Civil Rights History
Historical events, political acts and policy decisions provide the context for the contemporary civil rights debate.
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.
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.
May 12, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
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.
May 4, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
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.
May 1, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
The Haymarket riot
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.
April 16, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
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.
April 15, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
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.
April 9, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
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.
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.