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Section II- Synopsis of Legislative History and Purpose of Title VI

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Title VI Legal Manual

II:        Synopsis of Legislative History and Purpose of Title VI

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a product of the growing demand during the early 1960s for the federal government to launch a nationwide offensive against racial discrimination. In calling for its enactment, President John F. Kennedy stated:

Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in racial discrimination. Direct discrimination by Federal, State, or local governments is prohibited by the Constitution. But indirect discrimination, through the use of Federal funds, is just as invidious; and it should not be necessary to resort to the courts to prevent each individual violation.

See H.R. Misc. Doc. No. 124, 88th Cong., 1st Sess. 3, 12 (1963).

Title VI was not the first attempt to ensure that the federal government not finance discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. Beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, presidents issued Executive Orders prohibiting racial discrimination in hiring. See Cannon v. Univ. of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 720 & n.3 (1979) (White, J., dissenting).[1]  Various prior Executive Orders prohibited racial discrimination in, for instance, the armed forces, employment by federally funded construction contractors, and federally assisted housing.[2]  As Rep. Emanuel Celler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and floor manager for the Civil Rights Act in the House of Representatives, noted:

In general, it seems rather anomalous that the Federal Government should aid and abet discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by granting money and other kinds of financial aid. It seems rather shocking, moreover, that while we have on the one hand the 14th amendment, which is supposed to do away with discrimination since it provides for equal protection of the laws, on the other hand, we have the Federal Government aiding and abetting those who persist in practicing racial discrimination.


It is for these reasons that we bring forth title VI. The enactment of title VI will serve to override specific provisions of law which contemplate Federal assistance to racially segregated institutions.


110 Cong. Rec. 2467 (1964) (quoted in Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 330-31 (1978) (opinion of Marshall, J.). Congress recognized the need for a statutory nondiscrimination provision to apply across-the-board “to make sure that the funds of the United States are not used to support racial discrimination.” 110 Cong. Rec. 6544 (statement of Sen. Humphrey).

Senator Humphrey, the Senate manager of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, identified several reasons for the enactment of Title VI. Id. First, several federal financial assistance statutes, enacted prior to Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), expressly provided for federal grants to racially segregated institutions under the “separate but equal” doctrine that Brown overturned. Although Brown made the validity of these programs doubtful, the decision did not automatically invalidate these statutory provisions.

Second, Title VI would eliminate any doubts that some federal agencies may have had about their authority to prohibit discrimination in their programs.

Third, through Title VI, Congress would “insure the uniformity and permanence to the nondiscrimination policy” in all programs and activities involving federal financial assistance. 110 Cong. Rec. 6544 (1964). Title VI would eliminate the need for Congress to debate nondiscrimination amendments in each new piece of legislation authorizing federal financial assistance.[3]  As stated by Representative Celler, “Title VI enables the Congress to consider the overall issue of racial discrimination separately from the issue of the desirability of particular Federal assistance programs. Its enactment would avoid for the future the occasion for further legislative maneuvers like the so-called Powell amendment.” Id. at 2468.[4]

Fourth, the supporters of Title VI considered it an efficient alternative to ponderous, time-consuming, and uncertain litigation. Prior legal challenges demonstrated that litigation involving private discrimination proceeded slowly, and the adoption of Title VI was seen as an alternative to such an arduous route. See 110 Cong. Rec. 7054 (1964) (statement by Sen. Pastore).

Further, federal funds continued to subsidize racial discrimination. For example, Senator Pastore addressed how North Carolina hospitals received substantial federal monies for construction, that the hospitals discriminated against Blacks as patients and as medical staff, and that, in the absence of legislation, judicial action was the only means to end these discriminatory practices.

That is why we need Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, H.R. 7152—to prevent such discrimination where Federal funds are involved…. Title VI is sound; it is morally right; it is legally right; it is constitu­tionally right…. What will it accomplish?  It will guarantee that the money collected by colorblind tax collectors will be distributed by Federal and State administrators who are equally colorblind. Let me say it again: The title has a simple purpose¾to eliminate discrimina­tion in Federally financed programs.


Id.; see also Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp., 323 F.2d 959, 969 (4th Cir. 1963) (federal provisions undertaking to authorize segregation by state-connected institutions are unconstitutional).[5]

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on July 2, 1964, after more than a year of hearings, analyses, and debate. During the course of congressional consideration, Title VI was one of the most debated provisions of the Act.

[1] See also Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958); Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp., 323 F.2d 959 (5th Cir. 1963).

[2] Exec. Order No. 9981, 13 Fed. Reg. 4313 (July 26, 1948) (equal opportunity in the armed services); Exec. Order No. 10479, 18 Fed. Reg. 4899 (Aug. 13, 1953) (equal employment opportunity by government); Exec. Order No. 11063, 27 Fed. Reg. 11,527 (Nov. 20, 1962) (equal opportunity in housing), as amended by Exec. Order No. 12259, 3 C.F.R. § 307 (1981), reprinted in 42 U.S.C. § 3608.

[3] See 6 Op. O.L.C. 83, 93 (1982) (“The statutes [Title VI, Title IX, Section 504, and the Age Discrimination Act] … [are] intended to apply to all programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance without being explicitly referenced in subsequent legislation.  They should therefore be considered applicable to all legislation authorizing federal financial assistance … unless Congress evidences a contrary intent.”)

[4] The “Powell amendment” refers to the effort of Representative Adam Clayton Powell to add nondiscrimination clauses to federal legislation.  See 110 Cong. Rec. 2465 (1964) (Statement by Rep. Powell).

[5] At issue in Simkins was a provision of the Hill-Burton Act (Hospital Survey and Construction Act), 60 Stat. 1041 (1946), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 291e(f), which “authorize[d] the construction of hospital facilities and the promotion of hospital services with funds of the United States on a ‘separate-but-equal’ basis.” Simkins, 323 F.2d at 961.  The Act included a general nondiscrimination provision, but further stated that “‘an exception shall be made in cases where separate hospital facilities are provided for separate population groups, if the plan makes equitable provision on the basis of  need for facilities and services of like quality for each such group;….’”  Id. at 969 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 291e(f)).