When the civil rights bill became the Senate’s pending business on March 26, 1964, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia pledged that he and his colleagues in the southern caucus would fight the bill to the bitter end. 'Despite overwhelming odds,' he proclaimed, 'those of us who are opposed to the bill are neither frightened nor dismayed.' The bill’s opponents, Russell declared, would wage a 'good fight for constitutional government.'
President Johnson urged Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (pictured) to break the filibuster by holding the Senate in round-the-clock sessions to exhaust the bill’s opponents. Mansfield respected the president’s counsel, but he refused to follow his advice. He believed that, in addition to exhausting the Senate’s older members, 24-hour sessions would make a spectacle of the institution. Mansfield was determined to uphold the 'dignity and decorum' of the institution, 'as long as I happen to be leader.'
California senator Thomas Kuchel (pictured), along with Minnesota senator Hubert Humphrey, worked tirelessly to manage the floor debate on the civil rights bill. Kuchel and Humphrey organized a bipartisan team of 'captains' to manage and debate the bill’s various sections in detail. Offering a powerful endorsement of the bill, Kuchel called for national, bipartisan support for H.R. 7152 because discrimination 'is not limited to one section of our land.' The problems of racial inequality, Kuchel declared, could not be ignored 'no matter from which State a Senator might come.'
CBS news correspondent Roger Mudd reported daily from the steps of the Senate wing of the Capitol. Mudd’s reports and interviews with the bill’s opponents and supporters were broadcast daily via radio and television. With the American public watching, the debate unfolded as proponents presented arguments designed to gain support for H.R. 7152, while civil rights opponents used the tactic of the filibuster to weaken or block passage of the bill. Each side hoped national attention to the debate would turn public opinion in its favor. Senate staff closely monitored constituent mail to gauge public reaction.
Opponents of the bill expressed their objections in far-ranging statements that summed up decades of anti-civil rights rhetoric. Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina argued that the bill took away the rights of white southerners and bestowed them upon southern blacks: 'the entire philosophy of those who support this legislation is impregnated with the basic idea that white southerners are not just second-class citizens, but apparently, should have no rights whatsoever.' Georgia senator Richard Russell cautioned that H.R. 7152 would break down the South’s 'two different social orders'—one white, one black.