On July 2, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act into law.

As President John F. Kennedy’s vice-president, Johnson served as chairman of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities. After Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson vowed to carry out his proposals for civil rights reform.

The Civil Rights Act fought tough opposition in the House and a lengthy, heated debate in the Senate before being approved.

After using more than 75 pens to sign the bill, Johnson gave them away as mementoes of the historic occasion, as is tradition. One of the first pens went to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Johnson gave two more to Senators Hubert Humphrey and Everett McKinley Dirksen, the Democratic and Republican managers of the bill in the Senate.

Being the most sweeping civil rights legislation passed by Congress since the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in employment and education and outlawed racial segregation in public places such as schools, buses, parks and swimming pools. It also laid important groundwork for other pieces of legislation such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which set strict rules for protecting the right of African Americans to vote, and has since been used to enforce equal rights for women as well as minorities.

On July 14, 1913, Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of the United States, was born as Leslie Lynch King, Jr., in Omaha, Nebraska. His biological father left the family when Ford was three years old and his mother’s second husband, Gerald Ford, adopted him and gave him his name.

When President Richard Nixon stepped down in 1974, Ford became the first vice-president to assume office due to a president resigning.

Ford governed the nation in the aftermath of the divisive Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. In an effort to put the past behind the country, he pardoned Nixon immediately after becoming president.

Ford lost his first official presidential race in 1976 to President Jimmy Carter, but remained actively involved in public policy during his retirement. Ford died Dec. 26, 2006 at the age of 93.

As the world watched on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard.

A few days later, on July 20, audiences across the globe sat glued to their televisions as Armstrong took the first step on the moon. As he stepped onto the moon’s surface, he declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” He later claimed what he meant to say was, “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Aldrin joined Armstrong on the moon’s surface and together they took photos, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests, and spoke with President Nixon. The two astronauts slept on the surface of the moon that night. Among items left on the moon was a plaque which read, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon — July 1969 A.D. — We came in peace for all mankind.”

All three astronauts safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.

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