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Civil Rights Bill Represents Political Triumph for LBJ

July 2, 1964 - Nine years ago today, Lyndon B. Johnson suffered a heart attack that nearly ended his life. Today, fully recovered and at the peak of his political career, the first Southerner to serve in the White House since Woodrow Wilson signed the most far-reaching civil rights bill in the nation’s history.

Johnson spoke to the nation on television from the ceremonial East Room, then used more than 75 pens to make the measure the law of the land.

In a perspiring crush of members of Congress and other guests clustering around him, Johnson gave the pens away as mementos.

Almost the only Southerners in the room other than the President were Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges of North Carolina, former Governor LeRoy Collins of Florida, and Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, a Republican supporter of the civil rights bill.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy received six pens — apparently to take care of high-ranking officials of the Justice Department who had worked for the measure’s passage.

Particular Presidential recognition went to Senator Humbert Humphrey and Senator Everett Dirksen, the Democratic and Republican managers of the bill in the Senate.

Dirksen got the first pen, Humphrey the second. Later, Humphrey asked Johnson to give him his speech text, autographed. But someone had already snatched it from the table Johnson had used for the signing.

The President then left the room and obtained two mimeographed copies of the statement. He returned to the table and, while flashbulbs popped all around him, autographed both copies.

On one, he wrote: “To Humbert Humphrey — without whom it couldn’t have happened.”

On the other, he wrote: “To Everett Dirksen, with thanks.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was among the first to receive a pen.

“This will remain among my most cherished possessions,” Dr. King said. “I really should have got a punch.”

President Johnson used so many pens and gave them away so rapidly that Charles Daly, a White House aide, had to bring handfuls more.

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