A Brief History of Civil Rights Laws in the United States

The civil rights movement in the United States was a struggle for social justice that took place during the 1950s and 1960s. The goal was equality for black people. Here is a brief history of Civil Rights laws in the United States.

1868 – The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States – including former slaves. It also abolished slavery.

1870 – The 15th Amendment granted African-American men the right to vote. (Black women could not vote until 1920, when the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.)

Late 19th century – “Jim Crow” laws were enacted in Southern states. These laws prevented black people from using the same bathrooms, water fountains, and schools as white people. Marriage between blacks and whites was illegal. Seats on busses and train cars were segregated. Blacks were prevented from voting.

1896 – The Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v Ferguson that “separate but equal” was acceptable. In reality, things were very unequal.

June 24, 1941 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802. It opened national defense jobs and other government jobs to all Americans, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin. Roosevelt signed it after A. Philip Randolph, a black labor leader and head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatened to organize a march on Washington D.C., with 100,000 or more protesters, if Roosevelt refused to do something to prevent discrimination.

December 15, 1955 – Rosa Parks a black seamstress, got on a bus after work. She sat in a seat designated for black people. When a white man demanded she give him her seat, she refused and was arrested. This sparked the Montgomery bus system which lasted 381 days until the Supreme Court declared that segregated seating was unconstitutional.

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. In 1957, Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas called out the state National Guard to prevent nine black students from attending high school in Little Rock. The “Little Rock Nine” were able to enter Central High School under armed guard.

In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. became one of the founders the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His activism and speeches played a pivotal role in the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

He also was influential in getting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed. The law aimed at overcoming legal barriers that prevented African-Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment.

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