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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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This Week in Civil Rights: The Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

May 15, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

This Sunday will mark the 55th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the case that ruled that "separate but equal" schools were unconstitutional, striking down legal segregation in the U.S.

Fifty-five years after Brown, most American children still go to segregated schools, with students of color more likely to attend schools in poorer districts that lack resources, such as highly trained teachers and advanced placement classes.  In addition, a disproportionate number of the 1.2 million students that drop out of high school each year are students of color.

In this video recorded for the 50th anniversary of Brown, civil rights icon and LCCR Chairperson Dorothy I. Height discusses the importance of Brown and the challenges that we still face in realizing the dream of a high-quality education for all American children.

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This Week in Civil Rights History: The Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad's Completion

May 12, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

An old photo of a lot of people standing in front of two locomotives

The first transcontinental railroad is completed, 1869.

On May 10, 1869, the first transcontinental railroad in the United States was completed.  The railroad ran from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Sacramento, Calif. Though it was designed to connect the East and West coasts of the U.S., it wasn't connected to the eastern U.S. rail network until 1872.

Chinese workers were recruited to lay the tracks for the Central Pacific Railroad's eastward section of the railroad to keep labor costs down.  White workers were paid $35 a month (about $480 a month in 2008 dollars) and given housing, food and supplies, but the Chinese workers were only paid $25 a month (about $340 a month in 2008 dollars), and were responsible for their own housing, food and supplies.

Initially, there were concerns that Chinese workers wouldn't be able to handle the physically grueling work because they were generally smaller than Whites.  But the Chinese workers were so efficient that they broke records for laying the track, working sometimes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the terrible winter cold and snowstorms in the Sierra Mountains and the summer heat of the desert.

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Former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp Passes Away

May 4, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

Former HUD Secretaries Henry Cisneros and Jack Kemp sitting on a panel

From left to right: Former HUD Secretaries Henry Cisneros and Jack Kemp at a National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity hearing in Chicago in July 2008.

Jack Kemp, former Republican vice presidential candidate and secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), passed away from cancer at his home in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday at the age of 73.

Kemp had a long and distinguished political career, serving in Congress for nine terms and serving as HUD secretary under President George H.W. Bush.  He was also an advocate for civil rights, pushing his party to embrace fair and humane immigration reform, D.C. voting rights, and federal investment in low-income housing.

Along with fellow former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, Kemp co-chaired the bipartisan National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, created in 2008 by LCCREF, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, and the National Fair Housing Alliance.   The commission held hearings all over the country to examine the effect that federal enforcement of fair housing laws and the subprime mortgage crisis have had on residential segregation, releasing a report of its findings with recommendations in December 2008.

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Today in Civil Rights History: May Day and the Haymarket Riot

May 1, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

A depiction of a riot between workers and police on a 19th century city street

The Haymarket riot

May Day, also called International Workers' Day, is a day to celebration the history and achievements of the labor movement, and to commemorate the Haymarket riot of 1886.

On May 1, 1886, more than 350,000 workers across the United States joined a national strike to demand an eight-hour workday. Two days later, during a confrontation between workers and strikebreakers outside the McCormick Reaper Works factory in Chicago, police fired at the striking workers, killing at least two.

The following day, people gathered at Chicago's Haymarket Square to protest the shooting. When police attempted to disperse the rally, a bomb exploded, killing a police officer and injuring dozens.  Police responded by firing into the crowd. Four workers and eight police officers were killed.

Although it was never determined who actually threw the bomb, the incident was used to attack and discredit the labor movement. Eight men were arrested, tried, and found guilty of conspiracy despite a lack of evidence. Seven of the men were sentenced to death; two had their sentences reduced to life in prison, one committed suicide in his jail cell, and the other four were executed on November 11, 1887.

Their trial has been called one of the worst miscarriages of justice in United States history. In 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Atgeld pardoned the remaining three men after determining that they did not receive a fair trial, and that all eight were likely innocent.

In 1889, delegates at an international labor conference declared May 1 a day of labor solidarity, and since then May Day protests have been held annually worldwide.

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The District of Columbia Celebrates Emancipation Day Today

April 16, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Man holding sign that says

A District resident at the "Emancipation Day Parade and Rally for Statehood" in Franklin Square in Washington, D.C.

April 16 is Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C.

On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act. The Act immediately freed 3,100 slaves within the District, provided up to $300 of compensation to former owners who remained loyal to the Union, and provided opportunities for freed slaves to return to Africa by offering $100 to any former slave that chose to emigrate.

This happened nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Confederate states.

In 2005, Emancipation Day became an official holiday in the District.  City employees receive the day off and public schools are closed and there are a number of educational and commemorative events.

When Mayor Adrian Fenty took office in 2007, he used Emancipation Day celebrations to highlight the continued struggle for D.C. voting rights.

Currently, District residents do not have full-voting representation in Congress. A bill that will give Washington, D.C., a full-voting member in the House of Representatives for the first time passed the Senate in February and is currently pending in the House.

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Today in Civil Rights History: Birth Anniversary of LCCR Founder A. Philip Randolph

April 15, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

LCCR founders A. Philip Randolph, seated, and Roy Wilkins with Senator Edward Brooke, R. Mass.

LCCR founders A. Philip Randolph (seated) and Roy Wilkins with Senator Edward Brooke, R. Mass., at a LCCR dinner in the 1970s.

Today is the birth anniversary of civil rights activist and LCCR founder A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979).

Known as one of the greatest Black labor leaders in America, Randolph founded the first African-American-led labor organization chartered by the AFL in 1925 – the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) – to improve the working conditions for porters of the Pullman Company, which was one of the nation's largest employers of Black workers at the time.

It took Randolph 10 years to get BSCP certified as the official representative of the Pullman porters. Two years later, Randolph helped Pullman employees win a collective bargaining agreement with the company that led to pay increases, a shorter work week, and overtime pay.

In addition to his work with BSCP, Randolph led public campaigns to end racial discrimination in the defense industry and called for integration of the military. Threatening a march on Washington of more than 100,000 citizens, Randolph helped convince President Franklin Roosevelt to sign the first federal law promoting equal opportunity, the Fair Employment Act. Issued in 1941, the executive order banned racial discrimination in the defense industry. Randolph's activism was also critical in encouraging President Harry Truman to order an end to segregation in the armed forces in 1948.

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The NAACP Commemorates the Top 100 Films of the Century

April 9, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Brown Sugar movie poster with Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan

In honor of its 100th anniversary, the NAACP has teamed up with Blockbuster to identify the top 100 movies for and about African Americans that have had a significant impact on American society and culture.

The NAACP has nominated nearly 1,000 movies that were released during the 100 years since the organization was founded, such as "Roots," "Foxy Brown," "Boyz 'N The Hood," and "Brown Sugar."

From now until April 27, you can help the NAACP select the top 100 films by rating films on the NAACP Top 100 website. The films are displayed on a timeline alongside key events in civil rights and NAACP history. The site also provides a summary of the film, cast and director information, and the movie's trailer to help you decide. 

The final list will be announced in June.

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Today in Civil Rights History: Labor Leader César Chávez' Birth Anniversary

March 31, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

César Chávez and Duncan West of the Teamsters speaking at a Delano grape strike rally.

César Chávez and Duncan West of the Teamsters speaking at a Delano grape strike rally.

Photo Credit: Joel Levine

Today is the birthday anniversary of labor leader and civil rights activist César Chávez (1927-1993).

Chávez worked tirelessly throughout his career to get higher wages and better working conditions for underpaid farm workers.  Chavez started out as a community organizer at the Community Service Organization (CSO), a Latino civil rights organization, and eventually became the organization's national director. In 1962, he left the CSO to co-found the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with Dolores Huerta, so he could organize farm workers full time.

Chávez' first big success with the NFWA came in 1965.  That year, NFWA joined the Delano Grape Strike, a strike of California grape pickers initiated by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, and turned the strike into a major campaign that attracted national attention.

During the strike, the two unions merged to form the United Farm Workers (UFW).  The strike lasted five years and, in the end, more than 10,000 grape pickers were able to sign UFW union contracts that got them higher wages.

Chávez continued to work for farm workers' rights until his death in 1993.

Chávez' birthday is a holiday in eight states and people celebrate him by promoting service to the community.  This year, in honor of Chávez, UFW is holding a series of marches and rallies around the country throughout March and April.

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Improving the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

March 30, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

A new LCCREF report, "Restoring the Conscience of a Nation," examines the history of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and provides recommendations for improving the commission. 

The commission was created with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as an independent fact-finding body charged with investigating and reporting on civil rights and making recommendations to the federal government on how to fix the problems it uncovers.

In this video, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of LCCR; John Payton, director-counsel of the NAACP LDF; Catherine Powell, professor of law at Fordham University; and Julie Fernandes, principal at the Raben Group, talk about the role the commission has played in advancing civil rights over the last 50 years and explain why they've decided to provide Congress with recommendations for improving the commission. 

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This Week in Civil Rights History: The 23rd Amendment Allows D.C. Residents to Vote for President

March 27, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

This Sunday marks the anniversary of the ratification of the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment allows residents of Washington, D.C., to vote for presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Amendments to the Constitution are proposed by both houses in Congress and require three-fourths of the states to ratify, or approve, them. Ohio ratified the amendment on March 29, 1961, which made the amendment go into effect.

The 1964 election was the first election that district residents voted for president and vice president.

However, the 23rd Amendment did not grant district residents voting representation in Congress.  There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to pass legislation that would give voting representation in Congress to district residents ever since it was created in 1801.

The D.C. Voting Rights Act, which will give the district a full-voting member in the House of Representatives for the first time, passed the Senate in February and is expected to come up for a vote in the House in the coming weeks. 

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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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