Ten years after Brown v. Board of Education, only two percent of black students in southern states attended desegregated schools. Without the power of enforcement, the Supreme Court's decision had limited impact. While the Court had the power to interpret the law, it was left to local school districts to implement the decision. Most southern states ignored the Court's ruling, and many local and state officials actively resisted it.
As the Civil Rights movement escalated, pressure mounted for the president and the Justice Department to assume a more active role in speeding up desegregation in public facilities, including schools.
In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, proposed by President John F. Kennedy and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson after Kennedy's assassination. The act banned discrimination in public facilities and prohibited employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. . It allowed the federal government to cut off federal funds to projects or agencies if there was evidence that they discriminated on the basis of race, color, or national origin. It created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as the Community Relations division of the Justice Department.
A key provision of the act with respect to school desegregation empowered the Justice Department to bring suits against southern school districts that refused to implement the Brown decisions. So where the Brown rulings had limited impact, the Civil Rights Act came with the power of enforcement. For many southern school districts, the threat of federal lawsuits and losing federal money triggered the first signs of compliance with the Court's rulings in Brown.