congress in the 20th century.” Risen looks beyond the roles of Johnson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to a “long list of starring and supporting players” inside and outside Washington.

We the People, Vol. 3: The Civil Rights Revolution
Bruce Ackerman (2014, Belknap Press)
Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale University, focuses on the events and laws that shaped the civil rights era and helped to end Jim Crow, starting with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and moving through to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The Passage of Power
Robert A. Caro (2012, Knopf)
The fourth installment in Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson series, the book covers the turbulent but legislatively fruitful years of 1958 to 1964, when Johnson used his mastery of Washington, honed by years of experience in congressional leadership, to pass Great Society and civil rights laws in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.

Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency
Mark K. Updegrove (2012, Crown Publishers)
Focusing on the breadth of Johnson’s five-year presidency, the book is a character study of a complex and driven leader who, Updegrove argues, is too often given “short shrift through historical shorthand.” Told through a collection of impressions from Johnson, his aides, members of Congress, and White House reporters, the book is a deep dive inside a “giant of a man” who helped pass more than 200 laws—including landmark civil rights, education, health care, and immigration bills—before the Vietnam War overwhelmed his presidency. Updegrove, the director of the LBJ Presidential Library, will speak about Johnson’s civil rights achievements June 27 in Austin as part of the State Bar’s Annual Meeting.