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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Civil Rights History

Historical events, political acts and policy decisions provide the context for the contemporary civil rights debate.  

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Civil Rights Community Mourns the Loss of Percy Sutton

December 28, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

New York Mayor John V. Lindsay stands with Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton and family.

 New York Mayor John V. Lindsay stands with Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton and family. (Photograph from New York Department of Records)

Percy Sutton, a prominent civil rights lawyer, politician, and successful businessman, died this past weekend. He was 89.

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Today in Civil Rights History: Shirley Chisholm’s becomes First Black Woman Elected to Congress

November 5, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm

Today marks the anniversary of Shirley Chisholm's election to Congress in 1968. Chisholm, a Democrat who represented New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983, was the first Black woman elected to Congress. In 1972, Chisholm became the first Black woman from a major political party to run for president.

Before her political career, Chisholm earned a BA from Brooklyn College and an MA from Columbia University in elementary education and became known as an expert on early childhood education. She worked as a nursery school teacher, a director of a nursery and a child care center, and an educational consultant. She also volunteered with organizations like the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League and the League of Women Voters, which eventually led to her political career.

Chisholm first ran for the New York State Assembly, where she served from 1964 to 1968. When asked why she became involved in politics, she said, "The people wanted me." She then decided to run for Congress in 1968 with the slogan "unbought and unbossed," which accurately reflected her strong personality.  She won the congressional seat in an upset victory over Independent candidate James Farmer and Republican candidate Ralph Carrano.

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Bernice King Elected to Head SCLC

October 30, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Bernice King

Bernice King speaking at the groundbreaking of the MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 2006. Photo Credit: Mark Blacknell.

Bernice King

Bernice King speaking at the groundbreaking of the MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 2006. Photo Credit: Mark Blacknell.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) announced today that it elected Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., to be the organization's next president.  She is the first woman and the second King child to head the organization, which was co-founded by Dr. King in 1957.

King, the youngest child of Martin Luther King, Jr., is a longtime activist, minister, and lawyer who has spoken around the world. She is an elder at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia.

She inherits an organization that has expanded considerably since her father's time.  There are about 10,000 members and 80 chapters residing in 17 states.  In addition to a conflict resolution site already opened in Israel, the SCLC has plans in place to open other international sites over the next 10 years.

The SCLC was founded to coordinate and support nonviolent protests of segregation and played a key role in many of the most famous demonstration of the civil rights movement.  Dr. King served as its first president until his death in 1968.

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Sen. Edward Brooke Receives Congressional Gold Medal

October 29, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Sen. Edward Brooke and President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office

Sen. Edward Brooke and President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office in 1967.

Sen. Edward Brooke and President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office

Sen. Edward Brooke and President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office in 1967.

Former Sen. Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts received the Congressional Gold Medal yesterday for his lifelong and historic service to the nation.

Brooke, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and served in the U.S. military, was the nation's first African-American senator elected by popular vote and the last Republican African-American senator. He was elected in 1966 and served for two terms until 1979. 

Brooke was a champion of civil rights, fighting for strong enforcement in the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which he co-authored with former Sen. Walter Mondale of Minnesota, and voting rights for the District of Columbia. For his commitment to civil rights, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights honored Brooke in 1978 with the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award, the civil rights community's highest honor.

The Congressional Gold Medal is, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.  It was first awarded in 1776 to then-General George Washington and John Paul Jones.  It has since been awarded to a wide array of notable figures, including Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, and Jackie Robinson. 

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Today in Civil Rights History: The AIDS Memorial Quilt Is Displayed for the First Time

October 9, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The AIDS quilt laid out on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The AIDS quilt laid out on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. 

The quilt has gone on many tours since, with panels being added at each stop and a reading of names traditionally following each display. It currently includes more than 44,000 panels, including panels from every state and dozens of countries. To date, it has been visited by over 14 million people and has helped the NAMES Project Foundation raise more than $3 million for AIDS services.

The quilt, while impressive for its size and scope as the largest community art project in the world, is perhaps most significant for other reasons. It is full of emotionally powerful and often uplifting responses to a tragic pandemic. It offers an opportunity for those who have lost loved ones to AIDS to commemorate their lives in a unique way. 

As important as the quilt is for the gay community and those impacted directly by the disease, it also sends an important message to the world. It represents the scale and impact of the AIDS pandemic to others through both its large size and deeply personal patchwork pieces.

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Today in Civil Rights History: Birth Anniversary of Civil Rights Icon Fannie Lou Hamer

October 6, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer testifying before the Democratic National Convention's Credentialing Committee in Atlantic City, N.J.  August 22, 1964.  Photo Credit: Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report 

Ninety-two years ago today, civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer was born in Ruleville, Mississippi.

Hamer joined the civil rights movement late in life and quickly became a major national figure.  In 1962, she was among the first to volunteer to register to vote in Indianola, Mississippi, having traveled to the town to register after hearing a sermon by Rev. James Bevel of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). That decision ultimately cost her the sharecropping job she had held for nearly 20 years.

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Today in Civil Rights History: President Lincoln Issues the Emancipation Proclamation

September 22, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the first part of an executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation.  The Emancipation Proclamation was a set of two executive orders made during the American Civil War that declared that all slaves in the Confederate States of America be freed. 

The first order was given following the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam and threatened to grant freedom to slaves in Confederate states that did not rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863.  This threat was followed up shortly with the second order, given on January 1, which officially freed slaves in 10 states that had failed to return to the Union.

It is estimated that up to 20,000 slaves were freed by the second order on that very day, and many more slaves were freed each day as the Union forces advanced further South to take control of states named in the proclamation.  In total, it is estimated that about four million slaves were freed by the proclamation by July of 1865.  Some of those freedmen used their newfound freedom to join the Union Army and assisted in their eventual victory over the Confederacy.

In effect, the Emancipation Proclamation was much more important because of what it symbolized rather than what it actually did.  The proclamation was a war measure that was limited because it was aimed at freeing slaves in states that the Union had no control of.  While the proclamation did free some slaves at the time, slavery was officially abolished in the United States in December of 1965 when the 13th Amendment was ratified.

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Civil Rights History: 45th Anniversary of the Community Relations Service

August 28, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Though the Civil Rights Movement was a non-violent movement, African Americans' struggle for civil rights was frequently violent. Knowing this, Congress put a provision into the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to create a body within the Department of Justice to be a "peacemaker" when community tensions arise based on race, color, or national origin. 

The Community Relations Service (CRS) provides aid to state and local governments and public and private organizations that are in preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions.  By providing independent conciliation services free of charge, CRS serves as an impartial mediator, facilitating racial harmony among communities of all sizes as well as the government.  In order to protect the integrity of the service and the engaged parties, the Act mandated that CRS' work be confidential and without publicity.

CRS played a critical role over the last 45 years in helping to make desegregation efforts run more smoothly in communities across the country.  Since its establishment, CRS has worked on a wide range of cases across the country, from school desegregation and urban riots, to tensions between local college students and community law enforcement.  In 2008, following the Jena 6 incident, CRS created a "Noose Incident Response Team" to better monitor community tensions around these incidents.

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Statement on the Passing of Senator Ted Kennedy

August 27, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Wade Henderson released the following statement on the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy:

"Senator Edward M. Kennedy was the field general in the fight for civil rights. An eloquent advocate, a skilled strategist, and an unequaled coalition-builder, Edward M. Kennedy was the most effective senator of his generation and a leader in achieving every major legislative advance during his service in the Senate. From the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the cause of civil and human rights had no better friend than Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

As we struggle to enact the health care reform that was his life's work and will be his greatest legacy, we can hear him reminding us that "the work continues" and "the dream lives on." His words and his passion will continue to inspire millions to fulfill this dream.

On this sad day, our hearts and thoughts are also with the Kennedy family in their time of loss. We thank them for their support of Senator Kennedy and his life-long contribution to civil and human rights. We deeply appreciate their contribution."

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Today in Civil Rights History: 19th Amendment Gives Women the Right to Vote

August 26, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Today marks the 89th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ratified in 1920, the amendment gave women the right to vote. Women had been gaining suffrage, or the right to vote, on a state-by-state basis throughout the early 20th century, but the amendment granted all U.S. women full voting rights.

The amendment's ratification was the culmination of the Women's Suffrage Movement. Women's suffrage was first proposed in 1848 by participants of the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention, which included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.

The movement picked up steam when Alice Paul, president of the National Women's Party, lead eight thousand women in picketing the White House the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in 1913. Women's active participation in the war effort during World War I also helped the movement gain support.

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Civil Rights 101

Civil Rights 101 addresses the history of many civil rights issues that we face today.

Voices of Civil Rights

The exhibition Voices of Civil Rights documents events during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. This exhibition draws from the thousands of personal stories, oral histories, and photographs collected by the "Voices of Civil Rights" project, a collaborative effort of AARP, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Library of Congress, and marks the arrival of these materials in the Library's collection

Resources

Civil Rights Book Club

 Each month, we will feature five books representing the diversity of the contemporary social justice landscape.

> This Month's Selections

In The News

Recent news clips on this issue.

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