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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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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Today in Civil Rights History: Anniversary of the Social Security Act

August 14, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

President Franklin Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act of 1935

President Franklin Roosevelt, center, signs Social Security Act of 1935 in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law, providing benefits for the elderly, women and children who had lost their family incomes, people with disabilities, and unemployed people.  The Act was part of his New Deal, a broad plan to reform American society and relieve the hardships of the Great Depression.

During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate skyrocketed and the banking system collapsed, leaving many people with no means of support.  In 1933, 25 percent of all American workers were unemployed, up from three percent in 1929, and over 40 percent of banks in the United States closed. 

As banks failed, people's life savings were lost.  From 1930 to 1933, nine million savings accounts were completely wiped out and approximately 1.3 billion dollars  -- about 16.8 billion in today's dollars -- were lost


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New Documentary Shows One School's First Integrated Prom

August 10, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that state laws establishing separate public schools for White and Black students were unconstitutional, leading to the integration of classrooms, sports teams, school clubs, and even after-school dances. Sadly, more than 50 years later, some communities continue to hold segregated proms for White and minority public school students. 

In the documentary "Prom Night in Mississippi", director Paul Saltzman uses interviews and video diaries to show Charleston High School students' experiences with race, and their excitement about attending their first integrated prom – in 2008.

"Prom Night in Mississippi" first aired on July 20 on HBO, and will continue to be featured during HBO's Documentary Film Series this summer.


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Today in Civil Rights History: The Voting Rights Act becomes Law

August 6, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

In the early 1960s, television images of police attacking civil rights marchers shocked the nation and spurred the passage of sweeping civil rights legislation. On March 7, 1965, police in Alabama used tear gas and billy clubs to attack over 500 civil rights activists who marched from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the call for voting rights for African Americans.  The images of police brutality were broadcast worldwide.

One week later, President Johnson responded by calling on Congress to pass a voting rights bill.  When he signed the VRA five months later, he remarked that it was to be "one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom."

The VRA is considered the most successful civil rights law Congress has ever passed and remains as important now as it was four decades ago. Since 1965, Congress has voted four times to renew all three of its temporary provisions, most recently in 2006, when both the House and the Senate approved the measure overwhelmingly in a bipartisan manner. Congress conducted over 20 hearings, heard from over 50 expert witnesses, and collected over 17,000 pages of testimony documenting the continued need for and constitutionality of the VRA.



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This Week in Civil Rights History: Anniversary of the First Census

July 31, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

On August 2, 1790, U.S. judicial marshals and their assistants began the first United States census, eventually tallying the entire population of the United States at 3.9 million, less than 13 percent of the current U.S. population. 

The first census was scheduled to take only nine months and was executed by 17 judicial marshals assisted by only 650 field workers.  The entire survey cost only $44,377 (more than $3.4 billion in today's dollars) and results were submitted directly to President George Washington for immediate publication. 

While the only information required by the Constitution was the overall number of persons, the first census asked for the name of the head of the household and the number of people in the household.  People were placed in one of five categories:

  • free White males age 16 and over;
  • free White males under age 16;
  • free White females;
  • other free persons; and
  • slaves.


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Black in America 2 to Air Tonight and Tomorrow on CNN

July 22, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Tonight CNN will air its second primetime investigative report on the current state of Black Americans with its documentary "Black in America 2." The special airs in two parts tonight and tomorrow night on CNN at 8:00 p.m. ET.  The first "Black in America" aired last summer.

The documentary will be hosted by award-winning journalist Soledad O'Brien – who was honored by LCCR for her work covering Hurricane Katrina.  It will shine a light on Black Americans who are developing solutions to problems that plague Black communities like Dr. Lisa Newman, a surgeon at the University of Michigan, who is studying the role African ancestry might play in a certain kind of highly aggressive breast cancer, and Steve Perry, an Hartford, Conn., teacher who founded a magnet school that sends every single one of its graduates to college.

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This Week in Civil Rights History: Birthday of South African Activist Nelson Mandela

July 17, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela

Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pa., July 4, 1993.  


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Today in Civil Rights History: Civil Rights Act of 1964 becomes Law

July 2, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

President Lyndon Johnson at a table surrounded by Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders signing the Civil Rights Act

President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act surrounded by civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  July 2, 1964.

Forty-five years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex in public accommodations, employment, and federally funded programs.

It also established a framework within the federal government for combating discrimination by giving the U.S. Attorney General the power to file discrimination suits, expanding the mandate of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and establishing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to review employment discrimination complaints.

Before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, "Jim Crow" laws, or legalized racial segregation, characterized much of the South. In many states, Jim Crow laws relegated African Americans to the backs of buses and to separate drinking fountains, restrooms, and dining areas.


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Today in Civil Rights History: The 26th Amendment Lowers Voting Age to 18

July 1, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Photo of a 1960s button,

"Yes 18" button from the late 1960s/early 1970s worn by many young people who protested U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Today marks the 38th anniversary of the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in federal, state, and local elections.

Congress introduced the amendment in response to a 1970 Supreme Court decision, Oregon v. Mitchell, which held that Congress could not alter state or local voting arrangements through legislation. Congress had passed a law lowering the voting age earlier that year, in response to growing support for lowering the voting age among student and youth activists who opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Many American soldiers drafted to serve in Vietnam were between the ages of 18 and 21, a fact that helped to popularize the slogan, "old enough to fight, old enough to vote."

More than 50 percent of 18-24 year olds voted in the 1972 election, the first election after the amendment's ratification, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. The turnout for this demographic has been steadily increasing since the 1996 election, with turnout in 2008 – 48.5 percent – nearly reaching 1972 levels.

Amendments to the Constitution are passed in both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority vote and approved by at least three-quarters of the states.

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Stonewall Riots: The Beginning of the LGBT Movement

June 22, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969

Stonewall Inn in 1969.

Credit: Diana Davies

This Sunday, June 28, will mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the event largely regarded as a catalyst for the LGBT movement for civil rights in the United States.  The riots inspired LGBT people throughout the country to organize in support of gay rights, and within two years after the riots, gay rights groups had been started in nearly every major city in the United States. 

At the time, there were not many places where people could be openly gay. New York had laws prohibiting homosexuality in public, and private businesses and gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a group of gay customers at a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn, who had grown angry at the harassment by police, took a stand and a riot broke out. As word spread throughout the city about the demonstration, the customers of the inn were soon joined by other gay men and women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting "gay power."


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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


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

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