Civil Rights History
Historical events, political acts and policy decisions provide the context for the contemporary civil rights debate.
March 26, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
John Hope Franklin, historian and civil rights icon, passed away yesterday in Durham, N.C. He was 94.
"Dr. Franklin's legacy and work will continue to guide us along our national road to an equal and just society. Throughout his life, he worked tirelessly to make sure that the story of America includes the stories of us all, and today we honor his memory," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of LCCR, in a statement.
Franklin had a long and varied career in public service and education. He was a world-renowned historian of the Black American experience. His 1947 book, "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans" is considered the definitive history of African Americans. He regularly updated the book and it is currently in its 8th printing.
In 2007, LCCR honored Franklin with its Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award for his lifelong commitment to incorporating African Americans into American historical texts and representations. This clip from a video shown during the 2007 award dinner tells Franklin's story and why he has become a civil rights icon.
March 25, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Demonstration of protest and mourning for victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911.
On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, an event that galvanized the city and sparked a movement that led to legislation that improved factory safety and workers' protections.
Nearly 150 workers died in the fire, unable to escape from the building due to locked exits and a broken fire escape. It was the most tragic industrial disaster in the history of New York City, and was the worst workplace disaster in the city until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Company manufactured women's blouses, which were called "shirtwaists" or simply "waists" at the time. Most of the company's 600 workers were female immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italy and Germany, some as young as 12, who were paid a mere six or seven dollars a week.
The origins of the fire are unknown, but the fire sparked efforts to improve safety laws and workers' compensation laws.
The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), which grew in size and political power in the wake of the fire, organized a large rally and the Women’s Trade Union League campaigned to investigate working conditions for laborers and collected testimonies.
The governor of New York set up a Factory Investigating Commission, which conducted hearings across the state for five years. As a result, vital factory safety legislation was passed and new workers' compensation laws were pased.
The building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, now called the Brown Building, is a national historic landmark. The UNITE HERE union, which includes ILGWU, honors workers' contributions to American soceity every year on the fire's anniversary.
March 20, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
From the museum: Map of the states that ratified the ERA and a photo of Alice Paul.
This Sunday, March 22, is the anniversary of the U.S. Senate's passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a constitutional amendment that would have ensured equal rights could not be denied on the basis of gender.
Though the amendment was passed by Congress in 1972, it was not ratified by enough states by its July 1982 deadline. Amendments to the Constitution are proposed by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses in Congress and then require ratification, or approval, by three-fourths of the states.
The ERA was written by Alice Paul, a women's rights activist who was instrumental in the 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment, which guaranteed women's right to vote. The ERA was first introduced in Congress in 1923, and has been re-introduced in nearly every session of Congress since then.
Alice Paul's home in Washington D.C. has been the headquarters of the National Women's Party for decades and also the Sewell-Belmont House and Museum, the only museum in the nation's capitol that focuses on women's struggle for full equality.
The museum has a large collection of artifacts from the women's movement, including a searchable online database. It provides tours and is open to the public five days a week.
March 18, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
In honor of Women's History Month, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum is featuring an online exhibit called "Women on Stamps: Part One." This collection is the first in a series of four stamp collections that focus on the accomplishments of women.
In 1893, Queen Isabella I of Spain was the first woman to appear on a U.S. postage stamp. Since that time, the U.S. has honored women by issuing over 200 stamps that feature pioneering women.
"Women on Stamps: Part One" highlights women who have made their mark on politics and social justice, including Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
March 16, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
On March 16, 1870, Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African American to give a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate. In his speech, Revels urged Congress to pressure the Georgia General Assembly to reinstate Black state legislators who had been illegally denied their seats.
In April 1868, Georgia voters ratified a new state constitution, which gave African Americans in Georgia full citizenship, including the right to vote. Voters also elected 29 African Americans to the state House of Representatives and three to the state Senate. However, when the Georgia legislature met in July, members of both houses tried to unseat the Black members by arguing that the state constitution did not permit Black representation.
February 27, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Charlotte E. Ray graduated from Howard Law School on February 27, 1872, becoming not only the first female African-American lawyer in the United States but also the first practicing female lawyer in Washington, D.C.
February 26, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Every year, students across the country celebrate Black History Month in a variety of ways, but a few states have passed laws that require public schools to include Black history in their curriculum throughout the year.
New Jersey, Illinois and New York have each created a commission to review how public schools in the state are teaching Black history and make recommendations on how to improve the curriculum. The commissions are called "Amistad Commissions" after the Amistad, a Spanish slave ship that was the site of a famous slave revolt in 1839.
One of the goals of the New Jersey commission is "to infuse the history of Africans and African-Americans into the social studies curriculum in order to provide an accurate, complete and inclusive history." It has developed a set of lesson plans which teachers will incorporate into their classrooms starting this fall.
However, four years after its law passed, New York has not yet appointed all its commissioners and the commission has never met.
California, Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, Colorado and Michigan have also passed legislation regarding instruction in Black history. Florida's law, passed in 1994, also requires that its public schools teach women's history, Latino history, and the Holocaust.
February 18, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
Eric Holder, the new U.S. attorney general, gave a speech on race in America at a Department of Justice Black History Month event today.
Check out the video or read the full prepared speech.
February 17, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Movies and music can be powerful reflections of our times, past and present, and tell stories that inform and empower millions of people in ways other media cannot. This week, we highlight four Oscar-nominated films that have found compelling ways to tell stories about civil and human rights. The Oscars will be shown on TV this Sunday, February 22.
A film about a man who witnessed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King has been nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject at this year's Oscars.
"The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306," directed by Adam Pertofsky, tells the story of the final days of King's life through the eyes of Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles, a close friend who was with King when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. Kyles reflects on King's life, the legacy of the civil rights movement, and what led King to work in Memphis.
February 16, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
Check out this CNN piece about the unique relationship between President Abraham Lincoln and Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
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.