Civil Rights History
Historical events, political acts and policy decisions provide the context for the contemporary civil rights debate.
August 14, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
July 17, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pa., July 4, 1993.
July 2, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
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.
July 1, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
"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.
June 22, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
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.
June 18, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution apologizing to African Americans for slavery and segregation. The resolution was introduced by Senator Tom Harkin, D. Iowa, and Senator Sam Brownback. R. Kan.
In the resolution, the Senate "expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices and discrimination from our society."
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of LCCR, said:
"Slavery and the western slave trade are crimes against humanity and will forever be known as our republic's original sin. A formal apology by the U.S. Congress for the dehumanization and racism wrought by both the enslavement of African Americans and for Jim Crow segregation will admittedly never right such a grave wrong, but it is an important first step in acknowledging its tortured legacy.
For almost a century after our civil war, African Americans endured numerous civil and human rights violations including lynchings, deprivation of the right to vote, and other forms disenfranchisement borne out of virulent racism.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights commends Senators Harkin and Brownback for introducing a resolution that appropriately speaks to this past collective injustice. It represents an important advancement for civil and human rights, as well as for racial healing and reconciliation.
This Senate resolution – similar to one passed by the House last year – acknowledges the loss of human dignity and opportunity that continues to this day, and serves as a reminder for future generations that the evils of slavery and racial segregation can never be accepted again.
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.
In The News
Recent news clips on this issue.