Civil Rights

views updated May 29 2018

Civil Rights

Linda T. Wynn

Early Rights Movements

Civil Rights during the Reconstruction Period

Civil Rights in the Early Twentieth Century

Civil Rights into the Twenty-First Century

Civil Rights in the Twenty-First Century

Civil Rights Activists

Federal and State Civil Rights Agencies

Throughout the history of the United States, African Americans have struggled to obtain basic civil rights. It is a struggle that has spanned several centuries—from the mutinies by Africans during the Atlantic crossing to the insurrections organized by slaves in the New World, from the founding of such organizations as the Free African Society and the abolition movement to the civil rights marches and demonstrations of the twentieth century.



In 1787, as a result of segregation and discriminatory practices within the Methodist church, the Reverends Richard Allen and Absalom Jones formed the Free African Society in Philadelphia. (Seven years later, Allen founded the Bethel African Methodist Church, the first African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in America; Jones became the rector of a Protestant Episcopal Church.) The society was an important model for political consciousness and economic organization for African Americans throughout the country. It provided spiritual guidance and religious instruction; economic aid, burial assistance, relief to widows; and medical and financial assistance to orphans. The society also advocated abolition and maintained channels of communication with African Americans in the South. Similar to the many other African American organizations that followed, the society was rooted in religious principles. Throughout the nineteenth century, a number of mutual aid societies sprang up in African American communities in eastern cities, such as New York, Newport, and Boston, providing loans, insurance, and various other economic and social services to their members and the larger community. The society also helped to facilitate communications between free African Americans throughout the country.


The press and the pulpit served as important tools in the anti-slavery movement. In 1827 Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm founded Freedom’s Journal in New York, the first African American-owned and operated newspaper in the United States. Freedom’s Journal, which ceased publication after only three years, was concerned not only with eradicating slavery but also with the growing discrimination and cruelty against free African Americans in both the South and North.

In 1847, abolitionist Frederick Douglass published the first edition of the North Star, which eventually became one of the most successful African American newspapers in America prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Douglass, an escaped slave from Maryland, became one of the best known African American abolitionists in the country. He lectured extensively throughout the United States and England. In 1845, he published his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

Although the abolition movement was dominated by whites, numerous African American leaders played a major role in the movement including such figures as Henry Highland Garnet, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth.


Following the Civil War, Republicans, who controlled the U.S. Congress, took up the cause of the newly freed African Americans. Between 1865 and 1875, Congress passed three amendments to the Constitution and a string of civil rights and Reconstructionist legislation. The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified December 18, 1865, abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified July 28, 1868, guaranteed citizenship and provided equal protection under the laws. Ratified on March 30, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment protected the right of all citizens to vote. In 1866, 1870, 1871, and 1875, Congress passed civil rights legislation outlining and protecting basic rights including the right to purchase and sell property and access to public accommodations. The Reconstruction Acts, passed between 1867 and 1869, called for new state constitutional conventions in those states that had seceded from the Union prior to the Civil War.

Reconstruction eventually produced a wave of anti-African American sentiment, though. White organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, which aimed at intimidating African Americans and preventing them from taking their place in society, sprang up throughout the North and the South. In 1871, Congress enacted the Ku Klux Klan Act as an effort to end intimidation and violence directed at African Americans. However, the act failed to exterminate the Klan and other terrorist organizations.

The civil rights and Reconstructionist legislation were difficult for many whites to accept and did little to change racist attitudes. The last of the civil rights acts, passed by Congress in 1875, prohibited discrimination in public accommodations. However, by the 1880s the debate as to the constitutionality of such legislation had reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Ruling in a group of five cases in 1883, which became known as the Civil Rights Cases, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the 1875 Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional on the grounds that the Fourteenth Amendment authorized Congress to legislate only against discriminatory state action and not discrimination by private individuals. The Court’s ruling brought about an end to federal efforts to protect the civil rights of African Americans until the mid-twentieth century.


By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, lynching had become a weapon used by whites against African Americans throughout the country. Between 1882 and 1990, approximately 1,750 African Americans were lynched in the United States. Victims included women who had been accused of a variety of “offenses” ranging from testifying in court against a white man to failing to use the word “mister” when addressing a white person. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a journalist and social activist, became one of the leading voices in the anti-lynching crusade by writing and lecturing throughout the United States and England against its practice.


Prior to the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the court had started to build a platform upon which the doctrine of “separate but equal” would be based. In 1878, ruling in the case Hall v. DeCuir, the court declared that states could not prohibit segregation on common carriers, such as streetcars and railroads. Thereafter, segregation laws sprang up throughout the South. Three years after the Hall v. Decuir ruling, Tennessee enacted the nation’s first racial-segregation railways law.

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court faced the issue of segregation on public transportation. At the time, as was the case in many parts of the South, a Louisiana state law was enacted requiring that “separate but equal” accommodations for blacks and whites be maintained in all public facilities. When Homer Adolph Plessy, an African American man traveling by train from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana, refused to ride in the “colored” railway coach, he was arrested.

With Justice Billings Brown delivering the majority opinion in the Plessy case, the Court declared that “separate but equal” accommodations constituted a reasonable use of state police power and that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution could not be used to abolish social or racial distinctions or to force a co-mingling of the two races. The Supreme Court effectively reduced the significance of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was designed to give African Americans specific rights and protections. The ruling in the Plessy case, which was termed the “separate but equal” doctrine, paved the way for the segregation of African Americans in all walks of life.



During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, two figures—Booker T. Washington and William Edward Burghardt Du Bois—emerged as leaders in the struggle for African American political and civil rights. Washington, an educator and founder of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, was a strong advocate of practical, utilitarian education and manual training as a means for developing African Americans. (Founded in 1881, Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute was based on a program at Hampton Institute that provided vocational training and prepared its students to survive economically in a segregated society.) In Washington’s opinion, education should provide African Americans with the means to become economically self-supporting. Speaking at the Cotton States International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895, Washington outlined his philosophy of self-help and cooperation between African Americans and whites:

To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is their next door neighbor, I would say: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are’—cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded.

Later, W. E. B. DuBois dubbed Washington’s address the “Atlanta Compromise.”

W. E. B. DuBois, a young historian and Harvard graduate, challenged Washington’s passive policies in a series of stinging essays and speeches. Du Bois advocated the uplifting of African Americans through an educated African American elite, which he referred to as the “Talented Tenth,” or roughly a tenth of the African American population. He believed that these African Americans must become proficient in education and culture, which would eventually benefit all. In 1905, Du Bois, along with a group of other African American intellectuals, formed the Niagara Movement. The group drew up a platform that called for full citizenship rights for African Americans and public recognition of their contributions to America’s stability and progress. The movement eventually evolved into what became known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


In 1941, A. Philip Randolph, organizer of an employment bureau for untrained African Americans and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, came up with the idea of leading a march of African Americans in Washington, DC, to protest discrimination. On July 25, less than a week before the scheduled demonstration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 8802, which banned discrimination in the defense industry and led to the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Committee.


The Civil Rights movement suffered many defeats in the first half of the twentieth century. Repeated efforts to obtain passage of federal anti-lynching bills failed. The all-white primary system, which effectively disenfranchised Southern citizens of African descent, resisted numerous court challenges. The Depression worsened conditions in rural and in urban areas. On the positive side, the growing political power of African Americans in Northern cities and an increasing liberal trend in the Supreme Court portended the legal and legislative victories of the 1950s and 1960s.


After the First World War, African Americans sought graduate and professional training, however, such opportunities existed only in a few Northern universities and at some privately supported African American institutions of higher learning such as Howard, Fisk and Atlanta Universities. Concomitantly, it was believed that the public should offer graduate and professional training not only for whites but for African Americans as well. More than a few Southern states took cognizance of this, and by 1935 their legislative bodies appropriated funds for out-of-state training for African Americans. African Americans were willing to seek redress from the judicial system to compel the states to carry out their obligations to the African American citizenry. As early as 1933, Thomas Hocutt of North Carolina sought admittance to the school of pharmacy at the University of North Carolina by filing a suit action against the university. Yet, when he neglected to establish his eligibility for admission, the court ruled against Hocutt on a legal technicality.

Beginning in the 1930s, the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDEF) turned to the courts in an attempt to overcome legally sanctioned racial segregation. Headed by Attorney Charles Hamilton Houston, the Fund successful litigated three cases between 1935 and 1938. He along with his assistant, attorney Thurgood Marshall devised a strategy to attack Jim Crow laws by striking at higher education. By 1950, the LDEF had litigated two other cases that chipped away at legally sanction segregation.

In 1935, Murry v. Maryland was the first case. Donald Gaines Murry, as Marshall before him, was denied entrance to the University of Maryland’s School of Law because of it racial policies. Marshall argued that since there were no “black” law schools with the same academic standing as the University of Maryland’s Law School and that by denying Murry admittance, the university was violating the “separate but equal” principle as enunciated in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case. He furthered argued that the disparities between the “white” and “black” law schools were so great that the only remedy would be to allow Murray to attend the university’s law school. The Baltimore City Court agreed. Subsequently, the university appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals. In 1936, the Court of Appeals ruled in the plaintiff’s favor and ordered the Maryland Law School to admit the aspiring attorney. Murray was graduated two years later.

The same year that the Maryland Court of Appeals heard the Murry case, the LDEF took on the case of Lloyd Gaines, a graduate student attending the all-African-American Lincoln University. Gaines, who applied to the University of Missouri’s Law School, was denied admittance because of his race. As was the custom, the State of Missouri offered Gaines a scholarship to a law school in a neighboring state. He refused the offer and filed suit against Missouri. When the Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada case reached the U. S. Supreme Court in 1938, Houston defended his client on the grounds that offering him an out-of-state scholarship was no substitute for admission. Six members of the Supreme Court agreed stating that since no black law school existed in the State of Missouri, it had to establish an equal facility or admit Gaines. Ten years later Houston’s assistant would appear before the court arguing on behalf Ada Lois Sipuel.

Sipuel, an African American, had been graduated summa cum laude with an undergraduate degree in Political Science. In 1946, she applied to the University of Oklahoma Law School. Despite her excellent academic qualifications, Sipuel was denied admittance based upon her race. Marshall and local attorney Amos T. Hall argued her case before the Oklahoma District Court asking that the university be required to admit Sipuel. The court ruled in favor of the university. A year later, Oklahoma’s State Supreme Court upheld the district court’s decision. In 1948, Marshall and Amos took the Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma case to the United State Supreme Court. The country’s highest tribunal reversed the lower courts and held that the state was required to provide African Americans with equal educational opportunities. Notwithstanding the court’s decision, George W. McLaurin provided the case that damaged the “separate but equal” doctrine beyond repair.

McLaurin, a veteran educator with a master’s degree from the University of Kansas taught classes at Langston University until 1948, when he applied to the University of Oklahoma. In his 60s, the aspiring doctoral student wanted to pursue the terminal degree in school administration. Although admitted to the university, he was relegated to separate niches in all areas of the educational process. McLaurin was required to sit apart at a designated desk in an anteroom adjoining the classroom; to sit at a designated desk on the mezzanine floor of the library, but not to use the desks in the regular reading room; to sit at a designated table and to eat at a different time from the white students in the cafeteria; and to use restroom facilities. The graduate student felt that these dire conditions adversely affected his ability to learn and he thereby sought judicial relief. His case worked in conjunction with the Sipuel suit to desegregate higher education in Oklahoma. Marshall argued his case before the state courts and lost. However, he immediately appealed the case to the U. S. Supreme Court, where he argued that the treatment rendered toward McLaurin violated the 14th Amendment. On June 5, 1950, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the appellant. Chief Justice Fred Vinson, writing for the court, said that McLaurin “must receive the same treatment at the hands of the state as students of other races.”

On the same day that the Supreme Court announced its ruling in the McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents of Higher Education case, it also handed down its opinion in the Sweat v. Painter case. In 1946,Herman Sweat, an African American applied to the University of Texas’ white law school. To avoid the mixing of the races, the state of Texas established an under-funded law school for African Americans in 1947. Sweat sought the legal assistance of Marshall and the NAACP LDEF. Marshall filed suite against the university’s white law school in which he argued that Sweat was not receiving the same academic quality as the education he would be receiving if he attended the white law school. When the Supreme Court rendered its unanimous decision, it agreed with Sweat. It was not possible, declared Chief Justice Vinson for the black law school to provide the plaintiff with an education equal to that of the university law school, which had a strong faculty, experienced administrators, influential alumni, standing in the community, tradition and prestige. While the black law school and the white law school may have been separate, they were not equal.

The legal system in the United States is set up upon the standard of stare decisis— legal precedent establishes the law. The carefully planed stratagem of the LDEF’s attorneys was to get the United States Supreme Court to make a sequence of rulings that buttressed racial desegregation. Successful in its line of attack, these decisions became lawful paradigms and the underpinning for deconstructing segregation in public schools, thereby revealing the defectiveness of the court sanctioned public policy of separate but equal.

Numerous Supreme Court decisions between the 1930s and 1954 contain strong language condemning racial discrimination. However, on four separate occasions between 1938 and 1950, African Americans sought admittance to white graduate or professional schools and four times the United States Supreme Court order their admission. While the decisions did not explicitly topple the doctrine of separate but equal, they did bring into focus the far-reaching inequality that manifested itself between schools for African Americans and school for whites. The Supreme Court’s finding of ubiquitous inequality and its unremitting refusal to sustain racial classification paved the road for the Brown v. Board of Topeka, Kansas decision.


A great deal of the civil rights struggle throughout this period was carried on by the NAACP, which began chipping away at the roots of legalized segregation in a series of successful lawsuits. A major breakthrough for the NAACP came in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that discrimination in education was unconstitutional. The Brown case involved the practice of denying African American children equal access to state public schools, due to state laws requiring or permitting racial segregation. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that segregation deprived the children of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, overturning the “separate but equal” doctrine established in Plessy.


Economic boycotts and protests as a modus operandi used by American Blacks during their mid-twentieth century struggle to secure civil rights and liberties as referenced by the United States Constitution was not a modern-day approach. In the 1800s, abolitionists in the North made use of the boycott in their refusal to procure products from slave states, not wanting to support the South’s financial structure. Early African Americans themselves used boycott and protest methods to demonstrate against America’s unjust treatment. Having staged several streetcar “ride-ins,” abolitionist/feminist Sojourner Truth sued a streetcar driver who forced her off his streetcar and won. Later, in the century’s last decade, journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett seized upon the segregated transportation system with a demonstrated act of resistance. At the dawn of the 20th century, African Americans again employed the stratagems of economic boycotts and protests. From 1900 to 1906, African Americans in more than twenty-five southern cities organized boycotts of segregated streetcars. The principle leaders of these boycotts included clergymen, businessmen, newspaper editors, and others who followed Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of accommodation, self-help, and uplift. These concerted refusals occurred during the period of disintegrating race relations, insidious racial violence, and white leaders’ uncontrolled efforts to legally systematize the separation of African Americans and whites with defacto and dejure customs and laws. A half-century later, African Americans in Montgomery again instituted the boycott and economic withdrawals against the public transportation system. Inspired by Mohandas K. Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence and direct civil disobedience, this ideology not only sustained the Montgomery

Bus Boycott for more than a year, it also permeated other phases of the modern struggle for civil rights.

There was an economic component to the campaigns for equal and just treatment of African Americans as consumers—at lunch counters, movie theatres, hotels, and amusement parks, which were the immediate pressure in boycotts of downtown business districts. Another element that was just as enveloping was demands for employment opportunities long denied African Americans. This element was demonstrated in slogans such as, “Don’t buy where you cannot be a salesman.”

After decades of struggles, an open crusade began in the 1950s against calcified racial intolerance and discrimination, a struggle that proved to be of an extended duration and the century’s most problematical. Although whites played a role in the Modern Civil Rights Movement, pressure from African Americans was the elemental component in raising the question of race to prominence. The four major civil rights organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP, 1909); the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE, 1942); the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC, 1957); and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, 1966), all employed an assortment of boycott and protest methods to effectively wield economic pressure upon America’s social and institutional forms of injustices and inequities carried out against American blacks.

Two years before the Montgomery movement seized the nation’s attention and propelled King into the Modern Civil Rights Movement, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Reverend T. J. Jemison initiated one of the first bus boycotts by American Blacks in the country’s southern region. In January of 1953, legislative members of Baton Rouge’s parish council increased the bus fare from ten to fifteen cents. The fare increase angered African American patrons who made up more than 80 percent of the system’s clientele. As in other southern cities, while the front seats were reserved for whites, African Americans were forced to sit in the back of the bus and pay full fare. At the parish council meeting on February 11, Jemison, the pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, condemned the fare increase and petitioned the council to terminate the codified system of reserved seating on city buses. Two weeks later, the council voted to amend Baton Rouge’s seating code when it passed Ordinance 222. The amended code, which became effective 19 March 1953, permitted American Blacks to sit in the front seats of the buses if they did not occupy the same seat as or sit in front of a white passenger. While the ordinance abolished set aside seating, it required American Blacks to board the buses from back to front and white passengers from front to back. For almost three months, city bus drivers ignored Ordinance 222. In early June, they were ordered to comply with the decree. Because two drivers were suspended for noncompliance, on 15 June the city’s bus drivers went on strike for four days. The day before the bus drivers ended their strike, the United Defense League met and organized Baton Rouge’s Bus Boycott. The black community conducted a seven-day boycott, which ended when city officials reaffirmed the ordinance. Although short-lived, the Baton Rouge bus boycott served as a paradigm for similar protests throughout the South, including the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Bus boycotts and their concomitant protests and economic withdrawals became effective nonviolent devices used by movement leaders throughout the South.

At the onset of the Modern Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery, Alabama was one of the first cities to employ economic pressure as a method of protest. Black Montgomery’s year-long boycott caused the bus company, downtown businessmen, and the city of Montgomery to lose approximately $1 million. The economic boycott and a positive judgment in 1956 by the Untied States Supreme Court in the Gayle v. Browder case

brought a major civil rights achievement to the black citizens of Montgomery.

African Americans also used protests to secure fair wages and better working conditions as clearly established by the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee. The city’s African American sanitation workers earned far less than did white sanitation workers. While the primary impetus for the protest marches and demonstrations rested on the underpinning of economics, they brought into focus other societal maladies, including blatant racial discrimination that manifested themselves in the African American community. Throughout the 1960s and into the 21st century, African Americans boycotted and protested with their wallets where the remnants of racism remained covert rather than overt. They targeted such corporations as Texaco, Denny’s, Coco Cola, and Cracker Barrel, only to name a few.

African Americans successfully used the concept put forth by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1932, when they effectively engaged economic and political pressures that “exert[ed] coercion upon the white man’s life” and more significantly, adversely influenced the profit and loss margins of his entrepreneurial enterprises. Their use of boycotts and protests made the Siamese twin methodologies a compelling raison d’être to effect constructive social change. African American activists and others with their use of boycotts and protests aided in making America and its citizens more aware of, conscious about, and sensitive to all subjugated and oppressed groups singled out and discriminated against historically.


Rosa Parks was one of the major catalysts for the 1960s Civil Rights movement. On December 1, 1955, when Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man—as the law required—she was arrested and sent to jail. As a result of Parks’s arrest, African Americans throughout Montgomery refused to ride city buses. The Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Martin Luther King Jr. was highly successful and ultimately led to the integration of all Montgomery city buses, when on November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court in Gayle v. Browder ruled that bus segregation in Montgomery was unconstitutional. This case unlike the Brown case specifically overturned the Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision because it—like Plessy—specifically applied to transportation.

The eventual success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott encouraged a wave of massive demonstrations that swept across the South. Denied service at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, freshman students Ezell Blair Jr., Joseph McNeil, Francis McCain, and Davidson Richardson, started the sit-in movement on February 1, 1960. While the North Carolina students received the attention of the national media, a small cadre of Nashville students and adult leaders had tested the city’s exclusionary racial policies in the final months of the preceding year. Twelve days after the sit-ins began in North Carolina, African American students in Nashville launched their first full-scale sit-ins. In response to white harassment, Nashville students formulated ten rules of conduct for demonstrators that later became the code of behavior for protest movements in the South. The Nashville student movement was described by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the “best organized and most disciplined movements in the South.” On May 10, 1960, Nashville became the first major city to begin desegregating its public facilities. That same year, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was created and included among its members Julian Bond, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, and John Lewis.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s galvanized African Americans and sympathetic whites as nothing had ever done before, but was not without cost. Thousands of people were jailed because they defied Jim Crow laws. Others were murdered, and homes and churches were bombed. People lost their jobs and their homes because they supported the movement.

On August 28, 1963, nearly 250,000 people marched in Washington, DC, to awaken the nation’s conscience regarding civil rights and to encourage the passage of civil rights legislation pending in Congress. The march was a cooperative effort of several civil rights organizations including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Negro American Labor Council, and the National Urban League. It was during this demonstration that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, gave his well-known and oft-quoted “I Have a Dream” speech. More than an oration about a dream that America would at last practice the tenet expressed in the Declaration of Independence that all people are created equal, King told the nation that as far as African Americans were concerned, it had failed to make payment on its promissory note—one that guaranteed the “unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” to all. He stated, “We have come to cash this check—a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” Eighteen days after King’s speech, white racists dynamited the occupied Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four girls attending Sunday School—Denise McNair, 11-years old, and Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, all 14 years old—were killed by the explosion. Later King declared, “The innocent blood of these four little girls may well serve as the redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city. . . . Indeed, this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience.”

At its zenith, the Civil Rights movement was the most important event taking place in America. Through demonstrations, “sit-ins,” marches, economic boycotts, and soaring discourse, the movement aroused widespread public indignation, thus creating an atmosphere in which it was possible to make positive changes in American society.


Four men, believed to be members of the Ku Klux Klan were identified as suspects in the terror campaign against the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) led the original investigation. It was determined that Robert E. Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash, and Thomas E. Blanton Jr. planted the explosive device. To its credit, the Birmingham FBI office recommended that the suspects be prosecuted. Director J. Edgar Hoover prevented prosecution and court proceedings, however, by refusing the recommendation that the federal prosecutor be given the testimony that identified the suspects. Five years after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing no charges had been filed and the FBI closed the case.

In 1971, Alabama Attorney General, Bill Baxley reopened the case. Six years later, on November 18, Chambliss, also known as “Dynamite Bob,” was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Again, in 1988 and 1997, the case was reopened after informants tipped-off the FBI. Herman Frank Cash, one of the four suspects, died in 1994, however, before a case could be launched against him. On May 17, 2000, the remaining two suspects, Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were charged with the 1963 murders of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. Almost a year later, on May 1, Blanton was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Almost four decades after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing—one of the most heinous acts of terrorism perpetrated against the modern civil rights movement—the final terrorist was put on trial. Bobby Frank Cherry’s trial was postponed, however, after Circuit Judge James Garrett initially ruled that he was mentally incompetent and unable to assist his attorney with his defense. In January 2002, Judge Garrett reversed his ruling after “experts” convinced him that Cherry was feigning the disability. Cherry was charged with four counts of murder and four counts of arson. On May 22, 2002, a jury of nine whites and three African Americans returned a guilty verdict against Cherry, who was later sentenced to life imprisonment.

Other Cases Throughout the 1990s and into the first decade of the twenty-first century, civil rights cases from the 1960s and 1970s were reopened despite the longing of some white Southerners to conceal the region’s racist past. In April 1998, officials in Natchez, Mississippi, reopened the investigation into the 1967 killing of Wharlest Jackson, treasurer of the Natchez NAACP. Jackson, who was killed when a bomb tore asunder his pick-up truck, had been promoted to a position—previously held only by whites—at a local tire plant. No one was ever arrested.

Sam Bowers, former imperial wizard for the Ku Klux Klan, was indicted and convicted in August 1998 for the 1966 murder of Vernon Dahmer Sr., president of the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, NAACP chapter. Dahmer was killed by an explosive device detonated at his home. Originally, 14 Klansmen were tried for this murder, but only three were convicted. When authorities brought Charles Nobel, another suspect in the Dahmer case, before the bar of justice in June 1999, the case ended in a mistrial.

Later, in November 1999, Charles Caston, James Caston, and Hal Crimm were sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 1970 murder of Rainey Pool, a one-armed sharecropper from Midnight, Mississippi. Pool was beaten unconscious by a mob and thrown into the Sunflower River. Originally, seven white men were arrested, but the charges were dismissed. Two died, one was acquitted in June 1998, and another, Joe Oliver, pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in 1999. Charles Caston later died in prison.

The FBI reopened the murder investigations for Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee in Natchez, Mississippi, in February 2000. Two men were arrested, but the charges were later dismissed. Four months later, Ernest H. Avants was indicted on federal charges in the June 10, 1966, murder of farmhand Ben Chester White. Authorities reported that White might have been killed in a plot designed to bring Dr. Martin Luther King to Mississippi in an attempt to assassinate the noted leader of the civil rights movement.

In January 2001, the Mississippi attorney general stated that authorities are “vigorously pursuing” possible murder charges in the 1964 slayings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney. The following month, officers of the court reviewed the death of black truck driver Ben Brown who was killed on May 11, 1967, during a civil rights protest in Jackson, Mississippi. The FBI reopened its investigation of the 1965 murder of Oneal Moore, killed on a remote stretch of Louisiana’s Route 21 in Varnado, and his partner, Creed Rogers. They were the first African Americans hired by the Washington Parish Sheriff’s office. A shotgun blast to the back of Moore’s head killed him instantly, while Rogers lost an eye and sustained other serious gunshot wounds in the same incident. Shortly after the shooting, police authorities arrested suspected Klansman Earnest Ray McElveen. Although he failed to give a confirmable alibi, McElveen was released and no arrests were ever made in the case.

Two other cases reopened included the 1951 killings in Florida of NAACP members Harry T. Moore and his wife—who died when their home was bombed—and the 1957 murder of Willie Edwards Jr., a resident of Montgomery, Alabama, who jumped off a bridge when Klansmen threatened him with a gun. Prosecutors officially closed both cases.

After evading the bar of justice for more than 40 years, in June 2005,Mississippi authorities finally brought Edgar Ray “Preacher” Killen, a former Klan leader, to trail for the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. The 1964 “Freedom Summer” killings of the three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi, helped spur the modern civil rights movement that led to African Americans gaining access to voting, education, and public accommodations. On June 21, a jury composed of nine whites and three blacks took only five and one-half hours to find Killen guilty of manslaughter. The following day, the 80-year old was sentenced by Judge Marcus Jordan to three consecutive terms of 20 years.

Despite the threat of awakening specters of the Old South, a new generation of law enforcement officials and officers of the court have become prepared to re-examine civil rights crimes against people of African descent during the 1960s and the 1970s.


The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s produced significant gains for African Americans. However, historic patterns of hiring and promotion left minorities vulnerable, especially during downward spirals in the national economy. In June 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered opinions in several cases dealing with seniority systems and racial discrimination in employment. Ruling in the cases Lorance v. AT&T Technologies Inc., Martin v. Wilks, Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, and Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Antonio, the Court appeared to reverse earlier civil rights rulings.

Prior to the Court’s ruling in Wards Cove, the burden of proof in job discrimination suits had been placed on employers, requiring businesses to prove that there was a legitimate business reason for alleged discriminatory practices. With the Wards Cove decision, the Court made it more difficult for groups to win such suits by requiring workers to prove that no clear business reason existed for an employer’s use of practices that result in discrimination. Civil rights organizations were quick to protest the rulings; opponents of the ruling, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, argued that the Court had undermined the protection granted by federal civil rights and equal employment legislation.

On October 16 and 17, 1990, both houses of Congress approved a bill designed to reverse the Court’s ruling. The proposed legislation not only reversed the Court’s ruling in Wards Cove, but it also strengthened provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. On October 22, 1990, President George H. W. Bush vetoed the bill, claiming that its provisions would encourage employers to establish hiring quotas.

This was not the first time that Congress moved to reverse a Court action in the area of civil rights; Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 that reversed the Court’s ruling in Grove City College v. Bell (1984). In the Grove City College case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that not all programs and activities of an institution were covered by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Public Law 89–10, 79 Stat. 27), prohibiting discrimination in educational programs receiving federal financial assistance.

After vetoing Congress’s 1990 civil rights legislation, the Bush administration joined both houses of Congress in working on alternative bills. Following months of negotiation, the Senate passed a bill designed to provide additional remedies for deterring harassment and intentional discrimination in the workplace, to provide guidelines for the adjudication of cases arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and to expand the scope of civil rights legislation weakened by Supreme Court decisions. The House of Representatives passed the bill on November 7, and on November 21, President George H. W. Bush signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991.


In the late 1960s, incidents of police abuse sparked civil unrest, costly and violent uprisings, and a lingering distrust between minority communities and the police. In an effort to understand the causes of these incidents, President Lyndon Johnson created the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission. On July 27, 1968, the commission released its findings: among other things, 12 “deeply held grievances” had been found in the communities that it studies, the most intense being police practices. Unfortunately, as the examples below confirm, major problems in police treatment of minority communities still existed several decades later.

In late 1989, a pregnant white woman, Carol Stuart, was murdered in the racially divided city of Boston. Her husband told the police that her killer was an African American male. His allegations led police to conduct a manhunt in the predominantly African American neighborhood of Roxbury. African Americans in the community were outraged once it was revealed that Charles Stuart had murdered his wife—Stuart, who was having an extramarital affair and financial problems, subsequently committed suicide—and they charged the police department with applying a “double standard of justice.” In response, Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn appointed the St. Clair Commission to examine allegations of abuse of power by the police department.

In 1991, following a high speed chase, African American motorist Rodney King was subdued with extreme force and arrested by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The broadcast of a videotape of the King beating galvanized international attention on police brutality in Los Angeles. In a subsequent court trial, however, a predominantly white jury found the four officers not guilty of charges filed against them. The verdict ignited one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States. Later, the federal government indicted the officers on charges that they violated King’s civil rights. Two of the officers were convicted and incarcerated.

In response to this chain of events, Mayor Tom Bradley created an independent commission to investigate the LAPD. In July 1991, the Christopher Commission released its findings. Documenting the systematic use of excessive force and racial harassment in the department, the report called for structural reforms and the resignation of Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates. “Within minority communities of Los Angeles, there is a widely held view that police misconduct is commonplace,” stated the Christopher Report. “Long standing complaints [are held] by African Americans, Latinos and Asians that LAPD officers frequently treat minorities differently from whites … employing unnecessarily intrusive practices such as the ’prone-out,’ and engaging in use of excessive force.”

Well into the 1990s, scores of other police brutality incidents against blacks surfaced in numerous cities across the nation. These reports included: the 1995 videotaped beating of Corey West in Providence, Rhode Island; the killing of motorist Jonny Gammage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the 1996 killing of TyRon Lewis in St. Petersburg, Florida; the fatal shooting of unarmed Nathaniel Gaines Jr. in New York City; the 1997 alleged beating of Jeremiah Mearday in Chicago; and the 1998 fatal shooting of Tyisha Miller in Riverside, California.

Many of these incidents, which occurred under questionable circumstances, produced protests and investigations by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and prompted a national debate on police, race, and the use of deadly force. Civil rights organizations asserted that these incidents mirrored a discriminatory use of deadly force and critical problems ranging from racially motivated police brutality to unprovoked stops and interrogation of minorities based on racial profiling.

Perhaps, the two most controversial and high profile cases of police brutality occurred in New York within a two-year span. On August 9, 1997, law enforcement officers assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, who worked as a security guard in Brooklyn, New York. On February 4, 1999, four officers from the New York City Street Crime Unit (SCU), working undercover and patrolling the Sound-view neighborhood for a serial rapist, fired 41 shots at Amadou Bailo Diallo, a 22 year-old Muslim immigrant from Guinea, who was outside his apartment.

New York Police Department (NYPD) officers Justin Volpe, Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wiese, and Thomas Bruder from Brooklyn’s 70th Precinct arrived at a brawl outside a nightclub at 4:00 A.M. on August 9, 1997. Abner Louima was present, as was his cousin, who struck officer Volpe during the fracas. Volpe mistakenly believed that Louima had thrown the punch and arrested him. According to reports, the Haitian immigrant was beaten by the officers en route to the precinct. Upon arrival, Louima was taken to the restroom where Volpe sodomized him with a wooden stick. Suffering serious internal injuries, he required numerous surgeries and was hospitalized for two months.

The four police officers were indicted for varying levels of involvement in the brutal beating. On December 13, 1999, after pleading guilty, Volpe was sentenced to 30 years in prison, which he appealed. Schwarz was found guilty of holding the Haitian victim down while Volpe assaulted him, but Schwarz, Wiese, and Bruder were acquitted of beating Louima on the way to the precinct. On March 6, 2000, all three were found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Based on his role in the bathroom assault, Schwarz was convicted for violating Louima’s civil rights. On June 27, 2000, District Judge Eugene H. Nickerson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York sentenced Schwarz to almost 16 years imprisonment and ordered restitution to Louima in the amount of $277,495.

Retaining attorney Johnnie Cochran (1937–2005), Louima filed a $15.5 million civil rights violation suit against New York City, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, and individual officers. It was settled in July 2001 for $8.7 million, the highest settlement that New York has ever paid for a police brutality case.

On February 28, 2002, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the obstruction of justice convictions against Schwarz, Wiese, and Bruder, and ordered a new trial for Schwarz on the civil rights charge. Less than a month after the court overturned Schwarz’s conviction, he was indicted on two counts of lying under oath. A new trial date for Schwarz was set on June 24, 2002. In July, a federal jury deadlocked on the civil rights charges but convicted Schwarz of perjury. Rather than face another trial on the civil rights charges, in September Schwarz agreed to a five-year sentence for the perjury charge and prosecutors dropped the other charges. Schwarz, his family, and his attorneys were barred from ever speaking publicly about the case. In March of 2006, prosecutors contacted the Bureau of Prisons and recommended reducing Swartz’s sentence to 47 months. However, prison official refused. They stated that the law only allowed them to grant early freedom to terminally ill prisoners. Later in the month, a federal judge rejected his plea for an early release.

In the Amadou Diallo shooting of February 4, 1999, Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss, and Richard Murphy, four officers from the New York City SCU fired 41 shots—19 hits—at the unarmed West African immigrant, who was standing in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment. The officers contended that they suspected Diallo was a sought-after serial rapist and that he had reached for a gun. Some argued that the Diallo shooting was indicative of police brutality carried out by the NYPD toward people of color.

Incensed over the circumstances of the shooting, numerous persons and organizations, including the NAACP, staged a protest rally on March 18, 1999. On March 26, 1999, the officers were indicted on charges of second-degree murder. Five days later, all pleaded not guilty. They served a 30-day suspension from police duties without pay and were assigned desk duty. The trial began on February 2, 2000. Judge Teresi ruled that the prosecution could not reveal that three of the four officers had fired their weapons at suspects in the past.

In addition to the second-degree murder charge, the jury was allowed to consider manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. After two days deliberating, though, they returned not guilty verdicts for all the defendants on February 23, 2000. In early March, the U.S. Justice Department investigated whether a federal civil rights case was warranted. It issued a statement on January 31, 2001, that insufficient evidence existed to prove that

the officers intended to use excessive force, which is a requirement to prove they violated Diallo’s civil rights. Therefore, the federal civil rights charges against McMellon, Carroll, Boss, and Murphy were rescinded. On April 18, 2000, Diallo’s family filed an $81 million civil suit against the city of New York. This lawsuit was still pending at the time of publication. As a result of the Amadou Diallo killing, however, the issues of police brutality and racial profiling became national concerns. Nevertheless, incidents of police brutality did not diminish.

On Monday, July 8, 2002, the videotape of 16-year-old African American Donovan Jackson being beaten and arrested at a gas station in Inglewood, California, captured national attention. Inglewood police officers were assisting two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, who were investigating a car with an expired vehicle registration. According to reports filed by the Associated Press, Koby Chavis—Jackson’s father—was cited for driving with a suspended license and was booked for assault on a police officer. In a CNN interview, both father and son said they had no idea why the police questioned them and that they did nothing to provoke the officers. A tourist staying at a motel across the street, captured officer Jeremy Morse picking up the prone, handcuffed Jackson, slamming him face-down onto the trunk of a squad car, and punching him. Morse put a hand on the back of Jackson’s neck, punched him with his other hand, and then appeared to choke him. Based on the videotape, two other officers seemed to intervene, with at least one trying to pull Morse away. The Inglewood Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office all said they were investigating the incident. Morse was suspended—with pay—while the other officers involved were not suspended. Reminiscent of the 1991 beating of Rodney King, the incident elicited cries of racism and demands from civil rights groups for a federal investigation.

Donovan Jackson and Koby Chavis filed a lawsuit against the city of Inglewood, four of its police officers,

Los Angeles County, and three of its sheriff’s deputies on July 10, 2002. The federal civil rights lawsuit sought unspecified damages and alleged negligence, misconduct, and violation of the constitutional rights of due process and against unreasonable search and seizure. The actions were denounced publicly at all levels: the FBI opened an investigation; U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that he was troubled and worried that the work of law enforcement had gone awry during the incident; and Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, who is African American, promised that the conduct captured on tape would not be condoned “under any circumstances.” In March 2005, three years after the federal civil rights lawsuit was filed, Donovan Jackson and his family settled for an undisclosed amount of money.


Just as the issue of police brutality continued to be an issue in the twenty-first century, civil rights also remained a persistent concern. President George W. Bush, on May 15, 2002, signed into law bipartisan civil rights legislation intended to crack down on discrimination and retaliation in the federal workplace. Known as the Notification and Federal Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2001 (No Fear), it required agencies to pay for all court settlements or judgments for discrimination and retaliation cases, instead of allowing the agency to use a government-wide slush fund. The bill’s notification requirement aimed to improve workforce relations by increasing managers’ and employees’ knowledge of their respective rights and responsibilities. In addition to the notification requisite, the No Fear act also has mandatory reporting requirements designed to assist in determining if a pattern of misconduct exists within an agency and whether the agency took appropriate action to address any problems.

While the No Fear Act of 2001 focused on the federal work place, race-based affirmative action in college admissions policies remained on the national radar screen. In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court endeavored to resolve the issue in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The Court considered the constitutionality of an affirmation action plan used by the University of California-Davis Medical School, which set aside 16 of its 100 openings for disadvantaged and minority applicants. Alan Bakke, a white male applicant, sued the university after it denied him admission. In 1976, the California Supreme Court ruled that Bakke should have been admitted and the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this decision on June 28, 1978, by a narrow margin of 5–4.

On a number of related legal issues, the court divided without a majority number. Only one justice avowed that affirmative action cases should be judged on the same stringent level of scrutiny that applied to “invidious” discrimination. The eight remaining justices stated that race-conscious remedies could be used in some circumstances to correct past discrimination. In essence, the Court used two measurements to sustain affirmative action: a compelling interest must exist for adopting an affirmation action plan and the plan must be narrowly tailored to suit that interest.

After the Bakke decision, institutions of higher education tailored their affirmative action plans by abolishing rigid quotas and set-asides. Implementing new plans, school officials began using a multi-factored analysis that permitted admissions officers to consider their school’s racial or ethnic diversity as they would consider subjective factors as geographical diversity, life experience, interests and talents, and similar “plus factors.” Almost 20 years later, though, with the majority of federal judges appointed by Republican presidents, conservative appellate courts began to strike down “plus factor” plans.

In Cheryl J. Hopwood, et al v. Texas (1996), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals—which covers Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas—struck down the University of Texas Law School’s “plus factor” affirmative action plan. Four years later, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Katuria Smith, et al v. University of Washington Law School, upheld the integrity of the admissions policy and allowed the consideration of race as one of the many factors in reviewing applications for admission. The Ninth Circuit stated, “educational diversity is a compelling governmental interest that meets demands of strict scrutiny of race-conscious measures.” Covering the states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, on August 27, 2001, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in Jennifer L. Johnson, et al. v. Board of Regents of the University of Georgia, declined to decide whether diversity in education could be a compelling interest. It did, however, strike down as unlawful a University of Georgia admissions policy that awarded “points” to applicants for qualities including minority status. According to Columbia Law School professor Michael C. Dorf, within days of the Eleventh Circuit’s decision, the University of Florida said it would cease providing more than 50 minority scholarships. He surmised that further university policy changes would take place in states within the Eleventh Circuit. All of the lead plaintiffs in these cases were white females.

On May 14, 2002, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, handed down a narrow decision upholding the affirmative action policies of the University of Michigan Law School. Barbara Grutter, the plaintiff, filed suit against the law school after being denied admission in 1997. The white mother of two, in her forties with a 3.8 grade point average and high scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), alleged that had she been an African American or Hispanic, she would have been admitted. As a “non-traditional student,” Grutter argued that she would have brought diversity to the student population. Using the characteristic rationale of reverse discrimination as a consequence of the school’s purportedly narrow meaning of “diversity,” the litigant challenged the law school’s admission’s policy that alleged a desire for diversity.

As noted in the case opinion, the University of Michigan Law School’s policy explicitly expressed “a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity” with special reference to the inclusion of students from groups historically discriminated against, like African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. The academy acknowledged this guiding principle, in combination with other “soft” variables such as letters of recommendation, the quality of the undergraduate institution, difficulty of undergraduate course selection, the quality of the applicant’s essay, residency, leadership and work experience, or unique talents and interests, might result in the admittance of students with relatively low grade point averages and LSAT scores. As cited in the brief, while the University of Michigan Law School sought to enroll a meaningful number, or “critical mass,” of under-represented minorities, it denied that such “critical mass” represented any pre-set number or percentage of reserved seats being held for such students.

Upholding the use of race in admissions, the Grutter v. Bollinger et al. ruling did little to end the discussion as it was a narrow 5–4 decision with strong dissenting opinions. Furthermore, it supported a ruling made by the Ninth Circuit but contradicted rulings handed down by the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits, which struck down the use of race in admissions. Nevertheless, the Sixth Circuit stated, “We are satisfied that the law school’s admission policy sets appropriate limits on the competitive consideration of race and ethnicity.”

Like the Grutter case, the Gratz v. Bollinger et. al was heard in the District Court, appealed to the Six Circuit Court of Appeals, and asked to be heard before the United States Supreme Court. Brought by Jennifer Gratz, an unsuccessful applicant in 1995, and Patrick Hamacher, an unsuccessful applicant in 1997, the case ended in a summary judgment—no trial was held—in the university’s favor. On December 13, 2000, the judge ruled that the pursuit of diversity as an educational benefit is a compelling governmental interest and the university’s current admission policy was constitutional. The Center for Individual Rights, which consistently challenges affirmative action policies, appealed the judgment. The University of Michigan cross-appealed regarding its admission policy from 1995 to 1998, which the judge found unconstitutional. On June 23, 2003, the United States Supreme Court, by a six to three margin, ruled in favor of Gratz.


On November 7, 2006, Michigan voters approved a referendum calling for an end to race-sensitive admission at the University of Michigan. By a margin of 58% to 42%, voters approved the public referendum that banned the use of race or sex by any agency of state government, including the state’s university system, employment or contracting. Ward Connerly, an African American businessman, and former University of California Regent, who pushed through that state’s Proposition 209 in 1996 and Washington state’s Initiative 200, along with Jennifer Gratz, one of the plaintiffs, who challenged Michigan’s affirmative action, campaigned vigorously for Proposition Two, also known as Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. According to the New York Times, while the initiative won by 58% of the vote, the divide between male and female voters, African Americans and whites was far greater. The Michigan initiative, which amends the state’s constitution, was in response to the 2003 United States Supreme Court ruling that preserved affirmative action in admissions cases involving the University of Michigan and its law school. While the court upheld the law school’s admission process, it struck down the undergraduate admissions process that awarded minority students extra points toward admittance. While voters overwhelming approved the referendum, the University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, pledged to “consider every legal option available” to continue the academy’s fight for diversity.

In California, where Proposition 209 passed in 1996, the number of black students in the state’s public universities dropped. At the University of California at Berkeley, 8,000 students were offered admission for the fall 1998 term. Only 191 students were African American compared to 562 students in 1997. According to the April 17, 2003 edition of the Los Angeles Times, the overall percentage of enrolled underrepresented minorities declined at both the University of California at Berkeley and UCLA, the two largest universities in the University of California system. At UCLA, the number of black students admitted from California dropped from 3.3% to 2.8% in the fall of 2003. Three years later, in the fall of 2006, 96 of 4,800 freshmen at the University of California, Los Angeles, only two percent were African American, which represented a 30-year low. During the same semester, the freshman class at the Ann Arbor campus had 330 African American students, which was down from 499 in 2001 and from 350 in the year after the Supreme Court case, when a new admissions process was adopted.

Two years after Connerly led California’s Proposition 209, he also successfully led Washington State’s Initiative 200 in 1998 that eradicated affirmative action. The year after I-200 passed there was a drop in minority enrollment at the University of Washington and Washington State University. The number of minority first-year students at the University of Washington dropped from 373 students to 255 students. At Washington State University, the number of minority students dropped from 396 to 284 students. In the fall 2002 first-year class at the University of Washington included 138 black students, which represented just three percent of the class.


President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965. Enacted to provide protection to minority communities, the 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibited any voting practice that abridged the right to vote because of race. It effectively abolished any test or device such as literacy tests or poll taxes that may be used to prohibit persons from registering to vote or voting. Since 1965, temporary provisions of the act have been renewed four times. They were renewed in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006.

When the United Congress amended the Voting Rights Act in 1982, some sections of the act were made permanent such as Section 2, which contained a general proscription on voting discrimination and enforced through federal district court litigation. The 1982 Congressional action stipulated that proof of intentional discrimination is not required. Instead, the amendment’s point of concentration was the electoral process and its being equally accessible to minority voters. However, other sections, such as Section 5 were extended for twenty-five years or until July 1, 2007.

Although the reauthorization had widespread bipartisan support, numerous Republican lawmakers in the House acted to amend, delay, or defeat the bill’s renewal. Also known as the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, it passed reauthorization in the United States House of Representatives (HR-9) by a vote of 390 to 33. On July 20, 2006, the United States Senate voted passage of the bill by 98 to 0, thereby, permitting the federal government to continue its broad oversight of state voting procedures. Seven days later, President George Bush signed the bill into law, which provided for a twenty-five year reauthorization, a year in advance of the 2007 expiration date.

Just as police brutality became a national focal point, so, too, did the proliferation of hate crimes against African Americans. (By definition, hate crimes are “crimes against persons or property motivated in whole or in part by racial, ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation and other prejudices.”) Based on the data collected under the Hate Crime Statistics Acts of 1990 and 1996, the number of hate crimes perpetrated against African Americans and reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) increased from 2,988 in 1995 to 3,838 in 1997. These malicious acts of violence, similar to lynchings of the past, were intended not only to be injurious to individuals but to intimidate and dispirit an entire group of people. An example of such crimes included the destruction of African American churches in the South.

Between 1995 and mid-1996, hundreds of African American churches were set ablaze in the South. These incidents of church arson invoked grievous memories of racist violence during the 1960s, particularly the bombing of Birmingham’s Sixth Street Baptist Church in which four small girls were killed on September 15, 1963. In response, President Clinton declared the “investigation and prevention of church arsons to be a national priority.”

In June 1996, President Clinton established the National Church Arson Task Force and proposed a three-pronged strategy that called for prosecution of the arsonists, the rebuilding of church edifices, and the prevention of additional fires. In addition, on July 3, he signed the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, which passed both chambers of the Congress unanimously. On June 6, 1997, the National Church Arson Task Force released its report: Of the 429 incidents of church burnings, bombings, and attempted bombings investigated, 162 involved African American churches, 75 percent of which were located in the South. The majority of those convicted of destroying African American churches were white males.

Hate crimes were not restricted to the destruction of African American church buildings, though. Three of the more high profile incidents included: the 1995 murder of two African American residents of Fayetteville, North Carolina, by three Army soldiers who identified themselves as “neo-Nazi skin heads”; the 1996 racial harassment of Bridget Ward and her two daughters who moved into a rented home in the virtually all-white Bridesburg neighborhood in Philadelphia; and the 1998 brutal murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, by three white males who chained him to the back of their pick-up truck and dragged him to his death. One of Byrd’s assailants, self-proclaimed white supremacist John William King, was convicted of capital murder, and the jury recommended the death sentence in February 1999.

By the end of the twentieth century, hate crimes against African Americans continued to increase. According to the FBI’s 1999 hate crime statistics, the number of incidents involved 9,301 separate offenses, of which 4,295 were motivated by racial bias. There were 2,958 incidents; 3,542 offenses; 3,679 victims; and 2,861 known offenders against African Americans. Over 50 percent of the hate crime victims were attacked because of their race, with the bias against African Americans accounting for 38 percent of all hate crime victims. The following year the trend continued. The 2000 FBI report showed 8,063 incidents reported, involving 9,430 separate offenses, 9,924 victims, and 7,530 known offenders. At 53.7 percent, racial bias represented the largest percentage of single-bias offenses. Taking victims of single-bias motivated hates crimes into consideration, more than 53 percent were attacked because of their race. African Americans accounted for 36 percent of all hate crime victims, decreasing by only two percentage points between 1999 and 2000.

The first two years of the new millennium’s decade saw a continued increase. Based on the FBI’s Hate Crime statistics, in 2001 11,451 offenses were reported, 67.8% of which were crimes against persons. Of the 11,430 offenses that occurred within the single-bias incidents, 46.3% were motivated biracial bias. Within those 5,290 offenses, it was determined that 66.7% or 3,529 resulted from anti-black bias. The following year, the hate crime statistics revealed a decrease in the number incidents reported. There were only 7,462 incidents reported. However, the majority of these were, 7,459 were single-bias incidents and racial bias accounted for 48.8 % of the single-bias incidents. Again, the number of incidents and offenses were against blacks and totaled 2,286 and 2,967 respectively. Almost half of the 8,825 single-bias offenses reported for the decade’s second year were racially motivated.

Data collected during 2003, illustrated that of the total 7, 489, hate crime incidents reported, 7,485 were single-bias incidents. Of the 7,485 reported, 51.4% of the hate crime incidents were committed because of the offender’s racial bias. Of the 3,844 incidents and 4,574 offenses reported, there were 2,548 anti-black incidents and 3,032 anti-black offenses. In 2004, the FBI Hate Crime Statistics showed that of the total 7,649 incidents involved 9,035 offenses. There were 7,642 single-bias incidents, with 9,021 offenses. Racial bias motivated more than half or 53.9% of the 9,021 reported offenses within single-bias hate crime incidents. Once more, the number of incidents and offenses as related to race, illustrated that anti-black incidents (2,731) and offenses (3,281) far exceeded any other racial group. By mid-decade, the number of incidents and offenses reported were holding rather constant. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report on Hate Crime Statistics reported the occurrence of 7,163 hate crime incidents and 8,380 offenses. Single-bias incidents totaled 7,160 and involved 8,373 offenses. Of the 7,160 single-bias incidents, 54.7% were racially motivated. As in the decade’s previous years, anti-black incidents (2,630) and offenses (3,200) led all other racially classified groups. It should be noted that “victim” may refer to a person, business, institution, or society as a whole. The term “known offender” does not imply that the identity of the suspect is known, only that an attribute of the suspect is identified that distinguishes her or him from an unknown offender.

Modern technology, especially the Internet, has created an opportunity for hate groups to spread their racist beliefs and increase their membership. Data compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and reported in its Intelligence Report issued in the Spring 2006 edition stated that hate groups operating in the United States rose from 762 in 2004 to 803 in 2005. This represented a 33 percent increase over that the five year period that began in 2000. A growing internet presence was also indicated as there were 524 hate sites counted in 2005 as opposed to the 468 sites counted the preceding year.


On February 7, 2005, the United States Senate passed Resolution 39 apologizing to the victims of lynching and the descendants of those victims for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation. The resolution acknowledged that the crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ultimately expression of racism in the United States following the era of Reconstruction and that it was a widely accepted practice in the nation until the middle of the 20th century.

Between 1920 and 1940, the United States House of Representatives passed three anti-lynching measures. Even though numerous requests by civil rights groups, Presidents, and the House of Representatives, the Senate considered but failed to passed any legislation dealing with anti-lynching. Lynching occurred throughout the United States, with documented incidents in all but four states. Between 1882 and 1968, there were at least 4,742 people, principally African Americans, who were lynched in the United States. Almost all of the crime’s perpetrators escaped without penalty by state or local officials.

Shortly after passing Resolution 39, the United States Senate moved toward enacting legislation that would create an office in the U. S. Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute Civil Rights–era murders. Co-sponsored by Senators Jim Talent (R-Missouri) and Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), the Unsolved Civil Rights Crime, which had been dubbed, the “Till Bill” (named after Emmett Louis Till, the 14-year old Chicago boy murdered in Money, Mississippi in 1955) would establish an office within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and an Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Investigative Office in the Civil Rights Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to work in collaboration to solve Civil Rights–era murders. In coordination with

Incidents, Offenses, Victims, and Known Offenders
Bias motivationIncidentsOffensesVictims2Known offenders3
1Because hate crime submissions have been updated, data in this table may differ from those published in Crime in the United States, 2000.
2The term victim may refer to a person, business, institution, or society as a whole.
3 The term known offender does not imply that the identity of the suspect is known, but only that the race of the suspect is identified which distinguishes him/her from an unknown offender.
4 A multiple-bias incident is a hate crime in which two or more offense types were committed as a result of two or more bias motivations.
Single-bias incidents8,0559,4139,9067,520
Anti-American Indian/Alaskan Native57626458
Anti-Asian/Pacific Islander281317339273
Anti-multiracial group240333379153
Ethnicity/national origin:9111,1641,2161,012
Anti-other ethnicity/national origin354429453318
Multiple-bias incidents48171810

state and local law enforcement officials, the Unsolved Crime Section and the Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Investigative Office will be responsible for investigating and prosecuting pre-1970 cases that resulted in death and still remain unsolved. As of August 3, 2006, the bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.

There are a number of pre-1970 Civil Rights murders that remain unsolved. They include but are not limited to, the January 23, 1957 murder of Willie Edwards, Jr., a truck driver for Winn-Dixie. Edwards was forced a gunpoint to jump from the Tyler Goodwyn Bridge in Montgomery County, Alabama, by the Ku Klux Klan, which had mistaken him for another African American man said to have dated a white woman. Three months later, Edwards decomposed body was found. His killers never went to trial. Five years later, on April 9, 1962, Cpl. Roman Ducksworth, Jr. a military police officer stationed at Fort Ritchie in Maryland and on emergency leave to visit his ailing wife, was awaken and ordered off a bus that had just arrived in Taylorsville, Mississippi, by law enforcement officer William Kelly. Minutes later, Ducksworth was shot and killed. It was alleged that the officer may have thought Ducksworth was a freedom rider testing the state’s compliance with interstate desegregation laws. In May of 1964, the Klan murdered Henry H. Dee and Charles E. Moore because they believed the young men were part of plot to arm African Americans in the area. After a brutal beating, their distorted and mutilated bodies, which had been tied to weights, including a Jeep engine block, were found in the Mississippi River. The authorities found the bodies of Dee and Moore when they were conducting a search for the bodies of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. In all of these cases, defenseless African Americans were brutally killed in cold blood. In each case, the perpetrator or perpetrators were racially prejudiced Southern white men, who were never brought to justice.

It is to be hoped that the Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act will progress through the legislative channels after the November elections.


(To locate biographical profiles more readily, please consult the index at the back of the book.)

RALPH D. ABERNATHY (1926–1990) Religious Leader, Civil Rights Activist, Organization Executive/Founder

Born March 11, 1926, in Linden, Alabama, the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy was ordained a minister in 1948. He received his bachelor’s degree from Alabama State College (now Alabama State University) in 1950 and his master’s degree from Atlanta University in 1951. The alliance between Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr. stretched back to the mid-1950s. While attending Atlanta University, Abernathy had the opportunity to hear King preach at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

After obtaining his master’s degree, Abernathy returned to Alabama to serve as a part-time minister at

the Eastern Star Baptist Church in Demopolis. In 1951 Abernathy moved to First Baptist Church in Montgomery. Around this time King accepted a position at Mont-gomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church; Abernathy and King became close friends.

In 1955, the two organized the Montgomery Improvement Association to coordinate a citywide bus boycott. The success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott led to the creation of the Southern Negro Leaders Conference; the organization’s name was later changed to the Southern Leadership Conference and finally the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In January of 1957, Dr. King was elected the organization’s first president.

From the time of Martin Luther King’s death in 1968 until 1977, Abernathy served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Abernathy continued as a leading figure in the movement until his resignation in 1977, when he made an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Congressional seat. In 1989, he published his autobiography And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, which was criticized by some African American leaders for Abernathy’s inclusion of details regarding King’s extramarital affairs. Abernathy died of cardiac arrest on April 17, 1990.

ELLA BAKER (1903–1986) Community Activist, Civil Rights Activist, Executive/General Manager

In 1903, Ella Baker was born in Norfolk, Virginia, to Blake and Georgianna Ross Baker, both educated people who worked hard to educate their children. The family and community in which she grew up instilled in her a sense of sharing and community cooperation. Baker’s family imbued her with a sense of racial pride and resistance to any form of oppression. Her grandfather, a minister and community leader, was an ardent proponent of civil rights and universal suffrage, and passed his beliefs on to her.

When she was 15, Baker was sent to the Shaw Boarding School (now Shaw University) in Raleigh, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree as valedictorian in 1927. After graduation, she moved to New York City. Baker quickly became involved in progressive politics and attended as many meetings and discussions as she could find. During the Depression, she was outraged at the poverty she saw in the African American areas of the city. Believing in the power of community and group action, she became one of the founders of the Young Negroes Cooperative League, a buying cooperative that bought food in bulk to distribute at low prices to members; in 1931, she became the national director of the League. When President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration started, she became involved with their literacy program. Throughout these years she worked closely with other politically aware and motivated people, discussing and evolving a political philosophy of cooperation, equality, and justice.

In the in the late 1930s, Baker began to work for the NAACP. Between 1940 and 1943, she served as a field secretary, traveling all over the country setting up branch offices and teaching people to fight for their rights. During her travels, Baker developed a vast network of contacts in the South that she later relied on when working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1943, she became the director of branches for the NAACP. During the 1950s, she started fund-raising activities in New York for civil rights struggles in the South. In 1958, Baker moved to Atlanta to work with the SCLC.

Working for the SCLC, Baker became disillusioned with the male clergy-dominated organizational structure of the group. In 1960, she quit the SCLC and took a job with the Young Women’s Christian Association. When students began leading sit-ins, the civil rights activist shifted her focus to the development of SNCC. She acted as an unofficial advisor for the group, counseling them to set up their own student-run organization rather than be subsumed under the SCLC or the NAACP. Baker helped launch the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that challenged the all-white Democratic delegation at the 1964 presidential convention. She also acted as staff consultant for the interracial SCLC educational fund.

Baker returned to New York City in 1965, but kept working with national and international civil rights organizations. Among her other activities, she raised money to send to the freedom fighters in Rhodesia and South Africa. She remained an active organizer and speaker as long as her health allowed. Baker’s belief in the power of communal action and reliance on the workers rather than the leaders had an enormous impact. She worked for all of the major civil rights organizations at their time of greatest need. By the time the SCLC and SNCC were formed, Baker had almost 30 years of civil rights and community organizing experience to offer. She continually strove to keep the movement people-oriented, and she succeeded in helping SNCC remain a student group. Through her philosophy and actions, Ella J. Baker motivated hundreds to act and to help themselves and their neighbors, as she learned to do as a child.

DAISY BATES (1914–1999) Publisher, Civil Rights Activist, Executive/General Manager

After attending segregated schools where all of the new equipment and up-to-date texts were only reserved for whites, Daisy Lee Gatson Bates spent much of her energy as an adult successfully integrating the schools of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Shortly after their marriage in 1942, Daisy and her husband Lucius Christopher Bates, a journalist, published a newspaper, the Arkansas State Press. They made it a point in their paper to keep track and report incidents of police brutality and other racially-motivated violence; their paper became known throughout the state for its campaign to improve the social and economic circumstances of African Americans. Because of their work, the city of Little Rock began to hire African American police officers, and the number of racist incidents decreased.

In 1952, Daisy Bates became the Arkansas president of the NAACP; after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, she became very active in school desegregation. She began taking African American children to white schools to be registered. If the school refused to register the children, she would report it in her paper. In 1957, the superintendent of schools in Little Rock decided to try to integrate the schools and chose nine students, now called the “Little Rock Nine,” to be the first African American children to attend Central High, a white school. Most white citizens of Little Rock objected. Bates organized the Little Rock Nine, accompanied them to Central High, and stood with them against the state troopers that Governor Orval Faubus sent to prevent the integration. For days she escorted the children to school, only to be turned away by an angry mob. On September 25, 1957, Daisy Bates entered Central High in Little Rock with the nine children, escorted by 1,000 paratroopers sent by President Dwight Eisenhower: the first steps towards integration were successful. For the rest of their years at Central High, Bates kept track of the students and acted as their advocate when problems arose, frequently accompanying them and their parents to meetings with school officials.

In October of 1957, one month after she marched into Central High, Daisy Bates was arrested on charges of failing to provide membership information on the NAACP to city officials. The charges were later overturned. Two years later, the Arkansas State Press folded, but Bates kept active in the civil rights fight, touring and speaking. She also worked with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to register voters. Her memoir of the Little Rock crisis, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, was published in 1962. In 1985, 26 years after her newspaper ceased production, the Arkansas State Press resumed publication. It has continued to serve the needs of the African American community in Little Rock. On November 4, 1999, however, upon Bates’s death, then-President Bill Clinton honored her by allowing her body to lie in state at the Capitol.


STOKELY CARMICHAEL (1941–1998) Civil Rights Activist, Nationalist/ Repatriationist, Executive/General Manager

If one individual stood at the forefront of the Black Power movement during the 1960s, Stokely Carmichael was that person. He soared to fame as popularizer of the dynamic phrase “Black Power” and as one of the most powerful and influential leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Carmichael was born in Trinidad on June 29, 1941, and moved to the United States with his family when he was 11 years of age. As a teenager, Carmichael was jolted by ghetto life in which “black” and “impotent” seemed to be synonymous terms. He was not reassured later when he was admitted to the Bronx High School of Science, encountered white liberals, and felt he had been adopted

by them as a mascot. Although he was offered scholarships to predominantly white universities, Carmichael opted to attend Howard University. In 1960, during his first year at the university, he joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in its efforts to desegregate public accommodations in the South. After graduation in 1964, he rejected scholarship opportunities for graduate school and went south to join SNCC. As one of their finest organizers, he worked ceaselessly, registering and educating voters in the South. In 1966, he was elected chairman of SNCC; however, as the organization’s youngest chair, some members considered his views too radical.

Carmichael’s cry for “black power” thrilled many disenfranchised young African Americans, but troubled others, who thought it sounded too violent. He was labeled as potentially violent by the media and the legal authorities. Disagreement with SNCC members arose over the issues of self-defense versus nonviolence and the participation of whites in African American grass roots organizations. In 1967, he resigned as chairperson, and was later expelled from SNCC.

Carmichael spent much of 1968 traveling around the world, speaking to many organizations including some in communist countries. His travels included Ghana, where he joined the Pan-African movement. After returning to the United States, he went to work for the Black Panther party. He was subject to almost constant harassment from the FBI because of his connection with the Panthers, and because he had visited communist countries while traveling. In 1969, he resigned from the Black Panthers and moved to Guinea, where he had been offered political asylum.

In Guinea, Carmichael turned his efforts to supporting Pan-Africanism; he organized many local chapters throughout the world of the All Afrikan Peoples Revolutionary Party. In 1978, to honor the two men who most influenced his Pan-African philosophical education, SeKou Toure and Kwame Nkrumah, he changed his name to Kwame Toure. Four years after being awarded an LL.D. from Shaw University in recognition for his efforts to free African American people, Kwame Toure died of prostate cancer, on November 15, 1998, in Conkry, Guinea.

Five years after his death, his autobiography, Ready for a Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokley Carmichael was published by Scribner.

MANDY CARTER (1948– ) Civil Rights Activist; Gay/Lesbian Rights Activist

Carter was born in Albany, New York, in the late 1940s and spent her childhood in orphanages. She attended community college for a time in Troy, New York, but moved to New York City in 1967 with a savings of $ 100. There she slept in Central Park before taking a job at drug guru Timothy Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery. She moved to San Francisco later that year and became active in protests against the war in Vietnam. For several years Carter was involved with the War Resister’s League. Among these colleagues, she first admitted her sexual orientation. She worked for the group’s San Francisco offices during the late 1970s, during which time she first became active in gay and lesbian politics.

In 1982, Carter moved to North Carolina, where she continued her work with the War Resister’s League in addition to becoming involved on a national level with gay and lesbian organizations. One of her accomplishments was helping coordinate the 1987 lesbian and gay march on the nation’s capital, a role she reprised in 1993. In addition to co-producing an annual festival of women’s music and art, Carter has also been instrumental—but ultimately unsuccessful—in campaigns to unseat North Carolina’s right-wing Republican senator, Jesse Helms.

Carter has been more successful with smaller tasks such as lobbying against anti-homosexual legislation in Congress, often sponsored by Senator Helms or Robert Dornan (R-Cal.). She has also worked to combat the Christian Right’s attempts to infiltrate African American churches in efforts to stymie support of gay and lesbian rights among the congregations; she has done this work first in her role as liaison and later as the director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund’s National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum. Carter has spoken of her political activism in the 1994 volume, Uncommon Heroes: A Celebration of Heroes and Role Models for Gay and Lesbian Americans. In the wake of the presidential election fiasco in Florida, Carter was a field organizer for People for the American Way’s investigation into minority voter intimidation. This work did not effect a change in the way that Florida conducts its elections, but it did raise awareness of the continued struggle African Americans and other minority groups still face when attempting to exercise even their most basic civil rights.



ANGELA Y. DAVIS (1944– ) Women’s Rights Activist, Civil Rights Activist, Professor, Lecturer, Author/Poet, Organization Founder

Angela Yvonne Davis was born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, to middle-class parents, B. Frank and Sallye E. Davis, who stressed academic excellence, political awareness, and activism. Her mother had been politically active since her college days, and Angela participated in demonstrations with her from the time she was in elementary school. To ensure a better education than she would be able to receive in the segregated schools of the South, her parents sent her to Elizabeth Irwin High School, a private progressive school in New York. The school had many radical teachers and students, and Angela soon joined a Marxist study group.

After graduation, Davis continued to seek high quality education. She majored in French at Brandeis College and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris during her junior year. She then pursued graduate studies in philosophy at the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe University in Frankfurt, West Germany. In 1967, she returned to the United States to study at the University of California at San Diego. When she had almost completed her doctorate degree, she took a teaching job at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In 1969, Davis joined the Communist party; the regents of UCLA tried to fire her, but she fought them in court. The following year she became involved with the Black Panther Party. Guns that she had bought for self-defense were used by a member of the Black Panthers in a courtroom shooting. Believing she was involved, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sought her arrest. To avoid the federal authorities Davis went underground. She was placed on the FBI’s ten most wanted list and was later arrested. In 1972, she was acquitted of all charges, but was not reinstated by the university. Then-California Governor Ronald Reagan and the state’s board of regents decreed that she would never teach in California again.

Following her trial, Davis founded the National Alliance against Racist and Political Repression, a legal group providing defense of minority prisoners. In 1980 and 1984, she ran for vice president of the United States on the Communist party ticket. A writer and philosopher, Davis has written several books including If They Come in the Morning (1971), Women, Race and Class (1983), Violence Against Women and the Ongoing Challenge To Racism (1985), Angela Davis: An Autobiography (1988), and Women, Culture and Politics (1989).

During the 1990s, Davis remained politically active and a popular yet controversial figure. Her 1995 appointment as presidential chair in charge of developing new ethnic studies courses at University of California-Santa Cruz was heavily opposed by state Republican legislators concerned with her Communist party affiliation. Much sought after, though often protested against, Davis has lectured around the country about “envisioning a new movement” set apart from the radicalism of the 1960s. She continues to write and to support such causes as women’s rights, workers’ rights, health care, and nuclear disarmament.

W. E. B. DU BOIS (1868–1963) Organization Executive/ Founder, Civil Rights Activist, Professor, Author/Editor

An outstanding critic, editor, scholar, author, and civil rights leader, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois is certainly among the most influential African Americans of the twentieth century. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, on February 23, 1868, Du Bois received a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University. Upon completion of his academic career at Fisk, Du Bois entered Harvard University where he earned a second bachelor’s degree in 1890; a master of arts degree in 1891; and a Ph.D. degree in 1895, making him the first African American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard. For a time, Du Bois held teaching positions at Wilberforce University, University of Pennsylvania, and Atlanta University.

One of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1910, Du Bois served as that organization’s director of publications and editor of Crisis magazine until 1934. In 1944, he returned from Atlanta University to become head of the NAACP’s special research department, a post he held until 1948. Du Bois emigrated to Ghana in 1961 and became editor-in-chief of the Encyclopaedia Africana, his enormous Afrocentric publishing venture that was supported by Kwame Nkrumah, since then deposed as president. Du Bois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963, at the age of 95.

Du Bois’s numerous books include: The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870 (1896); The Philadelphia Negro (1899); The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (1903); John Brown (1909); Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911); The Negro (1915); Darkwater (1920); The Gift of Black Folk (1924); Dark Princess (1928); Black Folk: Then and Now (1939); Dusk of Dawn (1940); Color and Democracy (1945); The World and Africa (1947); In Battle for Peace (1952); and a trilogy The Black Flame (1957–1961). It is this enormous literary output on such a wide variety of themes that offers the most convincing testimony to Du Bois’s lifetime position that it was vital for African Americans to cultivate their own aesthetic and cultural values even as they made valuable strides toward social emancipation. In this he was opposed by Booker T. Washington, who felt that African Americans should concentrate on developing technical and mechanical skills before all else.

Du Bois was one of the first male civil rights leaders to recognize the problems of gender discrimination. He was among the first men to understand the unique problems of African American women and to value their contributions. He supported the women’s suffrage movement and strove to integrate this mostly white struggle. Additionally, Du Bois championed the reproductive freedom of women and women’s economic independence from men. He encouraged many African American female writers, artists, poets, and novelists, featuring their works in Crisis and sometimes providing personal financial assistance to them. Several of his novels, most notably The Quest of the Silver Fleece and Dark Princess, feature women as prominently as men, an unusual approach for an author of his day. Du Bois spent his life working not just for the equality of all men, but for the equality of all people.

MEDGAR EVERS (1925–1963) Civil Rights Activist

Medgar Evers was one of the first martyrs of the Civil Rights movement. He was born in 1925 in Decatur, Mississippi, to James and Jessie Evers. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he enrolled in Alcorn Agricultural & Mechanical College in Mississippi, graduating in 1952. His first job out of college involved traveling around rural Mississippi and selling insurance. He soon grew enraged at the despicable conditions of poor African American families in his state and joined the Mound Bayou Chapter of the NAACP. In 1954, he was appointed Mississippi’s first field secretary.

Evers was outspoken and his demands were radical for his rigidly segregated state. He fought for the enforcement of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which outlawed school segregation. Evers fought for the right to vote, and he advocated boycotting merchants who discriminated against African Americans. He worked unceasingly despite the threats of violence that his speeches engendered. Evers gave much of himself to this struggle, and in 1963, he gave his life. On June 13, 1963, he drove home from a meeting, stepped out of his car, and was mortally shot in the back.

Immediately after Evers’s death, the shotgun that was used to kill him was found in nearby bushes, with the owner’s fingerprints still fresh. Byron de la Beckwith, a vocal member of a local white supremacist group, was arrested. Despite the evidence against him, which included an earlier statement that he wanted to kill Evers, two trials with all-white juries ended in deadlock decisions, and de la Beckwith walked free. Twenty years later, in 1989, information surfaced that suggested jury tampering in both trials. The assistant district attorney, with the help of Evers’s widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, began putting together a new case. In 1990, Beckwith was arrested once again. On February 5, 1995, a multiracial jury found him guilty of Evers’s assassination and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Evers did not die in vain. His death changed the tenor of the civil rights struggle. Anger replaced fear in the South, as hundreds of demonstrators marched in protest. His death prompted President John Kennedy to ask Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill, which due to the assassination of President Kennedy in November of 1963, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law in July of 1964. Evers’s death, as his life had, contributed much to the struggle for equality.


JAMES L. FARMER JR. (1920–1999) Civil Rights Activist, Educator, Organization Founder

James Leonard Farmer Jr., the founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was born to James L. Farmer Sr. and Pearl Houston Farmer on January 12, 1920, in Marshall, Texas. He attended public schools throughout the South. He earned his B.S. in chemistry from Wiley College in 1938 and and his B.D. in Sacred Theology from Howard University’s School of Divinity in 1941. Active in the Christian Youth movement and once vice-chairperson of the National Council of Methodist Youth and the Christian Youth Council of America, Farmer refused ordination when confronted with the realization that he would have to practice in a segregated ministry.

Farmer became a warrior in the struggle to dismantle America’s all-encompassing system of racial segregation.

In 1941, Farmer accepted a post as race relations secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Committed to direct, nonviolent protest, Farmer and a group of University of Chicago students became involved in efforts to desegregate Chicago housing. Later in June 1942, he established CORE, the first protest organization in the United States to utilize the techniques of nonviolence and passive resistance advocated by the Indian nationalist Mohandas Gandhi. In June 1943, CORE staged the first successful sit-in demonstration at a restaurant in the Chicago Loop. The organization soon supplemented this maneuver with what came to be known as the standing-line, which involved the persistent waiting in line by CORE members at places of public accommodation where African Americans had been denied admission.

During the early 1960s, under Farmer’s leadership, CORE conducted freedom rides, voter registration drives, and protest marches to eradicate racial segregation. In 1961, CORE introduced the freedom ride into the vocabulary and methodology of civil rights protest, dispatching bus riders throughout the South for the purpose of testing the desegregation of terminal facilities. Attacked in Alabama and later arrested in Mississippi, the Freedom Riders eventually succeeded in securing the court-ordered desegregation of bus terminals in 1960 when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated interstate transportation.

In 1963, when President John F. Kennedy proposed legislation to enact a civil rights bill eliminating racial segregation in public accommodations, Farmer—along with Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins—was one of the Big Four in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. As President Johnson shepherded the civil rights bill through Congress in 1964, three CORE workers—Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney—disappeared while registering African American voters in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Outrage over their deaths and other atrocities suffered by Southern citizens of African descent who attempted to register and exercise their right to vote led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1966, James Farmer left CORE after serving as national director for five years. Three years later he joined the administration of President Richard Nixon as assistant secretary for administration in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The appointment created a furor in some African American circles, where it was felt that it was inappropriate for a former civil rights leader to serve in the Nixon administration; in other circles, the appointment was praised by those who thought it necessary for African Americans to be represented in all areas. Farmer found that there was little substance to the position, however, and resigned at the end of 1970. During the 1970s, he developed the think-tank, Council on Minority Planning and Strategy (COMPAS), at Howard University and the Fund for an Open Society, a nonprofit organization that granted low-interest mortgages to people planning to live in desegregated neighborhoods. His first book, Freedom—When?, was published in 1976, the same year that he broke all ties with CORE. Criticizing its leader, Roy Innis, for such actions as attempting to recruit African American Vietnam veterans as mercenaries in Angola’s civil war, Farmer, along with Floyd McKissick, attempted to meet with Innis to reach an agreement on the future of the organization. These discussions failed. Disturbed over the course that the organization had taken, Farmer and a score of former CORE members attempted to create a new racially mixed civil rights organization in 1980.

Farmer entered the arena of higher education as a visiting professor at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1985. He also wrote Lay Bare the Heart in 1985. Farmer was honored for his civil rights achievements and was awarded nearly 20 honorary degrees. In January 1998, President Bill Clinton presented him with the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Farmer, who had been in ill health, died at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on July 9, 1999.

ADA LOIS SIPUEL FISHER (1924-1995) Attorney, Activist, Educator

Ada L. Sipuel, the plaintiff in the Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma United States Supreme Court [332 US 631 (1948)] case was born on February 8, 1924 in Chikasha, Oklahoma. The daughter of a Baptist minister and a homemaker, she was reared with financial security and imbued with a strong sense of racial equality. Sipuel attended Oklahoma segregated schools. After completing her secondary education as valedictorian of her high school class, Sipuel entered the all-African American Langston University, which was founded in 1897, a year after the Plessy v. Ferguson decision that enunciated the “separate but equal” doctrine. While attending the university, she married Warren Fisher on March 3, 1944. The following year Sipuel-Fisher was graduated from Langston University with highest honor. The same year that she was graduated from Langston University, Oklahoma NAACP officials asked her brother, Lemuel, to challenge the admission’s policy of the state’s racially exclusive white law school. He turned down the idea because he did not want to further delay his entrance into law school with protracted litigation, having already put off his schooling because of military responsibilities during the Second World War. Although he declined, the Sipuels volunteered their daughter, Ada Sipuel Fisher.

Accepting the challenge, in 1946, she sought admission to University of Oklahoma Law School. University officials rejected her application. While the rejection notification acknowledged that the applicant was “scholastically qualified” to attend the university’s law school, it stated that she could not be admitted because of Oklahoma’s racial segregation laws. Her attorneys, Amos T. Hall and Thurgood Marshall, with written confirmation that based her rejection on race, filed suit and alleged that the state failed to provide law school for African Americans.

Marshall and Hall’s arguments were defeated in the Oklahoma court system. Consequently, they appealed the Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma case to the United States Supreme Court. In January of 1948, the court ordered the state to provide Sipuel-Fisher a legal education equal to that received by white students under the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. To comply with the court’s mandate, the State Board of Regents established a separate law school at Langston University, which she refused to attend. Once again, Sipuel-Fisher initiated litigation. Her attorneys filed a motion challenging the proposition that the Langston Law School facilities were equal to those at the University of Oklahoma. In mid-1949, Oklahoma’s legislative body amended the state’s statues to allow qualified blacks to attend white professional and graduate schools, albeit on a segregated basis. During the same timeframe, Sipuel-Fisher was admitted to the University of Oklahoma Law School. She completed her course of study and earned her law degree in the summer of 1951. She passed the Bar Examination the same year and began to practice law in her native city until 1954, when she joined the firm of Bruce and Rowan in Oklahoma City. Two years later, Attorney Sipuel-Fisher left the legal profession, where she had represented clients in segregation cases, to return to her alma mater to assume the position of public relations director. Later, she returned to the University of Oklahoma and earned a Master’s degree, subsequently became a member of Langston University’s faculty, retiring in 1987. Following her retirement, Sipuel-Fisher became Corporate Counsel for Automation Research System, Ltd., in Alexandria, Virginia.

The recipient of numerous awards, in 1981, the Smithsonian Institution named Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher one of the 150 outstanding African American women who had the most impact on the course of American history. In 1991, Oklahoma University awarded her an Honorary Doctorate. The following year, the governor of Oklahoma appointed her to the governing board of the state’s higher education system, which she had challenged all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Before her death on October 18, 1995, Sipuel completed her autobiography entitled, A Matter of Black and White: The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, which was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1996. The same year that her autobiography was published, Sipuel Fisher was inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2002, the civil rights activist, attorney, educator, and author was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame.

The struggle for African Americans to gain equal access to graduate and professional schools took on significant scope when Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher applied to law school. The United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Sipuel case was an important part of the legal precedents that resulted in the court’s unanimous ruling in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that ended segregated schools across the United States.

JAMES FORMAN (1928-2005) Newspaper Reporter, Civil Rights Activist, Author

James Forman was born on October 5, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois. For a brief period, he lived with his grandmother in Marshall, Mississippi. At the age of six, Forman returned to Chicago where he began his education in the city’s Catholic schools. Later, he transferred to the Chicago public school system. In 1947, Foreman was graduated from Englewood High School with honors. After serving in the United States Air Force during the Korean Conflict, he entered the University of South Carolina. Forman, later transferred to Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he became a student political leader and chairman of Roosevelt’s delegation to the National Student Association conference in 1956. The following year he was graduated from Roosevelt University. He then entered Boston University, where he pursued a graduate degree. Later, he earned his M. A. degree in African and Afro-American history from Cornell University in 1980 and the Ph.D degree from Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities in 1981.

During the late 1950s, Forman became active in the civil rights struggle of African Americans in the South. As a reporter for the Chicago Defender, he covered the Little Rock, Arkansas school desegregation crisis. In 1960, Forman traveled to Fayette County, Tennessee, to assist black sharecroppers, under the auspices of a program sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, who were evicted by white landowners because they sought the right of the franchise. He spent a year in the West Tennessee county. While there, Foreman also traveled to Nashville where he met Diane Nash and they talked about the future of SNCC. In 1961, he participated with other Freedom Riders protesting segregated facilities in Monroe, North Carolina. In Monroe, he was beaten, arrested, and jailed.

In October 1961, at the behest of Nash, James Bevel, and Paul Brooks, Forman became SNCC’s executive secretary. Three years later, after participating in the failed effort of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to remove the conventional all-white delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, Forman and other SNCC members were invited to Guinea by the African government. Subsequent to his return from Africa, Forman became a critic of the federal government. He also promoted educational programs for civil rights workers to become cognizant of Marxist and Black Nationalist views. As director of SNCC’s international affairs, he worked to construct associations between African Americans and revolutionaries in the Third World. In the summer of 1964, under Forman’s leadership, SNCC brought almost a thousand young volunteers, black and white, to register voters, set up “freedom schools,” establish community centers and build the new Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Among those volunteers were Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, the three young men murdered along a muddy road near Philadelphia, Miss., in June 1964. When Forman left SNCC in 1968, he joined the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. One of the first in modern times to call for reparations to be paid to African Americans, Forman made reparations an issue in May 1969 when he interrupted a Sunday church service at New York’s Riverside Church to read his “Black Manifesto” and demand white churches pay $500 million in reparations for the injustices of slavery, racism, and capitalism. Throughout most of his life, Forman remained active in the causes and struggles of blacks. He traveled to the continent of Africa and to Europe on behalf of the Black Panther Party. In 1982, he planned a new March on Washington. Five years later, he lobbied against Circuit Court Judge Robert Bork, President Ronald Regan’s nominee to the United States Supreme Court. Six years later, he campaigned against the presidential bid of David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of Ku Klux Klan. James Forman, the author of Sammy Young, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement (1968); The Political Thought of James Forman (1970); The Makings of Black Revolutionaries (1972); and Self-Determination (1985), died of colon cancer on January 10, 2005, at the age of 76 in Washington, D. C.

FANNIE LOU TOWNSEND HAMER (1917–1977) Lecturer, Civil Rights Activist, Organization Executive/Founder

As a poor sharecropper she had only an elementary education, yet Fannie Lou Hamer was one of the most eloquent speakers for the Civil Rights movement in the South. She worked for political, social, and economic equality for herself and all African Americans; Hamer fought to integrate the national Democratic party, and became one of its first African American delegates to a presidential convention.

The youngest of 20 siblings, Hamer was born on October 6, 1917, to Jim and Lou Ella Townsend in Montgomery County, Mississippi. She began picking cotton at the age of six. Because she had to work full-time, Baker dropped out of school in the sixth grade. She began working on the Marlow plantation as a sharecropper. In 1944, when the plantation’s owner, W. D. Marlow, learned she was literate, she was given the job as a time and record keeper on the plantation until 1962. In 1962, she lost her job because she tried to exercise her right to vote. Frightened by threats of violent reprisals, Hamer was forced to move away from her home and her family. Angered into action, she went to work for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), helping many African Americans register to vote.

Because the Democratic party refused to send African Americans as delegates to the national presidential convention in 1964, Hamer and others formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). Arguing that the all-white delegation could not adequately represent their state which had a large African American population, Hamer and the MFDP challenged the Democratic delegates from Mississippi for their seats at the convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Hamer’s speech on their behalf so alarmed the incumbent President Lyndon Johnson that he tried to block the televised coverage of her efforts. The MFDP lost its bid that year, however, their actions did result in a pledge from the national party not to exclude African Americans as delegates in the 1968 convention. In 1968, Fannie Lou Hamer was among the first African American delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

For the next decade, Hamer remained active in the struggle for civil and economic rights. In 1969, she founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative to help needy families raise food and livestock. They also provided basic social services, scholarships and grants for education, and helped fund minority business opportunities. Hamer became a sought after speaker, and in the 1970s, even as her health was failing from cancer, she still toured the country speaking about civil rights for all. Fannie Lou Hamer Hamer died on March 14, 1977.

JESSE L. JACKSON SR. (1941– ) Religious Leader, Civil Rights Activist, Organization Executive/Founder

Jesse Louis Jackson Sr. was born October 8, 1941, in Greenville, South Carolina. In 1959 Jackson left South Carolina to attend the University of Illinois. Dissatisfied with his treatment on campus, he decided to transfer to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. After receiving his B.A. in sociology, Jackson attended the Chicago Theological Seminary. In 1968, he was ordained a Baptist minister.

Jackson joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1965. The following year he became involved with the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket. From 1967 to 1971, Jackson served as the program’s executive director. Resigning from the SCLC in 1971, he formed his own organization, Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity). Through PUSH Jackson continued to pursue the economic objectives of Operation Breadbasket and expanded into areas of social and political development.

Jackson soon became the most visible and sought after civil rights leader in the country. While he described himself as a “country preacher,” his magnetic personality had television appeal. Jackson’s command of issues and his ability to reach the heart of matters marked him as an individual of intellectual depth. Of all the civil rights leaders, Jackson was the one who could best relate to the young. In a phrase that became his trademark “I am somebody,” Jackson was able to bring out the best in them.

From this came Jackson’s PUSH-Excel program that sought to motivate young school children to improve academically. In 1981 Newsweek magazine credited Jackson with building a struggling community improvement organization into a nationwide campaign to revive pride, discipline, and the work ethic in inner-city schools. With funding from the Carter administration, the PUSH-Excel program was placed in five other cities.

The Jesse Jackson of the 1980s will be best remembered for his two runs for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. In 1983, many, but not all, African American political leaders endorsed the idea of an African American presidential candidate to create a “people’s” platform, increase voter registration, and have a power base from which there could be greater input into the political process. His 1984 campaign was launched under the aegis of the National Rainbow Coalition, Inc., an umbrella organization of minority groups. African American support was divided, however, between Jackson and former Vice President Walter Mondale. During this campaign, Jackson attracted considerable media coverage with controversial remarks and actions, demonstrating a lack of familiarity with national politics.

The 1988 campaign of Jackson showed enormous personal and political growth; his candidacy was no longer a symbolic gesture but was a real and compelling demonstration of his effectiveness as a candidate. By the time the Democratic convention rolled around, media pundits were seriously discussing the likelihood of Jackson’s nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate. “What to do about Jesse” became the focus of the entire Democratic leadership. At the end of the primary campaign, Jackson had finished a strong second to Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. He changed forever the notion that an African American president in America was inconceivable. Jackson took his defeat in stride and continued to campaign for the Democratic ticket until the November election.

Since the 1988 election, Jackson has worked less publicly, but no less energetically. In 1989, he moved with his Rainbow Coalition from Chicago to Washington, DC, believing that the coalition could be more effective in the nation’s capital. Jackson continued to write, speak, and lead protests for social change. His primary concerns included crime, violence, drug use, and teenage pregnancy in inner-city neighborhoods, voter registration, health care, affirmative action, and baseball hiring practices. In 1993, Jackson was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize.

Jackson was active in foreign affairs as well. In 1991, he traveled to Iraq and convinced Saddam Hussein to begin releasing Americans held hostage after Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. In 1994, Jackson met with Fidel Castro in Cuba and, later during the year, President Bill Clinton sent him on a peace mission to Nigeria. Although many expected him to run for the presidency again in 1992 or 1996, Jackson decided against it, saying that he was too tired and the strain on his family too severe. However, he did support his son, Jesse Jackson Jr., who was elected to the House of Representatives (Chicago’s 2nd Congressional District) on December 12, 1995. As the decade was coming to a close, Jesse Jackson Sr. continued to be a civil and human rights activist, as well as a political force in American society. As he had done since the mid-1980s in Syria, Cuba, and Iraq, in May of 1999, the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. successfully secured the release of three captive U.S. soldiers held as prisoners of war during the Kosovo crisis.

As the new millennium began, Jackson experienced many ups and downs. He received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Bill Clinton on August 9, 2000. Just months later, in January 2001, it was revealed that Jackson had been involved in an extramarital affair, fathering a daughter with the former head of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition office in Washington, D.C. The scandal threatened to end his public career, yet Jackson seems to have survived the turmoil. In August 2001, Jackson celebrated the 30th anniversary of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition with a five-day conference in Chicago.

CORETTA SCOTT KING (1927–2006) Organization Executive/ Founder, Civil Rights Activist, Women’s Rights Activist, Lecturer, National/ International Diplomat, Educator, Community Activist

As the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King was ready to continue his work and perpetuate his ideals after his 1968 assassination. While her primary role in the early years of marriage concerned the rearing of their four children, she became increasingly involved in the struggle for civil rights through her husband’s activities. After his death, she quickly became a dynamic activist and peace crusader.

Born on April 27, 1927, to Obadiah Scott and Bernice McMurray Scott, King is a native of Marion, Alabama. One of three children, during the Depression she was forced to contribute to the family income by hoeing and picking cotton. Early in life she resolved to overcome adversity, seek equal treatment, and achieve a sound education. In 1945, after graduating from the private Lincoln High School, she entered Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, on a scholarship, majoring in elementary education and music. A teaching career appealed to her; however, she became disillusioned when she was not allowed to practice teaching in the town’s public schools. No African American had ever taught there, and Coretta Scott was not destined to be the first to break the tradition.

Musical training in voice and piano absorbed much of her time. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Antioch College, she continued her studies at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she earned a Mus.B. in voice. In Boston she met Martin Luther King Jr. and they married on June 18, 1953. An exceptional young minister, King’s intense convictions and concern for humanity brought her a measure of rare self-realization early in life. Sensing his incredible dynamism, she suffered no regrets at the prospect of relinquishing her own possible career. The Kings had four children: Yolanda Denise (November 17, 1955); Martin III (October 23, 1957); Dexter (January 30, 1961); and Bernice (March 28, 1963).

Completing her studies in 1954, King moved back south with her husband, who became pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Within a year, the Reverend King led the Montgomery bus boycott and brought forth a new era of civil rights agitation. Two years later, he helped to organize and was elected head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Over the years King gradually became more involved in her husband’s work. She occasionally performed at his lectures, raising her voice in song as he did in speech. She became involved in separate activities as well. In 1962, she served as a Woman’s Strike for Peace delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. In the mid-1960s, she sang in the multi-arts Freedom Concerts that raised money for the SCLC. As demands on Martin became too much, she filled the speaking engagements he could not keep. After his assassination, Coretta King kept many of the commitments his death left empty. Soon, however, she became a much sought after speaker in her own right.

King’s speech on Solidarity Day, June 19, 1968, is often identified as a prime example of her emergence from the shadow of her husband’s memory. In it, she called upon American women to “unite and form a solid block of women power” to fight the three great evils of racism, poverty, and war. Much of her subsequent activity revolved around building plans for the creation of a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Atlanta, which she began to work on in 1969. Located in the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District and designated a national historic landmark on May 5, 1977, the Martin Luther King Jr. historical site became a unit of the National Park Service in 1980. In the same year that she began developing plans for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, King also penned her autobiography My Life with Martin Luther King Jr., a book of reminiscences. On August 27, 1983, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington, King and the King Center summoned more than 700 organizations and convoked the New Coalition of Conscience, which represented one of the largest nonviolent and civil and human rights coalition in the history of the United States. The number one priority of the coalition was the establishment of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

After years of lobbying to have Dr. King’s birthday celebrated as a national holiday, she and others were rewarded for their efforts when in November of 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill creating the King holiday. The following year, Coretta Scott King was elected chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, established by Congress to formalize plans for the first legal celebration of the King holiday. Beginning on January 20, 1986, the country celebrated the first Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. Today, Dr. King’s birthday is marked by annual celebrations in over 100 countries.

King’s activism extended beyond the borders of the United States. In the mid-1980s, she and two of her children were arrested for demonstrating against apart-heid outside of the South African embassy in Washington, DC. In 1986, she visited South Africa for eight days, meeting with businessmen and anti-apartheid leaders. King also condemned the human rights violations of the Haitian military regime against Haitian citizens. In 1993, she implored the United Nations to reimpose an embargo against the nation.

The well-respected Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change became embattled in an ugly scuffle with the National Park Service over the issue of how best to utilize some of the historic Atlanta district in which the King memorial is located. As chief executive officer (CEO), King was forced to mediate between the family’s desire for an interactive museum with exhibitions and programs for children and the National Park Service’s plan for a visitor’s center on the same site. The dispute was not resolved until April of 1995, a few months after King had officially stepped down as CEO, handing the reigns of leadership over to her son Dexter, who was unanimously voted the center’s director and CEO.

Controversy continued to brew. In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. had given nearly 83,000 documents, including correspondence and other manuscripts, to Boston University. Coretta King had hoped to regain control of that legacy, but in April of 1995, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of the university.

On a brighter note, Coretta Scott King remained an eloquent and respected spokesperson on behalf of African American and human rights causes and nonviolent philosophy. She was often recognized for keeping her husband’s dream alive. In September of 1995, King, along with two other famous civil rights widows—Myrlie Evers-Williams and Betty Shabazz—were honored for their influence by the National Political Congress of Black Women. King received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, including, Boston University, Morehouse College, Princeton University, and Bates College.

After many years of serving on the battlefield as a staunch freedom fighter for justice and equality for all, Coretta Scott King suffered a stroke and a mild myocar-dial infraction in August of 2005. Two weeks before her death, she made her last public appearance at a Salute to Greatness dinner as a part of the Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Atlanta, Georgia. As she received a standing ovation, supported by her children, she waved to the crowd.

Give the designation as the “matriarch of the [modern] Civil Rights Movement” by the Reverend Fred Shut-tlesworth, Corretta Scott King spoke out “on behalf of racial and economic justice, women’s and children’s rights, gay and lesbian dignity, religious freedom, the needs of the poor and homeless, full employment, health care, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament and ecological sanity.” She also devoted her time and energy to AIDS education and seeking ways to curb gun violence.

On January 30, 2006, at the age of 78, the matriarch’s voice was forever silenced when she died in her sleep at a holistic health center in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where she had been undergoing treatment for advanced stage ovarian cancer.” Said the Reverend Joseph Lowery, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “She bore her grief with dignity. She moved quietly but forcefully in the fray. She stood for peace in the midst of turmoil.” King’s body was interred in a temporary mausoleum on the gounds of the King Center until a permanent resting place, next to her husband, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. can be erected.

DEXTER KING (1961– ) Civil Rights Activist, Organization Executive

The youngest son of the King family, Dexter Scott King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 30, 1961. Dexter’s early days were filled with his parents’ involvement in the nonviolent Civil Rights movement. Not only did his father participate in the movement, but by the mid-1960s his mother, Coretta Scott King, was heavily involved as well.

King’s early education was a blend of both private and public academies. In 1979, he graduated from Atlanta’s Frederick Douglass High School, where he was recognized not only as the son of the Reverend Martin L. King Jr., but as an individual with a multifaceted identity. His interests included both music and athletics. Offered an athletic scholarship at the nationally recognized University of Southern California, Dexter opted to study at his father’s alma mater, Morehouse College.

Dexter did not follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a Morehouse alumnus. Instead, his interest carried him into the world of music video production. In collaboration with Phillip M. Jones, he produced a music video in observance of the first nationally celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. That endeavor led to an album in remembrance of Dr. King. Pop icons Prince, Whitney Houston, Run-DMC, and others rendered musical performances. By 1989, Dexter King returned to the civil rights arena when he was named president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change, while his mother remained as the chief executive officer (CEO). Dexter King only remained as president of the center for four months, concerned that he only served as a titular head. However, with the retirement of Coretta Scott King in 1994, Dexter by a unanimous vote of the board of directors, became president and CEO. He was officially installed in January of the following year.

In March of 1997, Dexter King confronted James Earl Ray, the man convicted of his father’s assassination, at the Lois DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville, Tennessee. Dexter King asked Ray if he had assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. Ray stated that he had not, and Dexter began working towards Ray’s release from prison. However, 13 months after their meeting, James Earl Ray died of liver failure.

Wanting to educate people about his father’s non-violent philosophy, Dexter King’s task is finding the most effectual method to bring his father’s message of constructive change into the twenty-first century.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. (1929–1968) Religious Leader, Civil Rights Activist, Author/Poet, Labor Activist, Organization Executive/Founder, Minister, Anti-war Activist

Any number of historic moments in the civil rights struggle have been used to identify Martin Luther King Jr.—prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott (1955–1956), keynote speaker at the March on Washington (1963), and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1964). However, in retrospect, single events are less important than the fact that King, and his policy of nonviolent protest, was the dominant force in the Civil Rights movement during its decade of greatest achievement, from 1957 to 1968.

King was born Michael Luther King in Atlanta on January 15, 1929—one of the three children of Martin Luther King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta Williams King, a former schoolteacher. (He did not receive the name “Martin” until he was about six years of age.) After attending grammar and high schools locally, King enrolled in Morehouse College in 1944. At this time he was not inclined to enter the ministry, but while there he came under the influence of Dr. Benjamin Mays, a scholar whose manner and bearing convinced him that a religious career could have its intellectual satisfactions. After receiving his B.A. degree in 1948, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. Graduating in 1951, King was the recipient of the Plafker Award as the outstanding student of the graduating class and the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship. In 1951, King entered Boston University to pursue his Ph.D. Two years later, he completed his course work. After completing his dissertation for his doctorate in 1955, King was granted a Ph.D. from Boston University.

Married by then, King returned to the South, accepting the pastorate of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was here that he made his first mark on the Civil Rights movement by mobilizing the African American community during a 382-day boycott of the city’s bus lines. Working through the Montgomery Improvement Association, King overcame arrest and other violent harassment including the bombing of his home. In 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Alabama laws requiring bus segregation unconstitutional, thereby granting African Americans equal access on the buses of Montgomery.

A national hero and a civil rights figure of growing importance, King summoned together 115 African American leaders in 1957 and laid the groundwork for a new civil rights organization, now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Elected its president, he soon sought to assist other communities in the organization of protest campaigns against discrimination and to promote voter-registration activities among African Americans.

After the 1958 publication of his first book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story and a trip to India the following year, where he enhanced his understanding of the non-violent strategies of Gandhi, King returned to the United States and subsequently resigned as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. In 1960, he returned to Atlanta where the headquarters of SCLC was located and became co-pastor, with his father of Ebenezer Baptist Church. A sympathizer with the African American Southern student movement, King spoke at the organizational meeting of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April of 1960. He soon garnered criticism from the student activists who were intent on maintaining their independence. King was arrested after participating in a student sit-in at Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta on October 19, 1960. Similar to the students, he refused to post bail and was incarcerated with the student protesters. Three years later, in Birmingham, Alabama, where white officials were known for their anti-African American attitudes, King’s nonviolent tactics were put to their most severe test. On April 16, King was arrested during a mass protest for fair hiring practices, the establishment of a biracial committee, and the desegregation of department store facilities. Police brutality (i.e., police dogs and fire hoses) used against the marchers dramatized the plight of African Americans to the nation and the world at large with enormous impact. Although arrested, King’s voice was not silenced as he issued his classic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to refute the criticism of white clergy. In June of 1963, President Kennedy agreed to put sweeping civil rights legislation before the U.S. Congress.

Later that year King was a principal speaker at the historic August 28 March on Washington, where he delivered the “I Have A Dream” speech, one of the most passionate addresses of his career. At the beginning of the next year, Time magazine designated him as its Man of the Year for 1963. A few months later he was named recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. Upon his return from Oslo, Norway, where he had gone to accept the award, King entered a new battle in Selma, Alabama, where he led a voter registration campaign which culminated in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March. King next brought his crusade to Chicago where he launched a slum rehabilitation and open housing program.

In the North, however, King soon discovered that young and angry African Americans cared little for his pulpit oratory and even less for his solemn pleas for peaceful protest. Their disenchantment was clearly one of the factors influencing his decision to rally behind a new cause and stake out a fresh battleground: the war in Vietnam. Although his aim was to fuse a new coalition of dissent based on equal support for the peace crusade and the Civil Rights movement, King antagonized many civil rights leaders by declaring the United States to be “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

The rift was immediate. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) saw King’s shift of emphasis as “a serious tactical mistake”; the Urban League warned that the “limited resources” of the Civil Rights movement would be spread too thin; Bayard Rustin claimed African American support of the peace movement would be negligible; and Ralph Bunche felt King was undertaking an impossible mission in trying to bring the campaign for peace in step with the goals of the Civil Rights movement.

From the vantage point of history, King’s timing could only be regarded as superb. In announcing his opposition to the war and in characterizing it as a “tragic adventure” which was playing “havoc with the destiny of the entire world,” King again forced the white middle class to concede that no movement could dramatically affect the course of government in the United States unless it involved deliberate and restrained aggressiveness, persistent dissent, and even militant confrontation. These were precisely the ingredients of the civil rights struggle in the South in the early 1960s.

As students, professors, intellectuals, clergymen, and reformers of every stripe rushed into the movement and, in a sense forcing fiery black militants such as Stokely Carmichael and Floyd McKissick to surrender their control over anti-war polemics, King turned his attention to the domestic issue which, in his view, was directly related to the Vietnam struggle: the War on Poverty. At one point, he called for a guaranteed family income, he threatened national boycotts, and spoke of disrupting entire cities by nonviolent “camp-ins.” With this in mind, he began to draw up plans for a massive march of the poor on Washington, DC, envisioning a popular demonstration of unsurpassed intensity and magnitude designed to force Congress and the political parties to recognize and deal with the unseen and ignored masses of desperate and downtrodden Americans.

King’s decision to interrupt these plans to lend his support to the Memphis sanitation men’s strike was based in part on his desire to discourage violence, as well as to focus national attention on the plight of the poor, unorganized workers of the city. The men were bargaining for little else beyond basic union representation and long overdue salary considerations. Though he was unable to eliminate the violence that had resulted in the summoning and subsequent departure of the National Guard, King stayed in Memphis and was in the process of planning for a march that he vowed to carry out in defiance of a federal court injunction, if necessary. On April 3, 1968, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rendered his last and most foreboding speech “I See the Promised Land,” better known as “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Delivered at (the Bishop Charles H.) Mason Temple, King prophesied his demise.

Death came for King on the balcony of the African American-owned Lorraine Hotel just off Beale Street on the evening of April 4. While standing outside with Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy, a shot rang out. King fell over, struck in the neck by a rifle bullet which left him moribund. At 7:05 P.M. he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital. His death caused a wave of violence in more than 100 major cities across the country. However, King’s legacy has lasted much longer than the memories of those post-assassination riots. In 1969, his widow, Coretta Scott King, organized the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Today, it stands next to his beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and, with the surrounding buildings, is a national historic landmark under the administration of the National Park Service. Additionally, the Lorraine Hotel, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, now serves as the National Civil Rights Museum.

On November 13, 2006, two United States Presidents, civil rights leaders, three of Dr. King’s children, and thousands of others gathered for the ground-breaking ceremony of the first monument to a black American on the National Mall. The four-acre monument will be built along the Tidal Basin, located between the Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln memorials. “It belongs here,” said former President William “Bill” Clinton. In 1996, Clinton signed the bill authorizing the creation of the monument on the four-acre site near the spot where during the 1963 March on Washington, King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.

The only twentieth century American accorded a national holiday, Dr. King’s birthday is celebrated each year with educational programs, artistic displays, and concerts throughout the United States.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III (1957– ) Civil Rights Activist, Community Activist, Political Leader, Organization Executive/Founder

Martin Luther King III, the oldest son and second child of the Reverend and Mrs. Martin L. King Jr., was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on October 23, 1957. Reared in Atlanta, M. L. King III received his primary and secondary education in the schools of Atlanta. After completing his secondary studies, King entered Morehouse College majoring in political science and history.

A child of the Civil Rights movement, after graduating from his father’s alma mater, King III devoted his energies to voter registration campaigns, lobbying to make his father’s birthday a national holiday, and pursuing political office. King, a civil and human rights advocate, has been involved in meaningful policy strategies to provide just and equal treatment to citizens throughout the world.

During the administration of President Jimmy Carter, King represented the president on two official delegations to promote peace in foreign countries. In 1984, as a member of the board of directors of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change, he went to five poverty- and drought-stricken African nations on a fact-finding mission. This mission produced an initiative to end starvation in Africa. Later, he focused his energy on the injustices of South Africa’s system of racial apartheid and joined in the struggle to gain the freedom of Nelson Mandela.

In 1986, King entered the political arena and was elected to office as an at-large representative on the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. Serving until 1993, his tenancy was characterized by enactments regulating minority business participation in public contracting, ethics, purification of the county’s natural water resources, and strict hazardous waste disposal provisions. After leaving office, King returned to public speaking, worked with Atlanta youth groups, and continued to be a community and human rights activist. Later, in response to California’s Proposition 209, which outlawed policies of affirmative action, he organized Americans United for Affirmative Action (AUAA). A coalition of national groups, the AUAA’s purpose is to safeguard affirmative action programs and to maintain the principles of equal opportunity and diversity championed by the Civil Rights movement. A year after founding AUAA, King was appointed president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Martin Luther King III was sworn

into office on January 15, 1998, as the fourth president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King was also the first lay person in that role. He retained the presidency in 2001 despite a strong challenge to unseat him. He continues to use the platform to speak out against injustices such as the racial profiling of minorities.

Raised among those who were ardently committed to inclusive civil and human rights and a nonviolent fellowship of humanity; Martin Luther King III infuses and applies the belief system into his personal and public life.

THE REVEREND JAMES MORRIS LAWSON JR. (1928– ) Educator, Civil Rights Activist, Minister

A proponent of the Gandhian philosophy of direct non-violent protest, the Reverend James M. Lawson, Jr. was one the movement’s leading theoreticians and tacticians in the African American struggle for freedom, equality, and justice. The progeny of politically active forbearers, he unceasingly continued his family’s heritage by employing his incisive intellect and aptitude for the betterment of humankind. Reared in a household of ten children (nine biological and one adopted), he was born on September 22, 1928 to the Reverend James Morris and Philane May Cover Lawson, Sr. in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Although born in Uniontown, he was reared in predominately white Massillon, Ohio, where he received his primary and secondary education. While growing up, Lawson was exposed to the views of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who introduced the passive resistance creed against injustice, through editorials in the Cleveland Defender and the Pittsburg Courier. As he matured his activism manifested itself. Before being graduated from high school, he and a schoolmate provoked by the unjust treatment that African Americans received in eating establishments, entered a Massillon restaurant and insisted that they be served within the luncheonette. This was his first sit-in. Lawson continued his protest activity by testing white-only restaurants at different Methodist youth meetings in small midwestern cities. From his personal protest encounters with racially prejudiced whites, Lawson discerned that the midwestern mind-set was very much akin to that in the United States’ southern region.

Upon completion of high school, the youthful social activist entered Baldwin-Wallace College in Brea, Ohio in 1947. Lawson’s collegiate experience buttressed his practice that emphasized direct vigorous action in support of his activism. He became a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s (FOR) local chapter, as well as a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), both of which were ardent advocates of direct nonviolent passive resistance to racism.

Firmly grounded the in guiding principles of non-violence by 1949, Lawson became a “conscientious objector,” as the United States immersed itself in the Cold War. On June 25, 1950, the Cold War inflamed the militaristic cinders into a full-fledge conflagration. Five months after the Korean Conflict exploded; Lawson and his pacifist way of life came under assault. Even though he could have taken a student or ministerial deferment, the pacifist college student remained unwaveringly committed to his principles and ethical values. After a warrant had been issued for his arrest, Lawson turned himself into the authorities, who charged him with violating the draft laws of the Untied States. Found guilty in April of 1951, he was sentenced to three years in federal prison. In May of the following year, Lawson was paroled from the maximum-security prison in Ashland, Kentucky. He returned to Baldwin-Wallace in the fall, completed the requirements for his undergraduate studies, and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree.

After earning his Bachelor of Arts degree, Lawson traveled to India to work with the Methodist Board of Missionaries. There until 1956, he studied the Gandhian principles of Satayagraha or the strategy of nonviolence. Satayagraha includes three basic philosophies, which according to the Basic Concepts of Satyagraha: Gandhian Nonviolence are: Sat or truth, which instructs that each person’s opinions and beliefs represent part of the truth and that individuals must share their truths cooperatively. Ahimsa, or the refusal to inflict injury on others. Ahimsa is dedicated to one’s commitment to communication and to the sharing of truth. Violence shuts off channels of communication. The concept of Ahimsa appears in most major religions, which suggest that while most people may not practice it, it is respected as an ideal. The last principle of Satauagrapha is Tapasya or the willingness for self-sacrifice. One who practices Satyagraha must be willing to shoulder any sacrifice which is occasioned by the struggle he or she has initiated, rather than pushing such sacrifice or suffering onto their opponent, lest the opponent becomes alienated and access to their portion of truth becomes lost. The satyagrahi must always provide a face-saving “way out” for the opponent. The goal is to discover a wider vista of truth and justice, not to achieve victory over the opponent. The combination of his extensive studies and his India experiences solidified his opinion that nonviolence is a form of power. He asserted, “It’s a form of social political action. It’s not an acquiescence.” Lawson fully grasped these principles and would later use them to combat and end racial segregation in the United States.

Upon Lawson’s return to America in 1956, he entered Oberlin College’s Graduate School of Theology. In February of the following year, he met and had a conversation with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on campus. During the course of their conversation, Lawson gave King an abstract of his experiences, he said to King, “You know, one day I think I’ll work in the South … I’ve had that on my mind for a long time.” According to Lawson, King responded, “Come now. We need you.” King said, “We don’t have any Negro ministers with your experience, your understanding …” Realizing that this chance meeting was another choice moment, Lawson responded softly, “I’ll come as soon as I can.”

An old friend of Lawson, A. J. Muste of FOR arranged for him to become the organization’s Southern Secretary. Between 1958 and 1960, he served as a regional troubleshooter, moving in and out of southern cities. Headquartered in the “Athens of the South,” since 1958, he enrolled in Vanderbilt University’s School of Divinity and became a member of the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC), established in 1958 by the Reverend Kelly Miller Smith, as a local affiliate of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As chair of the Action Committee, Lawson initiated a process to show that Montgomery’s Bus Boycott victory could be replicated in Nashville, Tennessee. In the fall of 1958, with Lawson serving as organizer and teacher, NCLC convened an intensive weekly nonviolent action educational program that brought students, clergy, and laity together. During the training sessions Lawson met, mentored, and cultivated a cell of indoctrinated students who actively promoted the principles of Satayagraha. This coterie of students later became many of the most widely respected student leaders in the freedom struggle across the South.

In November and December of 1959, the Reverends Lawson and Smith and students Diane Nash, Marion Berry, John Lewis, and James Bevel among others, conducted “test sit-ins” at downtown Nashville department stores, two months prior to the students in Greensboro, North Carolina. Notwithstanding, the Nashville students’ earlier entrance into the African American struggle for freedom by testing Nashville’s exclusionary policy of racial segregation, as well as their intense on-going effort to create a “beloved community” according to the principles of Gandhi and Christianity, students in Greensboro formerly launched the 1960s nonviolent student protest known as the sit-in movement on February 1, 1960. Almost two weeks after the Greensboro sit-ins, on February 13, Lawson and the dauntless group of students began full-scale sit-ins at Nashville downtown stores. Because of its discipline and training, the Nashville student movement became the model for other movements across the South. However, Lawson’s involvement with Nashville’s desegregation movement brought him into direct conflict with Vanderbilt University’s board of trustee member James Geddes Stahlman, publisher of the Nashville Banner. On March 2, 1960, the Vanderbilt Trustees met and gave Lawson the choice of withdrawing as a student or dismissal from the university. He refused to withdraw and the following day, university’s officials expelled him from Vanderbilt.

Between April 15 and 16, 1960, at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, Lawson and the Nashville student delegation were predominant and leading supporters in the establishment of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The Nashville’s group dedication to nonviolence and the Christian ideal of the “beloved community” helped establish SNCC’s initial direction. SNCC’s statement of purpose, written by Lawson and sanctioned by a later student conference held in Atlanta on May 13 and 14, accentuated the religious and philosophical beliefs of nonviolent direct action.

After being expelled from Vanderbilt’s School of Divinity, Lawson went to Boston University and earned his Masters of Theology degree in August 1960. A year later, when the Freedom Riders were going through the Deep South assessing the region’s compliance with the U. S. Supreme Court’s decree in the Boynton v. Virginia case, Lawson participated in the rides’ last leg. In 1962, officials of the Methodist Church appointed Lawson to the pastorate of the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. The following month, King asked Lawson to serve as Director of Nonviolent Education for SCLC.

After moving to Memphis in 1962, Lawson continued in the struggle for equality and justice and became a moving force in the Bluff City movement. He organized Community on the Move for Equality (COME). It was Lawson, who emboldened the refuse workers to think of themselves as men, which led them to employ the now readily well-known “I am a Man” signs. In 1968, He asked Dr. King to come to Memphis to draw attention to the plight to striking sanitation workers. After King’s assassination, the Reverend Lawson pleaded for calmness and composure in the African American community of Memphis.

Although the Reverend James Morris Lawson, Jr., who was born four months before the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served as an understated principal of the modern Civil Rights Movement, his impact and influence was substantial and enduring. He became noted in the struggle for African American civil rights by teaching Mohandas K. Gandhi’s nonviolent civil disobedience techniques and philosophy that became the modern move-ment’s most compelling and effective political weapon.

Considered by King, as “the leading nonviolent theorist in the world,” Lawson was awarded Vanderbilt University’s 2005 Distinguished Alumni Award. Within the same week, almost 46 years after the university expelled him for his civil rights activism, Vanderbilt administrators appointed him as its distinguished visiting professor for the 2006-2007 academic year.


HARRY T. MOORE (1905–1951) Educator, Civil Rights Activist, Organization Founder

One of the unknown warriors to give his life for the cause of civil rights and racial justice, Harry Tyson Moore was born on November 19, 1905, in Suwannee County, Florida, to Johnny and Rosa Tyson Moore. He received his education in the schools of Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, Florida. In 1925, Moore graduated from the Florida Memorial College with a high school diploma. After graduation, he taught school in Cocoa for one year. In 1926, Moore served as principal of Titusville Colored School and later as principal of the Mims Elementary School.

A member of the Florida State Teachers’ Association, Moore organized the Brevard chapter of the NAACP in 1934. He investigated lynchings and indescribable deeds of mob brutality and launched a campaign against segregated academies of learning and unequal compensation for African American teachers. In 1944, Moore co-founded and became executive secretary of the Progressive Voters’ League. Under his leadership, the league successfully inaugurated a state-wide voter registration drive. Because of Moore’s activist role in the struggle for civil rights among African Americans in the state of Florida, the Brevard County officials relieved him of his duties as principal in 1946. In May of the same year, he became the first full-time, paid executive secretary of an NAACP state conference.

As the most visible and outspoken African American leader in Florida, Moore received numerous threats. The 1949 alleged rape of a Groveland white woman by four African American men ignited four days of virulent rioting by unrestrained white mobs in African American neighborhoods. A month after the alleged incident, Moore, to no avail, corresponded with President Harry S. Truman and Florida’s congressional representatives, calling for a review of the Groveland riots and pressing for a special session of Congress to pass laws to protect the civil rights of African Americans. Because Moore sought justice for the accused individuals, he captured the ire of the Ku Klux Klan. His unrelenting campaign for racial equity also placed him at odds with local government officials. When the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the convictions and death sentences of the remaining two defendants in April of 1951, the simmering embers of hostilities over the Groveland case ignited once again.

In the summer of 1951, Moore earned his bachelor’s degree from Bethune-Cookman College. Within months of completing his undergraduate studies, the death threats became an absolute reality. Death came to the ever-vigilant warrior for civil rights on December 25, 1951, when a bomb placed beneath his bed exploded. Harry T. Moore, as recorded by Ben Green in his book Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr, became the first person to lose his life for what became the modern Civil Rights movement. Recognizing his achievements and sacrifices, in 1952 the NAACP posthumously awarded Harry T. Moore the Spingarn Medal, the organization’s highest honor.

In 1991, after evidence came to the forefront, then-Florida’s Governor Lawton Chiles ordered a re-investigation of the Moore murder. Ironically, this was the same year that Byron de la Beckwith was re-indicted for the 1965 murder of Medgar Evers. By some accounts, Moore’s death is as monumentous as those of Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.

IRENE MORGAN KIRKALDY (1917– ) Civil Rights Trailblazer

Irene Morgan, later known as Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, was the civil rights activist who caused the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to bring forth the 1946 Supreme Court case of Morgan v. Virginia. By a seven to one margin, the justices outlawed racial segregation in interstate travel. The decision in this case caused CORE to initiate its 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, a forerunner of the 1961 Freedom Rides. A trailblazer in the African American struggle, Morgan epitomized Gunnar Myrdal’s contention in his 1944 classic study, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy “that the Jim Crow car [was] resented more bitterly among Negroes than most other forms of segregation.”

Ten years before the United States Supreme Court dismantled the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson’s doctrine of racial segregation and eleven years before Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a Montgomery Cleveland Avenue bus, Morgan defied the laws of racial segregation. On July 16, 1944, she rebuffed southern racial etiquette by not relinquishing her seat on a Virginia bus to a white couple. While the protestations taken by Morgan and Parks appear to be the same with the exception of chronology, there are other differentiations. Morgan was on an interstate bus going from Virginia to Maryland; Parks was on a city bus. Morgan was in her late 20s; Parks was in her 40s. Morgan was at least three-rows from the back on the Greyhound bus; Parks was seated near the middle of the Cleveland Avenue bus, driven by J. F. Black. Morgan was not affiliated with any association committed to freedom struggle for equality and justice. Parks had been involved with the NAACP and had studied at Highlander Folk School, where she learned to be resolute in the freedom struggle. Morgan retaliated in self-defense, while Parks adhered to nonviolence. Notwithstanding the differences, both were arrested and their cases were litigated through the judicial system, where ultimately, the United States Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

Yet, while Morgan may not have been active in an organization fighting to secure the civil rights of African Americans, attitudinally, she possessed the spirit of Alain Locke’s “New Negro,” which primarily called for human dignity, civil liberties and racial equality. On that fateful July 16, 1944 day, Morgan, who, was recovering from a miscarriage refused to give up her seat to a white couple. By violating Virginia’s 1930 statue, which proscribed racially mixed seating on public modes of transportation, she courageously defied the southern code of behavior and remained seated for her rights as an American.

After putting up a defense, Morgan was dragged from the bus by the sheriff and his deputy and arrested. After being taken into custody, she was charged with resisting arrest and breaching Virginia’s Jim Crow transit laws. Three months later, Morgan pleaded guilty on the resisting arrest charge and paid the assessed fine of $100. However, firmly believing that she was well within her rights and that Virginia’s segregation law was not applicable to interstate travelers, she refused to pay the associated fine and court costs. Resolute within herself, Morgan felt she had done nothing wrong. She paid for her seat and sat in the designated Negro section. Morgan declared she would appeal her conviction, and, if necessary, take her case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Represented by attorneys from the NAACP, Morgan’s case was taken to the Virginia Supreme Court, which on June 6, 1945, upheld the state’s 1930 Jim Crow statue. Morgan’s attorneys appealed the state supreme court’s ruling to the country’s highest tribunal. Almost a year later, on June 3, 1946, seven justices on the United States Supreme Court sustained Morgan’s appeal. The Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, (328 U.S. 373) represented a spirited attack on Jim Crow transportation. However, as with most Supreme Court decisions that moved African Americans closer to the edge of gaining equality and justice, most southern states disregarded the court’s interstate transportation edict.

Less than a year later, in 1947, CORE and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) organized and implemented the interracial Journey of Reconciliation throughout the upper South to test the court’s decision in the Morgan v. Virginia case. An interracial group of sixteen men, eight blacks (Bayard Rustin, Wallace Nelson, Conrad Lynn, Andrew Johnson, Dennis Banks, William Worthy, Eugene Stanley and Nathan Wright) and eight whites (George Houser, Ernest Bromley, James Peck, Igal Roodenko, Worth Randle, Joseph Felmet, Homer Jack and Louis Adams) prepared for a two-week bus trip through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Organizers of this “freedom ride” understood that discriminatory social laws and patterns did not change because of decisions made by the U. S. Supreme Court and that progress would not come without struggle. The interracial group of men employed a strategy of whites sitting in the back seats, blacks in front, and both side-by-side. Their purpose was to force Southern states to carry out the Morgan decision. During the two-week journey, twelve men were arrested on six separate occasions. Morgan’s act of refusal laid the foundation upon which African Americans would construct other direct protest methods for civil liberties and equality.

Irene Morgan faded into obscurity after the court ruled in her favor. She became a widow at age 32. Later she married Stanley Kirkaldy and they continued to rear her two children. A self-determined woman with an entrepreneurial spirit, Morgan-Kirkaldy operated her own business providing maid and child care service to families in New York. As she traveled life’s journey, Morgan continued to have an awareness of and concern about matters as they related to racial intolerance and social injustice. In her own demonstrative way, Morgan attempted to seek redress for those who had been harmed by systemic discrimination.

After winning a scholarship in a radio contest during the 1980s, she entered St. John’s University, where she majored in communications. In 1985, Morgan earned her baccalaureate degree at the age of 68. Her undergraduate studies only increased her thrust for learning. Morgan continued her education by perusing an advance degree from Queen’s College. Five years after completing her undergraduate degree, in 1990, at the age of 73, she earned a Master of Arts degree in Urban Studies.

Five years after earning her graduate degree, Irene Morgan-Kirkaldy, the woman that history barely assigned endnote citation, penetrated the public’s consciousness when she made a brief appearance in You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow! a documentary film on the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, presented by New Hampshire Public Television. Six years later, on 8 January 2001, native southerner President William Jefferson Clinton, who was born the same year as the Supreme Court decision that bears her name, awarded Morgan-Kirkaldy, along with 27 others, including Fred Shuttles-worth and NAACP attorneys Jack Greenberg and Constance Baker Motley, the Presidential Citizens Medal. “When Irene Morgan boarded a bus for Baltimore in the summer of 1944,” the award’s approbation asserted, “she took for the first step on a journey that would change America forever.”

DIANE J. NASH (1938– ) Civil Rights Activist

In the vanguard of the national civil rights and anti-war movements from 1959 to 1967, Diane Judith Nash was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 15, 1938. Reared in a Catholic middle-class home, she received her primary and secondary education in parochial and public schools of Chicago. Nash began her collegiate career at Howard University. Her transfer to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, projected her into the African American struggle for civil rights.

When Diana Nash arrived in the “Athens of the South,” racial segregation permeated Nashville. Her personal encounters with the code of “separate but unequal” led Nash to actively seek rectification. Early in 1959 she attended workshops on nonviolence directed by the Reverend James Lawson, under the agency of the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, an affiliate of SCLC. Nash became imbued with and an ardent supporter of the direct nonviolent protest philosophy.

In November and December of 1959, Nash was among those who “tested” the racial segregation policy of Nashville’s downtown lunch counters. Elected chair of the Student Central Committee, she played a pivotal role in Nashville’s student sit-in movement. Before the Nashville students could initiate their first full-scale sit-in, North Carolina A&T students staged a sit-in on February 1, 1960, in Greensboro.

When the Nashville students decided on the “jail—no bail” strategy, Nash stated to the judge, “We feel that if we pay these fines we would be contributing to and supporting the injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and convictions of the defendants.” Responding to her April 19 query about the immorality of segregation, Mayor Ben West said that lunch counters should be desegregated. On May 10, 1960, Nashville became the first Southern city to begin desegregating its lunch counters.

In April of 1960, Diane Nash was one of the founding students of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The following February, she participated in the Rock Hill, South Carolina, protests for desegregation. After being arrested, Nash and the other students refused to pay bail. When CORE’s original freedom riders were beaten unmercifully in Alabama and aborted the last leg of the ride to New Orleans, John Lewis and Diane Nash determined that permitting the violence of the white mob to overthrow the nonviolence of the demonstrators conveyed the wrong message to the movement’s enemies. Nash accepted the responsibility of coordinating this monumental mission.

In May, Nash coordinated the Freedom Rides from Birmingham, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi. Three months later, Nash became the director of the direct-action wing of SNCC. Between 1961 and 1965 she worked for SCLC as a field staff person, organizer, strategist, and workshop instructor. Nash was imprisoned for instructing African American children in the techniques of direct nonviolent protest after moving to Jackson, Mississippi. Holding steadfastly to the principles developed in Nashville, she chose jail rather than pay bail.

Nash’s ideas were instrumental in initiating the 1963 March on Washington. She and James Bevel conceptualized and planned the initial strategy for the Selma Right-to-Vote Movement that helped produce the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Nash’s civil rights activities led her to the Vietnam peace movement. She continued working for political and social transformation through the 1970s and lectured nationally on the rights of women during the 1980s. Nash continues to lecture across the country. Nonviolence was not a tactic for Diane Nash, an unsung but outstanding woman of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. For her it became a way of life.

In October 2006, the faculty of Fisk University and the Fisk Board of Trustees voted to award Diane Nash an Honorary Doctorate degree at the university’s 2007 commencement exercises.

EDGAR DANIEL NIXON SR. (1899–1987) Labor Leader and Civil Rights Activist

Edgar Daniel Nixon Sr., the fifth of eight children, was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on July 12, 1899, to Wesley and Sue Ann (Chappel) Nixon. Nixon’s mother died when he was eight years old and he went to live with his paternal Aunt Pinky in Autauga, Alabama. Because of racially segregation and the distance of the one-room school from his aunt’s home, Nixon’s school attendance was irregular. At age 14, he became self-supporting and worked in Selma and Mobile, Alabama. Subsequent to working in the Union Station baggage room, Nixon was hired as a sleeping-car porter. Later influenced by A. Philip Randolph, he became a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Randolph recognized and helped Nixon polish his organizational skills. However, he was not the wind that propelled Nixon’s desire to stir up forces to effect change for the people in the Confederacy’s first capital. When he first met Randolph, Nixon was already involved in local efforts to improve the quality of life for Montgomery’s African American citizens. Earlier, he had waged an unsuccessful campaign to secure a swimming pool for African Americans after two children drowned while swimming in a drainage ditch. Notwithstanding, it was his indefatigable contributions toward organizing people in the human struggle that was the whirlwind, which fanned Nixon’s motivation.

In 1928, with Walter White and Roy Wilkins serving as counselors, the catalyst for change helped establish state and local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapters in Alabama. During his tenure as state and local president, 21 branches were added to the state NAACP, and the local membership increased from 500 to approximately 3,000. In the 1930s, Nixon organized the Montgomery Welfare League to assist disadvantaged persons of color secure governmental assistance. When A. Philip Randolph and Baynard Rustin began organizing the 1941 March on Washington to protest against discrimination in the defense industries, Nixon was part of the process that ultimately caused President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission.

Later, during the 1940s, Nixon organized the Montgomery Voter’s League; served as president of the Progressive Democratic Association, which successfully addressed the issue of African Americans serving on city’s police force. He threatened to file suit against city officials on behalf of Oak Park residents who were suffering from city neglect. Also as president of the NAACP, he attempted to challenge the community’s binding rule of conduct on Montgomery’s city buses that systemically restricted African American seating. However, Viola White, the plaintiff in the test case died while appeals were adjudicated for ten years subsequent to the 1944 filing. In 1944, Nixon persuaded 750 African Americans to march on the courthouse and demand their right of the franchise. The following year, he became the first African American to run for a political office since Reconstruction when he campaigned for a county seat on the Montgomery Democratic Executive Committee. The civil rights activist was defeated in that election by only 200 votes.

On December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her bus seat to a white man, E. D. Nixon contacted Clifford Durr, a local white attorney, who found out the charges against Parks and the amount of bail money needed to secure her release. Prior to Raymond Parks’s arrival, Nixon paid the $100 bail and had Rosa Parks’s trial date set for December 5, 1955. He believed that the Parks case should be tested in the courts to nullify Montgomery’s bus segregation laws and that African Americans should boycott the bus company. Although he and others made plans for a proposed boycott the Women’s Political Council (WPC) set the wheels in motion. The same day of Parks’s trial African American citizens staged a boycott of the city buses organized by Alabama State College English professor Jo Ann Robinson, president of the WPC, and others. The one-day sanction imposed by African Americans against the city’s transit company proved successful.

Nixon, the Reverends Ralph Abernathy, H. H. Hubbard, and Edgar N. French met and laid the groundwork for a long-term bus boycott and a new organization, which Abernathy named the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). At the organizational meeting of MIA, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was elected as president and Nixon as treasurer. During his two-year tenure personally raised approximately $100,000 and wrote checks amounting to almost $500,000 for the MIA and the boycott. He always recognized local whites who supported the movement. When MIA members were indicted for boycott activities, Nixon was the first to be indicted. Adhering to Baynard Rustin’s instructions on how to be arrested and throw law enforcement officials off guard, Nixon did not wait for them to come to his home and arrest him, he gave himself up, which demonstrated to the other indicted individuals how to counterbalance law officials’ offensive.

For more than a year, thousands of African Americans in Montgomery with “rested souls and weary feet” refused to ride the buses. Eventually, the loss of revenue and a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court forced the Montgomery Bus Company to desegregate its buses. The boycott took 65 percent of the bus company’s business, which caused it to cut schedules, lay off drivers, and increase fares. The city’s merchants lost revenue as well.

Announced in November 1956, the Gayle v. Browder decision, dissimilar from the Brown case, specifically overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision because it like Plessy explicitly applied to transportation. The bus company not only consented to ending segregation but also agreed to hire African American drivers and treat all customers with equal deference. On December 21, 1956, African Americans boarded Montgomery buses and sat wherever they desired.

During his lifetime, Nixon received hundreds of commendations from state and local governments and national organizations. A self-educated person, he was awarded four honorary doctorates, including one from Alabama State University. In 1975, Nixon was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for the state of Alabama of which he served as vice-president.

Edgar Daniel Nixon Sr., who served as Alabama’s change agent and played an important role in the civil rights movement, died on February 27, 1987.

ROSA L. MCCAULEY PARKS (1913–2005) Aide, Civil Rights Activist

Rosa Parks has been called “the Patron Saint,” the spark that lit the fire, and the “mother of the movement.” Her courage to defy custom and law to uphold her personal rights and dignity inspired African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, to fight for their rights by staging one of the longest boycotts in history.

Born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama, she was one of two children born to James and Leona Edwards McCauley. Her mother, a schoolteacher, taught Parks until age 11, when she entered Montgomery Industrial School for Girls. Later, she attended Booker T. Washington High School. After attending segregated schools, she went to the all-African American Alabama State College. In 1932, she married Raymond Parks. Eleven years later, she and her husband joined the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter. One of the first women to join the NAACP, Parks served as the chapter’s secretary from 1943 to 1956. Also a member of the Montgomery Voters League, during the summer of 1955, Parks attended workshops at Highlander Folk School, in Monteagle, Tennessee, which had been active in the civil rights struggle since the 1930s.

On December 1, 1955, as Parks was riding the Cleveland Avenue bus home from work, she was ordered by the bus driver to give up her seat to a white man. When she refused to move, the bus driver threatened to call law enforcement officials. Arrested and fined, her case was the last straw for Montgomery’s African American citizenry. They were as tired of being underclass citizens as Parks. The Women’s Political Council protested her arrest by organizing a boycott of the buses. A young, unknown minister named Martin Luther King Jr. became immediately involved. Realizing the immensity of the opportunity to begin dismantling the code of Southern segregation, he and other members of the community organized the Montgomery Improvement Association. African Americans and a few whites transported boycotters to and from work, and they continued, despite opposition from the city and state governments, for 382 days.

Following her trial, upon the advice of her attorneys, Parks refused to pay the $14 fine and court costs. Parks’s case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On December 20, 1956, the country’s highest tribunal ruled Montgomery’s segregated seating unconstitutional. When the boycott ended the following day, both Parks and King were national heroes. Lasting over a decade, the mass movement of non-violent social change that started in Montgomery culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Because of the harassment that Rosa and Raymond Parks received during and after the boycott, in 1957 they and her mother moved to Detroit, Michigan. Working in various capacities, she later became a staff assistant in Congressman John Conyers’s Detroit office. Parks continued to be involved in the civil rights struggle, giving speeches and attending marches and demonstrations. She marched on Washington in 1963 and into Montgomery in 1965. Parks has received numerous tributes for her dedication and inspiration: in 1979, she received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal; and in 1980, she became the first woman to receive the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize. Three years later, Parks was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame for her achievements in civil rights. As she approached retirement, Parks became involved in other activities, such as the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. In 1988, the same year that she retired from U.S. Representative Conyers’s office, Detroit’s Museum of African-American History unveiled her portrait. Two years later, her birthday was celebrated in Wash-ington’s Kennedy Center. In addition to being a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the inaugural International Freedom Conductor Award, in April 1999, Congress passed legislation authorizing then-President Bill Clinton to award her the Congressional Gold Medal, the country’s highest civilian honor. In 2000, the State of Alabama awarded her the Alabama Academy of Honor. The same year Governor Don Siegelman awarded her the first Governor’s Medal of Honor for Extraordinary Courage.

The honors continued in January 2001. Parks attended the dedication of Troy State University’s Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, featuring a statue in her likeness and an exhibit recounting her history-making conversation with the bus driver who told her to give up her seat in 1955. That same month, her former home in the South was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 2002, her life story was retold in a made-for-TV movie starring Angela Bassett and in Douglas Brinkley’s biography, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. Meanwhile, Parks remained active in the courts fighting the use of her name in the title of a song by OutKast that she considered offensive. Parks’s suit was initially dismissed without trial by a U.S. district court judge in 2000, but the issue was brought before an appeals court for reinstatement in May 2001.

In 2004, the proclaimed mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement was diagnosed with dementia, a disease that causes a progressive decline in cognitive function. At the age of 92, on October 25, 2005, Rosa Parks died in her adoptive city of Detroit, Michigan. In both Detroit and Montgomery, Alabama, city functionaries announced that the front seats of their respective city buses would be reserved with black ribbons in her honor until her funeral. On October 27 the upper chamber of the United States Congress passed a concurrent resolution to honor Parks by allowing her body to lie in honor in the U. S. Capitol Rotunda, a tribute reserved for the nations most “revered leaders.” Five days after her death, Parks’ body was taken to the St. Paul African Methodist Church, where she lay in state. Later, her remains were conveyed to U. S. Capitol Rotunda, where she lay in honor. Parks became the first woman, the first American who was not a governmental official, and the second African American (the first was Jacob Chestnut, an United States Capitol Police officer) to be so honored. Later, her body was taken back to Detroit, where she lay in state at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. On November 2, the woman who kindled the Modern Civil Rights Movement was funeralized at the Greater Grace Temple Church. Parks was interred between her husband, Raymond, and mother, Leona McCauley in Woollawn Cemetery. On December 1, 2005, the 50th anniversary of her arrest, President George Bush signed a house resolution directing that a statue of Parks be places in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, further immortalizing Parks’ lifelong commitment to freedom, social justice and equality in American history.


JO ANN GIBSON ROBINSON (1912–1992) Civil Rights Activist, Educator, Author

As president of the Montgomery, Alabama, Women’s Political Council during the 1950s, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson was one of the several significant originators of the 1955–1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott. The youngest of 12 children, she was born on April 17, 1912, to Owen Boston and Dollie Webb Gibson, near Culloden, Georgia. The first member of her family to obtain a college degree, Robinson graduated from Fort Valley State College and taught for five years in the Macon public schools. Moving to Atlanta, she earned a master’s degree in English from Atlanta University.

In 1949, Robinson joined the faculty of Alabama State College as a professor of English. Later, she joined Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and the Women’s Political Council (WPC). A young organization, the WPC was founded in the fall of 1946 by Mary Fair Burks, also a member of Alabama State’s English Department. Burks was inspired to organize the WPC after a sermon by the Reverend Vernon Johns, then-pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, serving as president of the WPC for four years. Organized to protest racial abuse, the WPC developed a program of political action. The programs consisted of four points: voter registration; protest demonstrations of African American abuse on Montgomery city buses; the education of the young about democracy; and literacy programs.

Because she and others came face to face with the degrading effects of racial abuse by drivers of Montgomery city buses, Robinson and the WPC targeted the racial seating practices. On several occasions, the WPC sought a remedy from city officials about African American seating and the imperious conduct of contemptuous city drivers. A year and a half before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, in May of 1954—soon after the unanimous Supreme Court decision in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case—Robinson corresponded with Mayor W. A. Gayle and alluded to the possibility of a boycott by African Americans of the city’s public transportation system if the abuses did not stop. Resultant to Parks’s arrest on December 1, 1955, she played a prominent role in the Montgomery bus struggle. A member of the executive board of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), Robinson wrote the organization’s newsletter.

Martin Luther King Jr. described Robinson as “apparently indefatigable, she perhaps more than any other person, was active on every level of the protest.” Robinson’s 1987 memoir The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It took her and other middle-class women from a footnote status to one of centrality within the narrative for open seating on the buses of Montgomery. Joann Gibson Robinson died five years after the publication of her memoir.

RUBY DORIS SMITH ROBINSON (1942–1967) Civil Rights Activist and SNCC Executive Secretary

Ruby Doris Smith, the second of seven children, was born to John Thomas and Alice Banks Smith in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 25, 1942. Smith grew up in a home where her parents were socially conscious and committed to education. She was no stranger to American racism, but the televised images of fellow African Americans’ courage during the Montgomery bus boycott sharply focused her resolve, at a young age, to become an active participant in overthrowing the vestiges of Jim Crow. Her parents’ commitment to racial justice became a guiding light as Smith matured into a socially conscious being. Under the tutelage of her parents, who stressed education, Smith completed her secondary education and prepared to enter an institution of higher education.

Smith entered Spellman College in 1959. A year later, she became involved in Atlanta’s student sit-in movement. One who was cognizant of her “blackness” during the years of segregation, Smith was motivated by the sit-in movement that was ignited by students at North Carolina A&T College in Greensboro, North Carolina. She protested with her older sister and other students from the Atlanta University Center in their attempt to desegregate Atlanta. In April 1960, she joined other students in Raleigh, North Carolina, as they, under the leadership of Ella Baker, established the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). A strong advocate of group-centered rather than leader-centered groups, Baker emboldened the conference attendees to institute their own organization rather than become the student branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) or other existing civil rights groups. Smith took to heart Baker’s exhortation that the liberation movement was more than “the right to eat hamburgers at a lunch counter.”

Smith, like other women supporters in the student sit-in movement, led in the transformation of SNCC from a coordinating office into a cadre of activists devoted to expanding the quest for African American civil rights throughout the South. In February 1961, as students honored the first anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins, she and Diane Nash were among SNCC members who joined the Rock Hill, South Carolina protests, which included the “jail no bail” approach. The Rock Hill “jail no bail” tactic used by the student protesters served as an emotional leap forward for the civil rights movement. A raison d’être based on the Gandhian philosophy, the Rock Hill solution responded to the movement’s fiscal crisis of limited bail money. Additionally, the national SNCC organization blended into a local movement, which was a principle of the grass roots organization that later influenced its system of belief. Smith died of leukemia on October 7, 1967.


AL SHARPTON (1954– ) Religious Leader, Community Activist, Sports Manager, Public Relations Manager, Organization Executive/Founder, Author

While being shunned by many middle-class African Americans, Al Sharpton draws support from the ranks of the youth and the disenfranchised. Sharpton was born in 1954 in Brooklyn, New York. At the early age of four, Sharpton began delivering sermons and at the age of 13 he was ordained a Pentecostal minister. During and after high school, Sharpton preached in neighborhood churches and went on national religious tours, often with prominent entertainers. Soon he was befriended by a number of well known and influential African Americans including Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Jesse Jackson Sr., and singer James Brown.

In 1969, Jackson appointed Sharpton youth director of Operation Breadbasket. Around this same time James Brown made Sharpton one of his bodyguards and soon he was doing promotions for the singer. In 1985, Sharp-ton married singer Kathy Jordan and soon became involved with fight promoter Don King. Even though Sharpton promoted boxers and entertainers, he had long before put himself in the public spotlight as a social activist. In 1971, he founded the National Youth Movement (later called the United African Movement) ostensibly to combat drug use. The movement, however, soon became a vehicle for Sharpton to draw attention to himself. He urged children to forsake Christmas in favor of a Kwanzaa celebration and the elderly to protest New York City police tactics.

Sharpton made himself part of the publicity surrounding the Bernard Goetz murder trial (1984), the Howard Beach racial killing (1986), the Tawana Brawley debacle (1987), and the Yusef Hawkins-Bensonhurst killing (1989). In 1988, Sharpton was accused of being an FBI informant and passing on information about Don King, reputed organized crime figures, and various African American leaders. In 1989 and 1990, he was acquitted on charges of income tax evasion and embezzling National Youth Movement funds. In 1991, Sharpton was briefly hospitalized after being stabbed by a man wielding a pocket knife.

On August 2, 1994, Sharpton announced the formation of a new political party. He aimed to counter the Liberal Party by reaching African American voters that traditional, mainstream parties have ignored. Sharpton unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate as a candidate of his own Freedom Party, even participating in that year’s New York Democratic primary.

In 1999, he led a community effort to pursue the arresting officer responsible for the sodomy and arrest of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, and later that same year he led a protest in the wrongful death of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo. Diallo, who was unarmed at the time, was shoot to death by New York police in the vestibule of his apartment building. Sharp-ton was in the forefront claiming police brutality and racial profiling. Four years later, he was involved in protests over the wrongful death of another West African immigrant, Ousmane Zongo. Zongo was an African arts dealer from Burkina Faso and living in New York. Like Diallo, Zongo was also unarmed when a plain clothes policeman shot him in a Chelsa warehouse raid. As with the Diallo shooting, Sharpton claimed police brutality and racial profiling.

Sharpton continued to emerge as an outspoken national political figure. He made headlines with his protest of the U.S. Navy’s use of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico for military bombing operations. He was arrested on May 1, 2001, for trespassing on the island and was sentenced to a 90- day jail term for the offense. While incarcerated, Sharpton went on a highly publicized hunger strike. Shortly after his release, Sharpton announced that he would form an exploratory committee to evaluate a possible bid for the U.S. presidency in 2004. On 5 January 2003, he announced his candidacy for the presidential election, as a member of the Democratic Party. Sharpton insisted that he was running a broad-based campaign and sought to remind voters of the possibility of everyone running, including Sharpton himself, stood a chance to win with voter support. Sharpton’s 10-point platform emphasized four goals: the right to vote, to public education of equal high quality, to health care of equal high quality and the ERA, equal rights for women. Despite the efforts of his detractors to use contentious areas of his past against him, Sharpton made candid public addresses that helped to keep the issues of the underserved at the forefront of the political race well beyond his March 2004 concession. To date, he continues his efforts as a grassroots organizer and has hinted at the possibility of running for the office of President in 2008.

In addition to his 1996 publication, Go and Tell Pharaoh, Sharpton’s, Al on America was published in 2002.

FRED LEE SHUTTLESWORTH (1922– ) Civil Rights Activist, Clergyman

Born March 18, 1922 in Mugler, Alabama, Fred L. Shuttlesworth was once referred to as “one of the nation’s most courageous freedom fighters” by none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. From his 1956 founding of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights through the historic Birmingham demonstrations of 1963, driven by a sense of divine mission,

Shuttlesworth pressured Jim Crow restrictions in Birmingham with radically confrontational acts of bravery. His intensive civil rights campaign pitted him against the staunchly segregationist police commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor and ultimately brought him to the side of Martin Luther King Jr., and to the inner chambers of the White House during the Kennedy administration. Throughout these struggles, Shuttlesworth demonstrated incredible courage and persistence in the face of peril.

When Shuttlesworth sustained only a bump on the head in the 1956 bombing of his home, members of his church called it a miracle. Shuttlesworth took it as a sign that he would be protected on the civil rights mission that had made him a target that night. Standing in front of his demolished home, Shuttlesworth vigorously renewed his commitment to integrate Birmingham’s public facilities and police department. The incident transformed him, in the eyes of Birmingham blacks, from an up-and-coming young minister to a virtual folk hero and, in the view of white Birmingham residents, from obscurity to agitator extraordinaire.

He participated in lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Rides of 1961. When he developed Project Confrontation, Shuttlesworth invited King to Birmingham to lead the city’s desegregation program through mass protest rallies and marches. Although the Birmingham minister was prepared to negotiate with white leaders for a diplomatic termination of racial segregation, he believed that they would not easily relinquish the entrenched system of apartheid, which was maintained through violence. Determined to bring down the Jim Crow restriction, he set about a course to force white authorities and business leaders to recalculate segregation’s cost. Bull Connor unknowingly aided Shuttles-worth in his mission to bring about equality and justice. The city’s image was being destroyed around the world, as the electronic media televised images of Connor directing the use of vicious police dogs attacking unarmed protesters and firefighters using water hoses to blasted protesters, including children to the ground. The imagery greatly effected citizens of the United States and their view of the African American struggle. Because of the imagery and America’s standing in the world, the United Congress enacted far-reaching civil rights legislation.

Despite being an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement on the national platform, the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth was widely revered by both black and white Alabamians as one of the most unflinching warriors for social change. In keeping with the movement’s social justice and economic empowerment ethos, he founded the Greater New Light Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1966. Later, he established the Shuttlesworth Housing Foundation to assist families who otherwise may not be able purchase their own homes in 1988.

Shuttlesworth earned an associate’s degree from Selma University and a bachelor’s degree from Alabama State College in 1955; in 1969, he received a doctorate of laws degree from Birmingham Baptist College. He has also received a multitude of awards including: Rosa Parks Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), 1963; Excellence Award from PUSH, 1974; Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Award from the Progressive National Baptists, 1975; the Founders Award from the SCLC, 1977; President’s Citizens Award, 2001.

After serving as pastor of the Greater New Light Baptist Church for 40 years, Shuttlesworth announced his retirement at the beginning of 2006 and preached his final sermon in March before an estimated crowd of 300 people.

MARY MODJESKA MONTEITH SIMKINS (1899–1992) Civil Rights Activist, Educator

Modjeska Monteith Simkins was a key leader of African American public health and social reforms, and the civil rights movement in South Carolina. Her association with progressive and vanguard groups and movements on the state, regional, and national levels endowed her with a point of view that surpassed the confines of provincialism in the state of her birth. Simkins served in leadership positions that as a matter of course were unavailable to women in the civil rights movement.

Mary Modjeska Monteith, the oldest of eight children, was born on December 5, 1899 to Henry Clarence and Rachel Evelyn (Hull) Monteith in Columbia, South Carolina. Reared in a family with strong work ethics, a strong commitment to education, and a strong religious tradition, the Monteith children were also given a sense of racial pride and taught to be of assistance to those who were less fortunate. From her mother and aunts she learned that community service was important. They helped organize medical care for tubercular patients through their involvement with the women’s auxiliary of the Masons and were active members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Active in the Niagara Movement, which was organized by W. E. B. Du Bois, her mother often read to her children from its journal.

Through her entire academic career (from primary through post-secondary) she attended Benedict College in her native city. In 1921, Monteith earned the A. B. degree. Later, she matriculated at Columbia University in New York and Morehouse College in Atlanta, and earned a graduate degree in public health at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. After earning her degree from Benedict College, Monteith taught for a year in the college’s teacher-training department; the following year she found employment at Booker T. Washington High School in the elementary education department. It was here that her willingness to confront authority and steadfastly hold to her beliefs emerged and characterized the rest of her life. From 1923 to 1929, Monteith taught mathematics at Booker T. Washington High School. In 1929, she married Andrew Whitfield Simkins, an African American businessman who owned real estate and operated a service station in Columbia. Because Columbia’s public school system did not allow married women to teach, Modjeska Monteith Simkins was forced to resign from her teaching position.

In 1931, Simkins entered the field of public health as the director of Negro Work for the South Carolina Anti-Tuberculosis Association (SCATA), and became the state’s only full-time African American health worker. By creating alliances with persons of both European and African descent and raising funds, she made a substantial impact on the health of African Americans in South Carolina. Simkins traveled the state educating people about immunizations, maternity and child-care, and sanitation. She published a newsletter and worked with African American teachers and physicians. It was during her 11-year tenure with the Anti-Tuberculosis Association that she became a political activist working with the NAACP and the Civil Welfare League.

Better known as Modjeska Simkins, in the 1930s she became active with and served as secretary of the Civil Welfare League, an organization that set about to improve municipal conditions for Columbia’s African American population. They protested against police brutality, the denial of the right to vote, substandard housing, and a multiplicity of other systemic racially discriminatory practices. One of only two women to serve on the state board, she worked with the Columbia branch of the NAACP as publicity director. In 1939, Simkins was one of the founders of the South Carolina Conference of Branches of the NAACP. Two years later, she was elected head of the publicity committee and a member of the speakers’ bureau.

Because the conventional, tradition-bound administrators of SCATA considered Simkins’s political activism as seditious, they pressured her to discontinue working with the NAACP. When she refused, they discontinued funding for her position, and in effect fired Simkins in 1942. Released from employment, the independent-minded and outspoken Columbia activist came into her own as an agitator for civil rights. The same year of her release from SCATA, Simkins was elected state secretary, a position she held until 1957.

During the time that Simkins held elective office, the South Carolina NAACP undertook lawsuits on behalf of the state’s African American populace. The first lawsuit that the civil rights organization undertook concerned equalization of teachers’ salaries across the state. When the movement for equity pay for African American teachers was launched in 1943, Simkins was the only woman on a committee of four appointed to raise funds to support the lawsuit. Once the NAACP’s Teachers Defense Fund was established, she served as secretary of the project. In 1944, African American teachers won their case in Charleston. The following year, Columbia teachers won a similar case and Simkins actively worked with the city’s teachers.

After the NAACP won the teachers’ salary cases, it focused its attention on dismantling South Carolina’s white primary. In the cases regarding the right of the franchise for African Americans, Simkins participated in planning in-court proceedings and attended courthouse sessions. She kept attorneys abreast of points they might have missed and financially supported George Elmore, the plaintiff in the first voting rights case of Elmore v. Rice, which was won in 1947. However, the state’s Democratic party instituted strategies to get around the ruling. In an attempt to establish full voting rights for African Americans in South Carolina, the NAACP adjudicated a second case, Brown v. Baskins, which it won in July 1948. The same year that the NAACP won the Elmore v. Rice case, it filed suit against Clarendon County in an attempt to force the state to provide bus transportation for black as well as white students, which was thrown out on a technicality. Later, however, the case became a demand to end racially segregated education.

The most significant civil rights case in which Simkins played a major role was the suit brought by the NAACP to end racial segregation in South Carolina’s public schools and, ultimately, the country’s public schools. As secretary, Simkins, the civil rights advocate, assisted Clarendon County’s NAACP chapter president, the Reverend Joseph A. Delaine, compose the statement for the school lawsuit that became Briggs v. Elliott. This case later became one of the five desegregation suits grouped together by the U.S. Supreme Court and decided as the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case. The Brown case overturned the Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, nullifying its “separate but equal” doctrine and terminating racial segregation in the nation’s public schools.

Simkins was active in many organizations that fought against racial discrimination, injustice, and intolerance on the local, regional, and national levels. She worked with political actions groups such as the Columbia Women’s Council and the Richland County Citizens Committee. She participated in regional organizations such as the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, the Southern Regional Council, the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, and the Southern Negro Youth Congress. On the national level, Simkins was a member of the Civil Rights Congress, the National Negro Congress, and the United Negro and Allied Veterans of America.

Considered the matriarch of South Carolina’s civil rights movement, Mary Mojeska Monteith Simkins, the woman who could not be bought or sold, died on April 5, 1992. As articulated by Judge Matthew J. Perry during her memorial service, “[She] will be remembered as a woman who challenged everyone. She challenged the white leadership of the state to what was fair and equitable among all people and she challenged black citizens to stand up and demand their rightful place in the state and the nation.”


LEON H. SULLIVAN (1922–2001) Civil Rights Activist, Organization Founder

Leon Howard Sullivan was born October 16, 1922, in Charleston, West Virginia. Reared by his grandmother after his parents’ divorce, Sullivan attended Charleston’s segregated elementary and secondary schools. After being ordained a Baptist minister at the age of 17, Sullivan earned a B.A. from West Virginia State College (1943) and an M.A. from Columbia University (1947). He also attended the Union Theological Seminary (1945) and earned a D.D. from Virginia Union University.

At age 21, during the first March on Washington movement (1941–1942) organized by A. Philip Randolph, Leon Sullivan was elected president of the South Orange Council of Churches. As president, Sullivan worked with civil rights leaders such as Bayard Rustin. From 1950 to 1988 Sullivan was the pastor of the Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia. While there he entered into a lifelong crusade to provide better job opportunities for African Americans. Using the method of direct non-violent action taught him by Randolph, Sullivan fought racist hiring practices through protest and economic boycott of Philadelphia businesses that employed too few African American employees. Sullivan’s campaign experienced some success, but businesses requested workers with technical skills that few African Americans possessed. A promoter of economic self-determination, he provided job training through the Opportunities Industrialization Center. Opening in 1964 with money from a Ford Foundation grant, the Center offered training in electronics, cooking, power-sewing, and drafting. By 1980, the O.I.C. operated programs in 160 cities. Sullivan also founded Zion Investment Associates, which makes seed money available for new African American business ventures. His acceptance within the business community is well symbolized by his long-time membership on the boards of General Motors and Philadelphia’s Girard Bank, as well as his association with Progress Aerospace Inc. and Mellon Bank.

Author of Build Brother Build, Sullivan is a recipient of the Russwurm Award (National Publisher’s Association, 1963); the Philadelphia Fellowship Communion Award (1964); the Philadelphia Book Award (1966); the American Exemplar Medal (1969); the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal (1971); and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedom Medal (1987). In 1991, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Distinguished Service Award, the Ivory Coast’s highest honor.

In the mid-1970s, Sullivan devised the “Sullivan Principles,” which successfully encouraged American-owned companies in South Africa to hire more black workers and to treat them equitably in relation to promotions and working conditions. Upon retiring from the Zion Baptist Church in 1988, Sullivan was made pastor emeritus and concentrated his energies on concerns in Africa, especially South Africa’s system of apartheid. He called upon American corporations to sell their South African investments and petitioned the U.S. government to bring sanctions against the racially biased country. Sullivan, however, parted company with President Reagan’s “constructive engagement” policy toward South

Africa and, in 1987, endorsed a policy of South African divestment. In the same year, Sullivan received the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal. Because of Sullivan’s efforts, the departure of international businesses, and the sweeping institution of international sanctions, the shackles of South Africa’s system of racial segregation were unchained. He founded the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help to combat illiteracy, famine, and joblessness in Africa and to advance the concept of African self-reliance. In April of 1991, Sullivan organized and co-chaired the first African and African American Summit held at Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Six months later, he officiated at the United Nations Day for Africa, a function he inaugurated to bring attention to the issue of debt relief for sub-Saharan African countries.

Leon Howard Sullivan died of leukemia on April 24, 2001, in Scottsdale, Arizona. A pathfinder, Sullivan’s achievements made lasting universal contributions to the improvement of humankind throughout the world.

MARY E. CHURCH TERRELL (1863–1954) Organization Executive/ Founder, Civil Rights Activist

Mary Eliza Church Terrell, born on September 23, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee, was the oldest of Robert and Louisa Ayers Church’s two children. Because of the racial climate in her native city and its deficient educational facilities for African American children, Church’s parents enrolled her in the Antioch College “Model School” in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She attended the public schools in Yellow Springs and in 1879 completed her secondary education in Oberlin, Ohio. Church earned her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College in 1884. The following year she accepted a faculty position at Wilber-force College in Xenia, Ohio. After two years at Wilber-force, Church joined the Colored High School faculty in Washington, DC. She married Robert Heberton Terrell on October 18, 1891. Residing in Washington, the Terrells became the parents of two children, their daughter Phyllis, and Mary, an adopted daughter.

Terrell became active in the feminist movement and founded the Colored Women’s League in 1892. Later, this organization merged with the Federation of Afro-American Women and became the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Organized in 1896, she was elected its first president. In 1895, Terrell was appointed to the school board in the District of Columbia and served until 1901. Her appointment was the country’s first for a woman of color. Reappointed in 1906, she held the position for five years.

By 1901, Terrell operated as a leader outside the sphere of women’s organizations. She wrote numerous articles denouncing racial segregation. Writing under the

pseudonym Euphemia Kirk, which she soon discarded, Terrell’s treatises were covered in the national and international media. Terrell sought redress for the three companies of African American soldiers dismissed after the 1906 outbreak of racial violence in Brownsville, Texas. In 1909, she was one of two African American women who signed the “Call” for the organizational meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. During the Women’s Suffrage Movement, Terrell worked with other women for the 1920 ratification of the Constitution’s Nineteenth Amendment. In 1940, she wrote her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World.

After World War II, Terrell aggressively fought racial discrimination. In 1950, she filed suit against Thompson’s Restaurant in Washington, DC, for not adhering to the city’s 1872 and 1873 public accommodation laws. As chair of the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of the District of Columbia Anti-Discrimination Laws, Terrell focused on other segregated facilities. At age 89, she led the picket lines. On June 8, 1953, the Supreme Court ruled Washington’s segregated eating facilities unconstitutional in the District of Columbiav. John R. Thompson case. This ardent activist fought more than 66 years for gender and racial equality. Mary Church Terrell died on July 24, 1954, two months after the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruled segregation unlawful.

WILLIAM M. TROTTER (1872–1934) Organization Executive/Founder, Civil Rights Activist, Publisher

William Monroe Trotter was born to James Monroe and Virginia Issacs Trotter on April 7, 1872, near Chill-icothe, Ohio. Reared in predominantly white suburban Hyde Park near Boston, he attended and excelled academically at Hyde Park Grammar School and Hyde Park High School. In 1891, Trotter entered Harvard, where he became the university’s first African American Phi Beta Kappa. He graduated magna cum laude in 1895 with a B.A. degree. In 1899, after working for various employers, Trotter started his business venture as an insurance agent and mortgage negotiator. Two years later, he, along with William H. Scott and George W. Forbes, founded the Guardian. A militant newspaper, it addressed the needs and aspirations of African Americans and served as an organ against racial discrimination. The same year that he co-founded the newspaper, Trotter married Geraldine Louise Pindell who assisted in publishing the Guardian.

An ideological opponent of the “Wizard of Tuskegee,” in 1903, Trotter deliberately disrupted a meeting in Boston at which Booker T. Washington was advocating support of segregation. Subsequently, in 1905, Trotter joined W. E. B. Du Bois in founding the Niagara Movement. However, he refused to move with Du Bois into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People because he felt it would be too moderate. Neither could he accept the financial and leadership role assumed by whites. Instead, Trotter formed the Negro Equal Rights League. In protest against the segregation policies of President Woodrow Wilson, Trotter led a delegation to the White House to meet with Wilson in 1914. After a heated debate between Trotter and the president, Wilson ordered the group to leave. The following year, he led demonstrations against the showing of D.W. Griffith’s racist film The Birth of a Nation that glorified the Ku Klux Klan. In 1919, Trotter appeared at the Paris Peace Conference in an unsuccessful effort to have it outlaw racial discrimination. Although the State Department had denied him a passport to attend the conference, he had reached Paris nonetheless by working as a cook on a ship.

Because of his strident unwillingness to work with established groups, chroniclers of the Civil Rights movement have been slow to recognize Trotter. However, many of his methods were adopted in the struggle for racial

equality and justice in the late 1950s and 1960s, notably his use of nonviolent protest. Arrested numerous times, Trotter’s purpose for consistent direct protest was to eradicate the virulent malevolence of racial segregation.

THE REVERNED C. T. VIVIAN (1924– ) Minister; Civil Rights Activist, Author

The Reverend Cordy Tindell Vivian, a battle-scared veteran of the movement for civil rights, especially for African Americans, like others in the movement began his pilgrimage as a youth struggling to dismantle racial segregation. Better known as the Reverend C. T. Vivian, he was not a native southerner, but had experiences that made him understand that the United States treatment of its African American citizenry, especially in the South must be confronted head-on. Reared in a devout Christian home, to him the concept of racial intolerance was intellectually illogical and spiritually inexcusable. Dedicated to the abolition of racial apartheid in America he employed direct nonviolent methods to expose the United States paternal and provincial biases upon which the country’s construct of racial segregation was built. In 1947, Vivian participated in his first sit-ins in Peoria, Illinois, when he and others demonstrated to end that city’s segregated lunch counters. Later, after he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend seminary at American Baptist College, he and other ministers joined the Reverend Kelly Miller Smith in establishing the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC), an affiliate of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Elected Vice President of NCLC, he entered the modern Civil Rights Movement. It was Vivian’s April 1960 verbal war of words with then-Nashville Mayor Ben West that ultimately caused him to assert that the city’s lunch counters should be desegregated.

Cordy Tindell Vivian, the only child of Robert and Euzetta Tindell Vivian, was born on July 28, 1924, in Boonville, Illinois. Although born in Boonville, his mother and maternal grandmother, Annie Woods Tin-dell, reared him in McComb, Illinois, where they moved six years after his birth. The Great Depression caused his mother and grandmother to lose everything, including their marriages. Because they wanted Vivian, nicknamed C. T., to have access to the best education possible, they moved to McComb. McComb’s school system was desegregated and it was Western Illinois University’s home base. Vivian was imbued with the belief that college was in his future. Attending the public schools of McComb, he received his primary education at Lincoln Grade School. Vivian’s leadership abilities manifested themselves. It was here that he experienced his first indication of the power of nonviolence. Upon completing his primary education, Vivian entered Edison Junior High School. His leadership skills continued to grow and while a student at McComb High School, he was an active student leader. His leadership abilities extended beyond school, as he was also an active youth member of the Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he taught in the Sunday School and served as president of the youth group. Vivian was graduated from McComb High School in 1942. After graduation, he then entered Western Illinois University.

During Vivian’s tenure at Western Illinois University, he was disturbed by a number of issues, including racism. In the mid-1940s, he left Western Illinois University and moved to Peoria, Illinois, where he worked for the Carver Community Center as assistant boys’ director. Two years after arriving in Peoria, Vivian participated in his first sit-in demonstration. Contrasting the South, the country’s northern region practiced segregation by custom, as opposed to the South, where it practiced segregation by codification. In an effort to right Peoria’s customs and traditions, Vivian became an active participant with an integrated group of individuals interested in opening the city’s restaurants and lunch counters to all people, regardless of race.

In 1954, while working at Foster and Gallagher Mail Order Company, he acknowledged his call to the ministry. Later that year, he gave his first sermon at Mount Zion Baptist Church. After accepting his call to the ministry, he made plans to move to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend American Baptist Theological Seminary. Without his knowledge, the aspiring theological student was about to become engaged in one of the United States’ most significant social movements of the 20th century. In 1955, Vivian arrived in Nashville, entered American Theological Seminary, and became the pastor of the First Community Church.

In addition to his ministerial and academic responsibilities, he also worked at the National Baptist Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., as an editor. Because of the dawning of the modern civil rights movement, the Reverend Vivian found himself in a continuous tug-of-war with the more conventional editors of the National Baptist Sunday School Publishing Board. Demonstrating that the movement among American Blacks in the struggle for civil rights was not monolithic in voice among African Americans, they wanted as limited coverage on the new racial protest and the rise of the Reverend Dr. King as possible. The publishing board’s editors caused a philosophical fissure between them and Vivian, which caused him to leave the board’s employment.

Vivian not only ran into conflict with the editors of the all-black religious publishing board, he also collided with Nashville’s Jim Crow mores. In the late fall of 1956, he boarded a Nashville Transit Authority bus and seated himself near the front of the half-filled mode of public transportation. The driver of the bus, adhering to the city’s customs ordered him to the rear. A heated debate ensued and Vivian refused to comply with the driver’s demands. The bus driver authoritatively demanded that the other passengers vacate the bus and he immediately drove Vivian to police headquarters. Earlier the United States Supreme Court in its Browder v. Gayle decision had ruled in favor of the Montgomery plaintiffs in their efforts to the desegregate intrastate transportation. Notwithstanding the 1956 Supreme Court decree, Nash-ville’s law enforcement officials did not know the city’s position or policy. After calling city hall, they learned that the city was in the process of ending segregated seating on public conveyances.

The Reverend Vivian joined with other ministers under the leadership of the Reverend Kelly Miller Smith, Sr. and established the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC). During NCLC’s organizational meeting, Vivian was elected Vice President. It was at this time that he met the Reverend James Lawson and others, who ultimately brought down Nashville’s walls of racial segregation. As Vice President, Vivian’s responsibilities included being in charge of the organization’s direct action component. The Reverend James M. Lawson, who arrived in Nashville in 1958, became a member of and served as chair of NCLC’s Action Committee. After formulating a plan to conduct workshops on the Gandhian method of protest, NCLC leaders and students tested Nashville’s policy of racial segregation in November and December of 1959. Because the news media ignored Nashville’s sit-in movement of 1959, it went unnoticed and was relegated to a footnote by the February 1, 1960, Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-in. Twelve days later, Nashville students began their movement in earnest. Two months later, NCLC and the Nashville Student Committee, with the help of Fisk University’s economic professor Vivian Henderson, initiated an economic withdrawal that all but paralyzed Nashville’s retail district.

With the economic boycott in full swing, on April 19, a would-be executioner tossed dynamite into the residence of Z. Alexander Looby, a well-known civil rights attorney. Although Looby and his wife eluded the evil act and cheated the embittered would-be-killer out of his victory, leaders in Nashville’s black community organized a mass protest march to Mayor Ben West’s downtown office. Knowledgeable about New York’s silent march against lynching in the early 1900s, Vivian emphatically demanded that the silent tactic be the march’s modus operandi. In front of approximately 4,000 persons of both races, once they began and until they reached the mayor’s office, which was located on the courthouse square, the only sound onlookers heard was the thud of ambulating feet. When West came out to meet with them, Vivian read a prepared speech critical of the mayor’s leadership. His incensed denunciation infuriated the mayor, and the two, in acerbic manner, vocally railed against each other. When Vivian asked West “if he thought segregation was moral,” the mayor answered, “No.” At that point, Nash picked up the questioning and asked the mayor, to use the standing of his office to stop racial segregation. Without delay, he appealed to all citizens to end discrimination. Taking his answer to the next level, Nash asked, “Mayor, do you recommend that lunch counters be desegregated?” The mayor responded by simply saying “yes.” Because Vivian’s direct and decisive interrogation facilitated Nash’s questions, Nashville lunch counters began desegregating on May 10, 1960, two months before Greensboro, North Carolina.

In 1961, Vivian participated with SNCC activists in the Freedom Rides. Earlier, CORE officials ended its Freedom Ride from Washington, D. C. to Montgomery to assess compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Boynton v. Virginia [364 U.S. 454] case, which declared that racial segregation within interstate travel was unconstitutional, because of malicious attacks. Although viciously assailed, he took part in a number of key civil rights struggles, including Albany, Georgia (1961); Birmingham, Alabama (1962); St. Augustine, Florida (1964); and Selma, Alabama (1965). In 1963, King assigned Vivian to SCLC’s executive staff and named him national director of affiliates. He became the consultant to all SCLC organizations on issues relating to voter registration, consumer actions, nonviolent training, direct action, human relations, and community development projects. Two years later, in Selma, Alabama, on the courthouse steps he challenged Sheriff Jim Clark during a voter registration drive. Because of Clark’s reaction to Vivian’s fervent vocalizations, Clark physically assaulted the committed and dedicated orator, and in doing so, disclosed his racist posture to humankind across the globe.

Six years after King appointed Vivian to the staff of SCLC, he wrote one of the first monographs on the modern civil rights movement. Black Power and the American Myth, published by Fortress Press, later became an Ebony Book Club Selection. Because of his uncompromising steadfastness to the Civil Rights Movement, the passionate champion of justice and equality has been placed in the Civil Rights Institute (Birmingham, Alabama); The National Civil Rights Museum (Memphis, Tennessee); The National Voting Rights Museum (Selma, Alabama); and the Portrait Hall of Fame, M. L. King Chapel, Morehouse College (Atlanta, Georgia.) In the vanguard of African American freedom struggle, several television documentaries examining the modern civil rights era focused on Vivian as an activist, analyst, and strategist. They include, but are not limited to, Eyes on the Prize; The Healing Ministry of Dr. C. T. Vivian, and the Peoples Century Series, both of which aired on The Public Broadcast System (PBS).

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON (1856–1915) Lecturer, Civil Rights Activist, Educational Administrator, Professor, Organization Executive/Founder, Author/Poet

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born a slave in Hale’s Ford, Virginia, on April 5, 1856, to Jane Ferguson, a bonded person. The first nine years of Washington’s life was spent in slavery on the farm of James Burroughs, the place of his birth. After emancipation, his family was so poverty stricken that he worked in salt furnaces and coal mines from age nine. Attending school sporadically in Malden, West Virginia, Booker added the surname Washington. Always an intelligent and curious child, he yearned for an education and was frustrated when he could not receive one locally. When he was 16 years of age, his parents allowed him to quit work to go to school. They had no money to help him, so he walked 200 miles to attend the Hampton Institute in Virginia and paid his tuition and board there by working as the janitor.

Dedicating himself to the idea that education would raise his people to equality in this country, Washington became a teacher. He first taught in his hometown, then at the Hampton Institute, and in 1881, he founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. As head of the Institute, he traveled the country constantly to raise funds from both African Americans and whites; soon he became a well-known speaker.

In 1895, Washington was asked to speak at the opening of the Cotton States Exposition, an unprecedented honor for an African American man. His Atlanta Compromise speech explained his major thesis, that African Americans could secure their constitutional rights through their own economic and moral advancement rather than through legal and political changes. Although his conciliatory stand angered some African Americans who feared it would encourage the foes of equal rights, whites approved of his views. Thus his major achievement was to win over diverse elements among Southern whites, without whose support the programs he envisioned and brought into being would have been impossible. Washington penned two autobiographies, The Story of My Life and Work (1900) and Up From Slavery (1901).

In addition to Tuskegee Institute, which still educates many today, Washington instituted a variety of programs for rural extension work and helped to establish the National Negro Business League. Shortly after the election of President William McKinley in 1896, a movement was set in motion to name Washington to a cabinet post, but he withdrew his name from consideration, preferring to work outside the political arena. One of the most significant leaders among African Americans in the early twentieth century, Booker T. Washington died on November 14, 1915.

IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT (1862–1931) Journalist, Lecturer, Civil Rights Activist, Anti-lynching Crusader, Feminist

The oldest of James and Elizabeth Warenton Wells’s eight children, Wells-Barnett was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. The yellow fever epidemic of 1878 claimed the lives of her parents and youngest brother. At the age of 16, Wells-Barnett assumed responsibility for her siblings. Leaving Shaw University (now Rust College) and passing a teachers’ examination, she briefly taught in rural Mississippi to support her brothers and sisters. Wells-Barnett moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and taught in the county and city public school systems.

A train ride from Memphis to Woodstock was the beginning of Wells-Barnett’s lifelong public campaign against the injustices faced by African Americans throughout the South. In 1884, after being forcibly removed from the first-class ladies’ coach, she filed suit against the Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad. Although she won in the Memphis Circuit Court, the state’s Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision in 1887 because the railroad company had satisfied Tennessee’s 1881 statutory requirements to provide “separate but equal” accommodations.

Wells-Barnett published accounts of her experience in the local African American press and wrote for the African American press throughout the country. In 1889, she was elected secretary of the Afro-American Press Association. Wells-Barnett’s editorials critical of the Memphis Board of Education led to her dismissal as teacher in 1891. Afterwards, she became a full-time journalist and editor. The March 9, 1892, lynching of three African American male proprietors of the People’s Grocery Store caused Wells-Barnett to declare journalistic war on lynching. When her protest writings outraged white men in the South, a mob destroyed her newspaper office on May 27, 1892, and she was banished from the region.

Wells-Barnett moved to New York and continued her struggle against racial injustice and lynching as a columnist for the New York Age, edited by T. Thomas Fortune. On June 7, 1892, the New York Age published her detailed analysis of lynching, refuting the myth that, by killing African American men, white men intended to shield white women against rape. Her detailed statistics and findings formed the basis of two pamphlets, Southern Horrors (1892) and A Red Record (1895). Lecturing in Great Britain in 1893 and 1894, Wells-Barnett internationalized her anti-lynching campaign.

In 1893, Wells-Barnett focused her attention on the exclusion of African Americans from the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Working with Frederick Douglass, Ferdinand Lee Barnett, and I. Garland Penn, Wells-Barnett co-wrote an 81-page pamphlet entitled The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition—The Afro-American’s Contribution to Columbian Literature. Later in the year, she moved to Chicago and began working for the Chicago Conservator, the first African American newspaper in the city, founded by Barnett.

On June 27, 1895, Ida B. Wells-Barnett married Ferdinand L. Barnett and they became the parents of four children. Domesticity did not detract Wells-Barnett from her crusade. Her militant views and support of Marcus Garvey caused her to be branded a radical by the U.S. Secret Service. Wells-Barnett continued to write articles and participate in local and national affairs. In 1898, she and others met with President William McKinley to seek redress for the lynching of an African American postmaster in South Carolina. They also urged passage of a federal anti-lynching bill.

Wells-Barnett was one of two African American women who signed the “Call” for a conference on the Negro. Convening on May 31, 1909, the conference led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

A champion of women’s rights, Wells-Barnett was one of the founders of the National Association of Colored Women. Believing in the power of the ballot box, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago. As a delegate to the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s parade in Washington, DC, Wells-Barnett refused to march in the back of the procession. She desegregated the parade by joining the Illinois delegation. Wells-Barnett actively campaigned for Oscar DePriest, the first African American elected as an alderman in Chicago. In 1930, she made an unsuccessful bid for an Illinois State Senate seat.

With a passion for justice, Ida B. Wells-Barnett fought for civil and human rights. One of the most important persons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, she actively participated in the struggle from the 1890s until her death on March 25, 1931.





Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1801 L St., NW
Washington, DC 20507
Telephone: (202) 663-4900

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
624 Ninth St., NW
Washington, DC 20425
Telephone: (800) 552-6843


Alabama Attorney General’s Office
State House, 11 South Union Street, Third Floor
Montgomery, AL 36130
Telephone: (334) 242-7300

Alaska Human Rights Commission
800 A St., Ste. 2024
Anchorage, AK 99501-3669
Telephone: (907) 274-4692

Arizona Attorney General’s Office
1275 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Telephone: (602) 542-5025

Arkansas Attorney General’s Office
323 Center St., Ste. 200
Little Rock, AR 72201
Telephone: (501) 682-2007

California Attorney General
1300 I St., Ste. 1101, PO Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550
Telephone: (916) 322-3360

California Fair Employment and

Housing Commission
611 West Sixth Street, Ste. 1500
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Telephone: (800) 884-1684

Colorado Attorney General’s Office
1525 Sherman St., 7th Fl.
Denver, CO 80203
Telephone: (303) 866-4500

Connecticut Attorney General’s Office
P.O. Box 120
Hartford, CT 06141-0120
Telephone: (860) 808-5318

Delaware Attorney General’s Office
Carvel State Office Bldg., 820
N. French St.
Wilmington, DE 19801
Telephone: (302) 577-8400

Florida Attorney General’s Office (Legal Affairs Dept.)
The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
Telephone: (850) 414-3300

Georgia Equal Opportunity Commission
710 Cain Tower, 229 Peachtree St.
Atlanta, GA 30303
Telephone: (404) 656-1736

Hawaii Attorney General’s Office
425 Queen St.
Honolulu, HI 96813
Telephone: (808) 586-1500

Idaho Human Rights Commission
1109 Main St., 4th Floor, P.O. Box
Boise, ID 83720-0040
Telephone: (208) 334-2873

Illinois Human Rights Department
100 W. Randolph St., Ste. 10-100
Chicago, IL 60601
Telephone: (312) 814-6200

Indiana Civil Rights Commission
Indiana Government Ctr. North, 100 N. Senate Ave., Rm. N-103
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2211
Telephone: (317) 232-2600

Iowa Human Rights Department
Lucas State Office Bldg.
Des Moines, IA 50319
Telephone: (515) 281-7300

Kansas Human Rights Commission
851S Landon State Office Bldg., 900 SW Jackson St.
Topeka, KS 66612-1252
Telephone: (785) 296-3206

Kentucky Human Rights Commission
332 W. Broadway, Ste. 700
Louisville, KY 40202
Telephone: (502) 595-4024

Louisiana Attorney General’s Office
Justice Dept., PO Box 94005
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9005
Telephone: (225) 342-7013

Maine Human Rights Commission
51 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0051
Telephone: (207) 624-6050

Maryland Human Relations Commission
Sixth St. Paul St., Ste. 900
Baltimore, MD 21202
Telephone: (410) 767-8600

Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office
One Ashburton Pl., Rm. 2010
Boston, MA 02108-1698
Telephone: (617) 727-2200

Michigan Attorney General’s Office
G. Mennen Williams Building, 7th Floor, 525 W. Ottawa Street, PO Box 30212
Lansing, MI 48909
Telephone: (517) 373-1110

Michigan Civil Rights Department
Manpower Bldg., Ste. 101, 741 N. Cedar Street
Lansing, MI 48906
Telephone: (517) 334-9335

Minnesota Human Rights Department
Army Corps of Engineers Centre, 190 E. Fifth St., Ste. 700
St. Paul, MN 55101
Telephone: (651) 296-5663

Mississippi Attorney General’s Office
PO Box 220
Jackson, MS 39205
Telephone: (601) 359-3680

Missouri Human Rights Commission
3315 W. Truman Blvd., PO Box 1129
Jefferson City, MO 65102-1129
Telephone: (573) 751-3325

Montana Attorney General’s Office
Justice Bldg., 215 N. Sanders, PO Box 201401
Helena, MT 59620-1401
Telephone: (406) 444-2026

Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission
301 Centennial Mall South, 5th Fl., PO Box 94934
Lincoln, NE 68509-4934
Telephone: (402) 471-2024

Nevada Equal Rights Commission
1515 E. Tropicana Ave., Ste. 590
Las Vegas, NV 89119-6522
Telephone: (702) 486-7161

New Hampshire Human Rights Commission
Two Chenell Dr.
Concord, NH 03301-8501
Telephone: (603) 271-2767

New Jersey Attorney General’s Office
Justice Complex, PO Box 080
Trenton, NJ 08625-0080
Telephone: (609) 292-4925

New Mexico Department of Labor
Human Rights Division, 1596 Pacheco Street
Santa Fe, NM 87505
Telephone: (800) 566-9471

New York Human Rights Division
One Fordham Plaza, 4th Floor
Bronx, NY 10458
Telephone: (718) 741-8400

North Carolina Human Relations Commission
217 W. Jones St., 4th Fl.
Raleigh, NC 27603-1336
Telephone: (919) 733-7996

North Dakota Attorney General’s Office
State Capitol, 600 E. Boulevard Ave., Dept. 125
Bismarck, ND 58505-0040
Telephone: (701) 328-2210

Ohio Civil Rights Commission
1111 E. Broad St., 3rd Floor Columbus, OH 43205-1379
Telephone: (614) 466-2785

Oklahoma Human Rights Commission
2101 N. Lincoln Blvd., Rm. 480
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Telephone: (405) 521-2360

Oregon Attorney General’s Office
Justice Department, Justice Bldg., 1162 Court St.,
NE Salem, OR 97310-4096
Telephone: (503) 378-4400

Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission
301 Chestnut Street, Ste. 300
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Telephone: (717) 787-4410

Rhode Island Human Rights Commission
10 Abbott Park Pl.
Providence, RI 02903-3768
Telephone: (401) 222-2661

South Carolina Human Affairs Commission
2611 Forest Drive, Ste. 200, PO Box 4490
Columbia, SC 29240
Telephone: (803) 737-7800

South Dakota Attorney General’s Office
State Capitol, 500 E. Capitol Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501-5070
Telephone: (605) 773-3215

Tennessee Human Rights Commission
530 Church St., Ste. 400, Cornerstone Square Bldg.
Nashville, TN 37243-0745
Telephone: (615) 741-5825

Texas Attorney General’s Office
Price Daniel Sr. Bldg. PO Box 12548
Austin, TX 78711-2548
Telephone: (512) 463-2100

Utah Attorney General’s Office
236 State Capitol
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-0810
Telephone: (801) 366-0260

Vermont Attorney General’s Office
Pavilion Office Bldg., 109 State St.
Montpelier, VT 05609-1001
Telephone: (802) 828-3171

Virginia Human Rights Council
Ste. 1202, Washington Bldg., 1100 Bank St.
Richmond, VA 23219
Telephone: (804) 225-2292

Washington Human Rights Commission
711 S. Capitol Way, Ste. 402, PO Box 42490
Olympia, WA 98504-2490
Telephone: (360) 753-6770

West Virginia Human Rights Commission
1321 Plaza East, Room 108A
Charleston, WV 25301-1400
Telephone: (304) 558-2616

Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office
PO Box 7857
Madison, WI 53707-7857
Telephone: (608) 266-1221

Wyoming Attorney General’s Office
123 Capitol Building, 200 W. 24th Street
Cheyenne, WY 82002
Telephone: (307) 777-7841

Civil Rights

views updated May 18 2018

34. Civil Rights

Civil rights laws are among the most volatile and controversial in the American legal system. The force behind these laws is that certain groups of individuals in our society need protection from infringement on certain basic rights that are recognized under our legal system and are inherent in our form of government.

Civil rights are considered fundamental to all citizens under the Constitution of the United States. These rights include freedom of speech and association, freedom to seek employment, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of religious belief, race, or national origin. When certain groups have historically been denied any of these civil rights, the government has stepped in to make it illegal to interfere in that groups exercise of their rights. For example, African Americans historically have been excluded from certain types of activities in pursuit of their livelihoods. Thus civil rights laws have been enacted at both the federal and state levels to both guarantee African Americans their rights to freely seek employment in the workplace and to obtain an education in the institution of their choice without fear of discrimination on the basis of race and to provide a legal remedy for individuals who are discriminated against. Under civil rights law, acts by certain classes of people that deny others their civil rights can be either criminal in nature or actionable in civil court.

Federal civil rights laws may be enforced by the Justice Department. Usually, violations of the laws are punished by fines and/or injunctions. They may also serve as the basis for private lawsuits by individuals. Civil rights laws usually specify limits to the amount of recovery available in lawsuits filed under them. Also, they often require that a civil rights suit be filed under the available statute, rather than under general common law. This is called the doctrine of preemption, where civil rights laws preempt ordinary tort actions. Preemption is important because it caps the amount of damages for which a defendant may be liable.

Many states have gone even further than the federal laws in protecting civil rights. In those states that have established their own civil rights laws, most have authorized either the creation of new state agencies or have authorized existing agencies to handle the enforcement, administration, and/or investigation of violations of the laws. In some cases, the jurisdiction of the agencies is preemptive. For example, if a worker is fired because of his or her age, the firing may violate civil rights laws against age discrimination. If the state laws preempt private actions, the employee may only bring the complaint against the employer through the state agency or under the state law. In this case, the employee is bound by any restrictions regarding the type or size of the remedy. If the state law is not preemptive, or if the state law permits separate rights of action by the employee, the employee will be free to pursue his or her own course of action against the employer in court. The potential recovery for individual acts of discrimination or other civil rights infringements can be virtually limitless.

In many states civil rights laws may be very specifically divided in coverage and in agencies within state government. Housing and employment are the most frequent specific types of discrimination covered by state laws.

Table 34: Civil Rights
StateCode SectionAgencyAdministrative PreemptionPrivate Action Permitted?Attorney FeesStatute of Limitation
ALABAMA25-1-20, et seq. (Age); 24-8-1, et seq. (Housing)Age: Alabama Department of Economic and Community AffairsNoYesAge: Yes;Housing: DiscretionaryAge: 300 days;Housing: 180 days with agency; 1 yr. private actions
ALASKA18.80.200, et seq. (Generally ); 14.18.010 (Education)Commission for Human Rights; Board of RegentsNoYesDiscretionaryNot specified
ARIZONA41-1401, et seq.Civil Rights Advisory BoardNo§41-1492.08 (c): Yes§41-1481 (J): Yes2 yrs.; 180 days through the Civil Rights Division §41-1492.09
ARKANSAS21-3-201, et seq. (Public Employment); 4-87-101, et seq. (Credit); 11-4-601 (Employment); 16-123-107, et seq. (Generally)Employment: Department of LaborNoPublic Employment: No; Credit: Yes;Employment: Yes; Generally: YesCredit: Yes; Employment: Yes;Generally: DiscretionaryCredit: 1 yr.; Employment: 2 yrs.;Generally: 1 yr.
CALIFORNIACiv. §§51, et seq. (Public Accommodations) Gov. §12940 et seq. (Housing & employmentCiv §§51: None; Gov. §12940: Dept. of Fair Employment and HousingNoYesYesCiv. §51: 3 yrs.; Gov. §12940: 1 yr./agency
COLORADO24-34-301,et seq. (Generally)Civil Rights Commission24-34-305: Yes, with exception24-34-306: YesYes24-34-306: variable
CONNECTICUT46a-51, et seq. (Generally)Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities46a-52: YesYesYes180 days, except violation of §46a-80a: 30 days
DELAWARETit. 6 §4601, et seq. (Housing); Tit. 19 §710, et seq. (Employment); Tit. 6 §4500, et seq. (Public Accommodations)Housing & Public Accommodations: Human Relations Commission; Employment: Dept. of LaborYesHousing: Yes; Employment: Yes; Public Accommodations: NoHousing: Yes;Employment: Yes; Public Accomodations: NoEmployment: 90/120 days; Housing: 1 yr.;Public Accommodations: 90 days
StateCode SectionAgencyAdministrative PreemptionPrivate Action Permitted?Attorney FeesStatute of Limitation
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA2-1401.01, et seq. (Generally); 7-1001, et seq. (Handicapped)Generally: Commission on Human Rights; Handicapped: NoneNoGenerally: Yes; Handicapped: NoGenerally: Yes;Handicapped: NoGenerally: 1 yr.;Handicapped: Not specified
FLORIDA760.01, et seq.Commission on Human RelationsYesYes, after exhaustionYes365 days/agency
GEORGIA7-6-1 and 2 (Credit); 34-1-2 (Age); 45-19-20, et seq. (Public Employment); 8-3-200, et seq. (Housing)Public Employment and Housing: Commission on Equal OpportunitiesNo7-6-2: Yes; 34-1-2: No; Public Employment: No;Housing: Yes7-6-2: No; 34-1-2: No; Public Employment: Discretionary; Housing: YesPublic Employment: 180 days/agency Housing: 1 yr./agency, 2 yrs./private
HAWAII378-1, et seq. (Employment); 515-1, et seq. (Housing); 489-1, et seq. (Public Accommodations)Employment, Housing, Public Accommodations: Civil Rights CommissionYesEmployment: No;Housing: Yes, with exceptions; Public Accommodations: YesEmployment: Yes;Housing: Yes;Public Accommodations: YesEmployment: 90 days; Housing: 1 yr.; Public Accommodations: Not specified
IDAHO67-5901, et seq. (Generally)Commission on Human RightsNoYesNo1 yr.
ILLINOIS775 ILCS 5/1-101 and 102; 5/7A-102 and 104Human Rights Commission and Dept. of Human RightsYesYes, for temporary reliefYes180 days
INDIANA22-9-1-1, et seq.Civil Rights CommissionNoYesNoNot specified
IOWA216.1, et seq. (Generally); 729.4 (Employment)Generally: Civil Rights Commission; 729.4: NoneGenerally: Yes 729.4: NoGenerally: Yes; 729.4: NoGenerally: Yes; 729.4: NoGenerally: 180 days; 729.4: Not specified
KANSAS44-1001, et seq. (Generally); 44-1015, et seq. (Housing); 44-1111, et seq. (Employment and Age)Generally, Housing, Employment and Age: Commission on Human RightsYesGenerally: No; Housing: Yes; Employment and Age: NoNoGenerally: 6 months; Housing: 1 yr.;Employment and Age: 300 days
KENTUCKY344.010, et seq. (Generally)Commission on Human RightsYesYesYes180 days
LOUISIANA46:2251, et seq. (Handicapped); 51:2601, et seq. (Housing); 23:301, et seq. (Employment)Handicapped: None;Housing: Louisiana Dept. of Justice;Employment: NoneHandicapped: No Housing: No; Employment: NoHandicapped: Yes;Housing: Yes; Employment: YesHandicapped: Yes;Housing: Yes;Employment: YesHandicapped: 80 days to 1 yr.; Housing: 1 yr./agency, 2 yrs./private action; Employment: Not specified
StateCode SectionAgencyAdministrative PreemptionPrivate Action Permitted?Attorney FeesStatute of Limitation
MAINETit. 5 §§4551, et seq.Human Rights CommissionYesYesYes, with conditions6 months
MARYLANDArt. 49B§1, et seq.Commission on Human RelationsYesYesDiscretionaryArt. 49B§9A: 6 months
MASSACHUSETTSCh. 151B §1, et seq. (Generally); Ch. 272 §§92A, 98 (Public Accommodations)Generally: Commission Against Discrimination; Public Accommodations: NoneGenerally: Yes; Public Accommodations: NoGenerally: No; Public Accomodations: YesGenerally: Yes; Public Accomodations: NoGenerally: 300 days; Civil Rights Actions: 3 yrs.civil action (Ch. 260 §5B)
MICHIGANMCL 37.2101, et seq.Civil Rights CommissionNoYesYes3 yrs.
MINNESOTA363A.01, et seq.Dept. of Human RightsNoYesYes1 yr.
MISSISSIPPI43-33-723, et seq. (Government Housing) 25-9-149 (State Service Employment)Government Housing: Home Corporation Oversight Committee; State Service Employment: NoneGovernment Housing: Yes; State Service Employment: YesGovernment Housing: No; State Service Employment: NoGovernment Housing: No; State Service Employment: NoGovernment Housing: Not specified; State Service Employment: Not specified
MISSOURICh. 213.010, et seq. (Generally); Ch. 408.550 (Credit)Generally: Commission on Human Rights; Credit: NoneGenerally: Yes; Credit: NoGenerally: Yes; Credit: YesYesGenerally: 180 days with commission; 2 yrs. civil action; Credit: Not specified.
MONTANA49-2-101, et seq. (Generally); 49-4-101, et seq. (Handicapped)Generally: Commission for Human Rights; Handicapped: NoneGenerally: Yes; Handicapped: NoGenerally: Yes; Handicapped: YesGenerally: Yes;Handicapped: YesGenerally: 180 to 300 days;Handicapped: 2 yrs. (§27-2-211)
NEBRASKACh. 20-301, et seq. (Generally); 48-1001, et seq. (Age); 48-1101, et seq. ( Employment)Equal Opportunity CommissionGenerally: No; Age: Yes; Employment: YesYesGenerally: Yes; Age: Not specified; Employment: Yes300 days; Generally and Age: variable
NEVADA613.310, et seq. (Employment); 651.050, et seq. (Public Accommodations) Ch. 598B.010, et seq. (Credit)Employment: Equal Rights Commission; Public Accommodations: Equal Rights Commission; Credit: Banking DivisionEmployment: Yes; Public Accommodations: No; Credit: NoYesEmployment: Yes; Public Accommodations: Yes; Credit: NoEmployment: 180 days; Public Accommodations: 1 yr.; Credit: 1 yr.
StateCode SectionAgencyAdministrative PreemptionPrivate Action Permitted?Attorney FeesStatute of Limitation
NEW HAMPSHIRECh. 354-A:1, et seq.Commission for Human RightsYesNoDiscretionary180 days
NEW JERSEY10:5-1, et seq.Division on Civil RightsNoYesYes180 days/agency, 2 yrs./private action
NEW MEXICO28-1-1, et seq.Human Rights CommissionNoYesYes180 days with commission/30 days for de novo appeal
NEW YORKExec. §290, et seq. (Generally); Civ. Rights §§18a to 47c (Public Accommodations and Public Housing)Generally: Division of Human Rights; Public Accommodations and Public Housing: State Human Rights Appeal BoardNoYesNoGenerally: variable; Public Accommodations and Public Housing: Not specified
NORTH CAROLINA143-422.1, et seq. (Employment); 41A-1, et seq. (Housing)Human Relations CommissionNoEmployment: No; Housing: YesEmployment: No; Housing: YesEmployment: None; Housing: 1 yr.
NORTH DAKOTA14-02.4-01, et seq.Division of Human RightsNoYesYes180 days (Housing); 300 days (Employment)
OHIOCh. 4112.01, et seq. (Generally)Civil Rights CommissionNoYesDiscretionary1 yr.
OKLAHOMATit. 25 §1101, et seq.Human Rights CommissionYesNoYes180 days
OREGON659A.001, et seq.Bureau of Labor and IndustriesNoYesYes1 yr.
PENNSYLVANIATit. 43 §951, et seq.Human Relations CommissionYesYesDiscretionary180 days/agency, 2 yrs./private action
RHODE ISLAND34-37-1, et seq. (Housing); 28-5-1, et seq. (Employment); 42-87-1, et seq. (Handicapped)Handicapped, Housing: Commission for Human Rights; Employment: Commission Against DiscriminationHandicapped, Housing: No; Employment: YesYesYesHousing: 1 yr./agency, 2 yrs./private action; Employment: 1 yr.;Handicapped: Not specified
StateCode SectionAgencyAdministrative PreemptionPrivate Action Permitted?Attorney FeesStatute of Limitation
SOUTH CAROLINA1-13-10, et seq. (Employment); 31-21-10, et seq. (Housing)Human Affairs CommissionEmployment: Yes; Housing: NoEmployment: No; Housing: YesEmployment: No; Housing: YesEmployment: 180 days; Housing: 180 days/agency, 1 yr./private action
SOUTH DAKOTA20-13-1, et seq. (Generally); 60-12-15, et seq. (Sex)Generally: Commission of Human Rights; Sex: NoneGenerally: Yes; Sex: NoGenerally: Yes; Sex: YesGenerally: Yes; Sex: YesGenerally: 180 days; Sex: 2 yrs.
TENNESSEE4-21-101, et seq.Human Rights CommissionNoYesYes180 days/agency; 1 yr./private action
TEXASHum. Res. §121.001, et seq. (Disabled); Lab. §21.001, et seq. (Employment); Prop. §301.001, et seq. (Housing)Hum.: None; Lab., Prop.: Human Rights CommissionNoYesNoHum.:Not specified; Lab.: 180 days/agency, 2 yrs./private action; Prop: 1 yr./agency, 2 yrs./private
UTAH13-7-1, et seq. (Public accommodations); 34A-5-101, et seq. (Employment); 57-21-1, et seq. (Housing)Public Accommodations: None;Employment: Antidiscrimination Division; Housing: Labor CommissionPublic Accommodations: No; Employment: Yes; Housing: NoPublic Accommodations: Yes; Employment: No; Housing: YesPublic Accommodations: Not specified; Employment: Yes;Housing: YesPublic Accommodations: 3 yrs. (§78-12-26); Employment: 180 days; Housing: 180 days/agency, 2 yrs./private
VERMONTTit. 9 §4501, et seq. (Public Accommodations); Tit. 21 §495, et seq. (Employment)Public Accommodations Human Rights Commission; Employment: NoneNoYesYesPublic Accommodations: Not specified; Employment: 6 yrs. (Tit. 12 §511)
VIRGINIA36-96.1, et seq. (Housing); 40.1-28.6 (Equal Pay); 2.2-3900, et seq. (Generally)Housing: Fair Housing Board and Real Estate Board; Equal Pay: None; Generally: Human Rights CouncilNoYesHousing: Yes; Equal Pay: No; Generally: YesHousing: 1 yr./agency, 2 yr./private; Generally: 180 days
WASHINGTON49.60.010, et seq.Human Rights CommissionNoYesYes6 months except real estate 1 yr.
WEST VIRGINIA5-11-1, et seq.Human Rights CommissionNoYesYes1 yr./agency; 2 yrs./private action
StateCode SectionAgencyAdministrative PreemptionPrivate Action Permitted?Attorney FeesStatute of Limitation
WISCONSIN106.50 (Housing and Public Places); 111.31, et seq. (Employment)Housing and Public Places and Employment: Dept. of Workfare DevelopmentHousing and Public Places: No;Employment: YesHousing and Public Places: Yes;Employment: YesHousing and Public Places: Yes; Employment: NoHousing and Public Places: 1 yr./private action, 1 yr./agency; Employment: 300 days
WYOMING27-9-101, et seq. (Employment)Dept. of EmploymentYesNoNo90 days

Civil Rights

views updated Jun 08 2018


The core of the concept "civil rights" is freedom from racial discrimination. Although the term, not improperly, often refers to freedom from discrimination based on nationality, alienage, gender, age, sexual preference, or physical or mental handicap—or even religious liberty, immunity from official brutality, freedom of speech, the right of privacy, and additional rights found in the Constitution or elsewhere—other terms can characterize these rights. Sometimes they are referred to as civil liberties or by particular names (for example, gender or handicap discrimination). Although the racial discrimination cases have influenced doctrinal development in many of these other areas, standards governing them often differ at the levels of both judicial scrutiny and appropriate remedies. Racial discrimination deserves separate treatment.

The constitutional law of civil rights begins in the thirteenth, Fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments. These " civil war amendments" were adopted during reconstruction to effect a radical revision of the status of blacks and a sharp change in relations between national and state governments. Until the end of the Civil War, the situation of black people had been dominated by slavery in the South and a regime under which, in the words of the Supreme Court in dred scott v. sandford (1857), they had no rights that a white man was bound to respect. Their legal rights or disabilities derived from state law, subject to no meaningful control by the national government. The Civil War amendments changed that. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery; the Fourteenth, among other things, prohibited states from denying to any person due process of law or equal protection of the laws. (Other provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment had little practical effect). The Fifteenth Amendment protected voting rights against governmentally imposed racial discrimination.

Each amendment empowered Congress to adopt enforcing legislation. Such laws were enacted—most notably the civil rights act of 1866—but they were not implemented, were interpreted restrictively, or fell into disuse following the compromise of 1877 which assured the Presidential election of rutherford b. hayes in exchange for his pledge to withdraw Union troops from the South and end Reconstruction. During the same period southern states, effectively free from national control, implemented black codes, and later Jim Crow laws, which returned black people to a status that was only nominally free. No significant national civil rights law was adopted again until the mid-1960s.

Between Reconstruction and the mid-twentieth century, the judiciary sporadically found significant content in the Civil War amendments; yet racial segregation and discrimination remained pervasive in the South and widespread elsewhere. During the same period, the Fourteenth Amendment was interpreted expansively to protect burgeoning business enterprise. Between brown v. board of education (1954) and the civil rights act of 1964, the main period of the modern civil rights revolution, the doctrinal potential of the amendments to advance the cause of black people became largely realized. Implementation became the main task, taking the form of comprehensive civil rights statutes, lawsuits brought by the United States and private parties, and administrative enforcement. As a result of this process, some whites have charged that remedies for blacks violate their constitutional rights: for example, that affirmative action constitutes "reverse discrimination," or that school busing for integration injures them. Justice oliver wendell holmes ' aphorism, "the life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience," is as least as true of civil rights law as of any other branch of law.

The concept of "equal protection of the laws" underwent its greatest evolution between 1896, when plessy v. ferguson upheld a state law requiring separate but equal segregation of whites and blacks in intrastate rail travel, and 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education held that segregated public education denied equal protection. Although Plessy dealt only with intrastate transportation and Brown only with education, each was quickly generalized to other aspects of life.

The very factors which the Supreme Court invoked to uphold segregation in 1896 were reassessed in Brown and used to justify a contrary result. The Plessy majority held that the framers of the Civil War amendments did not intend to eliminate segregation in rail travel which the Court characterized as a social, not a political activity. It thereby distinguished strauder v. west virginia (1880), in which the Supreme Court had held that excluding blacks from juries violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it stigmatized them. Plessy dismissed the argument that segregating blacks from whites could justify segregating Protestants from Catholics, because that would be unreasonable; racial segregation was reasonable, for state court decisions and statutes had authorized segregation in schools. Finally, the Court addressed what today is called social psychology, writing that although Plessy claimed segregation connoted black inferiority, whites would not consider themselves stigmatized if they were segregated by a legislature controlled by blacks. Any harmful psychological effects of segregation were self-inflicted.

Plessy became so deeply ingrained in jurisprudence that as late as 1927, in gong lum v. rice, a Court in which Holmes, louis d. brandeis, and harlan f. stone sat unanimously agreed that racial segregation in education "has been many times decided to be within the constitutional power of the state legislature to settle, without the intervention of the federal courts under the Federal Constitution."

Other Supreme Court decisions, however, offered hope that some day the Court might come to a contrary conclusion. In yick wo v. hopkins (1886) the Court invalidated as a denial of equal protection a city ordinance which, under the guise of prohibiting laundries from operating in wooden buildings, where virtually all Chinese laundries were located, excluded Chinese from that business. In buchanan v. warley (1917) it invalidated racial zoning of urban land under the due process clause. Later it struck down state laws prohibiting blacks from participating in primary elections. By 1950, in sweatt v. painter and mclaurin v. oklahoma state regents, the Court invalidated segregation in law school and graduate education, without holding segregation unconstitutional per se and without abandoning the separate-but-equal formula. These and other decisions foreshadowed Brown and undermined precedents approving segregation.

Brown contradicted or distinguished Plessy on every score. It read the legislative history of the Civil War Amendments as inconclusive on the question of school segregation, pointing out that although after the Civil War public education had been undeveloped and almost nonexistent for blacks, it had become perhaps the most important function of state government. In effect the amendment was treated as embodying a general evolutionary principle of equality which developed as education became more important. The Court treated early precedents as not controlling school segregation and drew from the 1950 graduate school cases support for a contrary result.

In contrast to Plessy 's dismissal of the psychological effects of segregation, Brown held that "to segregate them [black children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone." The Court cited social science literature in support of this response to Plessy. This portion of the opinion provoked much adverse commentary, some condemning the decision as based on social science, not law. But of course, Plessy had come to its sociological conclusions without any evidence at all.

In bolling v. sharpe, a companion case to Brown, the Court decided that the Fifth Amendment's due process clause prohibited school segregation in the District of Columbia. Any other result, the Court said, would be "unthinkable."

The contending arguments in Plessy and Brown not only exemplify the possibilities of legal advocacy but also raise the question how "equal protection" could be interpreted so differently at different times. After all, the arguments remained the same, but first one side prevailed, then the other. The reason for the change lies in the development of American history. Indeed, Brown suggests as much in describing how much public education had changed between Reconstruction and 1954, how essential education had become for personal development, and how much blacks had achieved. By 1954 black citizens had fought for their country in two major World Wars, the more recent of which was won against Nazi racism; had moved from concentration in the South to a more even distribution throughout the country; and had achieved much socially, politically, economically, and educationally, even though their status remained below that of whites.

The courtroom struggle leading to Brown showed that blacks were ready to participate effectively in securing their full liberation. It culminated a planned litigation campaign, building precedent upon precedent, directed by a group of mostly black lawyers headed by thurgood marshall, then head of the naacp legal defense and educational fund and later a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. This campaign had many ramifications, not the least of which was to become a model for development of public interest law, which grew rapidly in the 1970s.

The nation owed black people a debt which it acknowledged officially in several ways. In the late 1940s and in Brown itself the solicitor general of the United States joined counsel for black litigants in calling upon the Supreme Court to declare segregation unconstitutional. That the country was generally prepared to accept this argument was further evidenced in the 1947 Report of President harry s. truman's Committee on Civil Rights. The committee called for the end of racial segregation and discrimination in education, public accommodations, housing, employment, voting, and all other aspects of American life.

Despite the storm of controversy stirred by the 1954 decisions, they are firmly rooted in constitutional law and nowadays there is no longer significant criticism of their results. Brown was quickly followed by decisions applying its principles to all other forms of state imposed racial segregation. Courts soon ordered desegregation of parks, beaches, sporting events, hospitals, publically owned or managed accommodations, and other public facilities.

But Brown could not affect the rights of blacks against privately imposed discrimination, for the equal protection clause is a directive to the states. The admonition that "no state" shall deny equal protection was not addressed to private employers, property owners, or those who managed privately owned public accommodations. In the civil rights cases (1883) the Supreme Court made clear not only that the equal protection clause did not apply to private action but that Congress in enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment might not prohibit private persons from discriminating. As a consequence, national civil rights laws could not apply to private restaurants, hotels, transportation, employment, and housing—places where people spend most of their lives.

In 1960 the sit-ins, freedom rides, and demonstrations burst upon the national scene, aimed first at racial exclusion from privately owned public accommodations and then at other forms of discrimination. This phase of the civil rights struggle sought to move antidiscrimination precepts beyond the limitation of state power to prohibitions against private discrimination. The cases arising out of these efforts necessarily examined the distinction between what is private and what is state action, an issue long debated in political theory and constitutional law. On the one hand, it has been argued that privately asserted rights derive from power conferred and enforced by the state and that at bottom there is no such thing as a "private" right. According to this reasoning, applying the trespass laws to enforce an owner's privately held preference against black patronage of his lunch counter would be prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment: the owner's property interest is a function of state law; the law of trespass is a state creation; prosecution and its consequences are state conduct. Pursuing such reasoning, lawyers for sit-in demonstrators identified the governmental components of otherwise private action, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment, therefore, protected blacks who were denied service on racial grounds and later prosecuted for refusing to leave the premises. They had some legal support for this argument. Even before 1954 the Supreme Court had held in marsh v. alabama (1946) that religious proselytizing on company town property was protected by the first amendment against prosecution for trespass because the town was a governmental entity, notwithstanding private ownership. Similarly, the equal protection clause had been interpreted to forbid enforcement by state courts or racially restrictive covenants against purchase or occupancy of real estate by blacks or other minorities. These cases, and their rationales, followed to the end of their logic, would mean that governmental enforcement of private discrimination violates the equal protection clause.

But the courts were not prepared to follow the reasoning to its logical conclusion. In cases in which blacks were arrested and prosecuted for entering or remaining on privately owned public accommodations where they were not wanted because of race, the Supreme Court first avoided deciding whether there was state action by ruling for the defendants on various other grounds, for example, lack of evidence or vagueness of the law. In other cases the Court found state action in special circumstances: a private owner segregated because required by law; an ordinance required segregated toilets, which tended to encourage exclusion of blacks; a private restaurant leased premises from a state agency; private security guards who enforced segregation were also deputy sheriffs. But the Court balked at finding state action in prosecution for trespass to enforce a proprietor's personal decision to discriminate. The resistance grew out of a fear that to extend the state action doctrine would make most private decisions subject to government control. Moreover, if one could not call upon the state to enforce private preferences, personal force might be employed.

Other legal theorists would have differentiated between conduct prohibited by the amendment and that which is not by factoring into the decision-making process the concept of privacy. They would find, for example, that impermissible state action existed in racial exclusion from a restaurant but not from a private home. The policy against racial discrimination would prevail in the restaurant case, where there was no countervailing interest of privacy, but in the private home case the privacy interest would outweigh strictures against racial discrimination.

In 1964 the Court held that the Civil Rights Act of that year invalidated convictions of sit-in demonstrators, even those convicted before its passage. The fundamental question of precisely what level of state involvement in private conduct constitutes state action was left undecided.

The uncertain scope of the state action doctrine was underscored by the constitutional basis advanced for congressional power to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Congress relied on the commerce clause in addition to the Fourteenth Amendment because the commerce clause does not require state action to justify congressional regulation. The initial Supreme Court decisions upholding the 1964 Civil Rights Act, heart of atlanta motel v. united states (1964) and katzenbach v. mcclung (1964), relied on the commerce clause, and upheld applications of the law in cases of minimal effect upon commerce.

The impulse to define fully the meaning of state action was further damped by developments in Thirteenth Amendment law. The Thirteenth Amendment has no state action limitation and, therefore, covers private as well as state action. But early efforts to apply it to discrimination as a badge of servitude were rejected by the Court, which held that the amendment forbade only slavery itself. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 had made illegal private racially discriminatory refusals to contract or engage in real estate transactions. But not until 1968 did the Supreme Court interpret these laws to forbid private discrimination. By the mid-1960s, through the civil rights acts of that period and the new judicial interpretation of Reconstruction legislation, it was no longer necessary to discover state action in ostensibly private conduct in order to prevent discrimination. With the passing of this need, concerted efforts to expand the courts' views of the state action concept came to a halt.

The contrast between the promise of the Constitution and its performance was nowhere better highlighted than in Brown itself. The Supreme Court treated constitutional right and remedy in two separate opinions, Brown I and Brown II, decided in 1955. Brown I decided only that racial segregation was unconstitutional, postponing decisions on the means and the pace of school desegregation. Brown II proclaimed that school segregation need not end immediately; it had to be accomplished with all deliberate speed. The Court required a "prompt and reasonable" start, and permitted delay only for the time necessary for administrative changes. Opposition to desegregation, the Court said, would not justify delay. Nevertheless, southern schools actually integrated at an extremely slow pace. Not until 1969, when the Court announced that the time for "deliberate speed" had passed, did school integration proceed rapidly.

While the "deliberate speed" decision contributed to a sense that desegregation was not urgent and procrastination was tolerable, it is difficult to believe that a different formula would have materially affected the pace of integration. Armed physical opposition in Little Rock and elsewhere in the South was aimed at integration at any time, with or without deliberate speed. One hundred members of Congress signed the southern manifesto denouncing the Supreme Court, and Congress came within a single vote of severely restricting the Court's jurisdiction. Congressional legislation implementing Brown would not be adopted until after the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The refusal of school districts to desegregate was not susceptible to remedy because there was almost no one who would bring integration suits. No southern white lawyers would bring school suits until the 1970s; in many a southern state, there was only a handful of black lawyers with minimal resources; civil rights organizations were few, small, and overburdened; the United States Justice Department and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare had no authority to bring suit. As a consequence, where school boards resisted or claimed to be in compliance with Brown, there was hardly any way to compel change. These conditions, not "deliberate speed," kept school segregation in place. Real opportunities for the judiciary to speed the pace of integration had to await political change. That change came in the 1960s, with the pro-civil rights policies of Presidents john f. kennedy and lyndon b. johnson, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Supreme Court opinions stating in obiter dictum that integration must be achieved rapidly began to be issued at the end of the 1960s. In the 1970s courts began to hand down detailed orders requiring the end of segregation "root and branch." Because black and white families were segregated residentially, the only way to integrate schools in many communities was to combine in single attendance zones areas separated by some distance, thus employing school busing. Numerical standards also were employed to measure whether acceptable levels of integration had been reached. These techniques—particularly busing and racial quotas—have stimulated controversy and political opposition.

The integration of the 1970s in most instances was carried out as quickly as possible when courts ordered it. Although the deliberate speed doctrine had by then been overruled, such rapid desegregation met its literal requirements. In a typical case, the revision of boundaries and regulations and the reassignment of students and teachers took a few months. Conditions in the nation, not "deliberate speed," caused the long delay.

Brown, of course, concerned states where segregation had been required or permitted by statute. By the 1970s the Supreme Court faced the issue of northern segregation which was not caused by state statute. It differentiated between "de facto" segregation (resulting from racially segregated housing patterns) and "de jure" segregation (resulting from deliberate official decisions). Some commentators argued that there is no such thing as de facto segregation, for children always are assigned to schools by governmental action. But only where some intent to discriminate was demonstrated did the courts require desegregation. However, where an intent to discriminate has been shown in part of a district, a presumption has been held to arise that single-race schools elsewhere in the district have been the product of such intent. Under this doctrine many northern districts have been desegregated.

Often a city school district is nearly all black and surrounded by white suburban districts. The Court held in milliken v. bradley (1974) that integration across district lines may not be ordered without proof of an interdistrict violation. A number of lower courts have found such violations and have ordered integration across district lines.

All of these standards were implemented, particularly in the 1970s, by the Departments of Justice and Health, Education, and Welfare (later the Department of Education). The private bar brought a considerable number of cases facilitated by congressional legislation authorizing the award of counsel to prevailing parties in school segregation, to be paid by defendants. But the intimate relation between politics and implementation of constitutional civil rights became apparent once more in the 1980s when a new administration opposed to busing and numerical standards for gauging integration virtually ceased bringing school cases to court, undertook to modify or revoke injunctions in already decided cases, and opposed private plaintiffs in others.

Following Brown and in response to the demonstrations of the 1960s, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968 were enacted with the goal of implementing the ideals of the Civil War amendments. But results of these laws varied according to their political, social, and legal settings. Public accommodations, for example, integrated easily; housing has been intractable. Affirmative action policies have been devised to assure certain levels of minority participation, but they have stimulated opposition by whites who claim they are being disfavored and illegally so. Controversy has also developed over the question of whether antidiscrimination orders might be entered only upon a showing of official discriminatory intent, or whether such orders are also justified to remedy the racially discriminatory effects of official policies. Affirmative action and discriminatory intent, the twin central legal issues of civil rights in the 1980s, have in common a concern with distributive fairness. Both issues have been contested in political, statutory, and constitutional arenas.

In general, the courts have sustained the constitutionality of affirmative action as a congressional remedy for past discriminations and as an appropriate judicial remedy for past statutory or constitutional violations. In medical school admissions, for example, four Justices of the Supreme Court thought a fixed racial quota favoring minorities violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a fifth Justice found an equal protection violation; a different majority, however, concluded that an admissions policy favoring racial and other diversity, which assured the admission of a substantial but not fixed number of minorities, would be valid as an aspect of a university's First Amendment exercise of academic freedom. The Court, with three dissents, has sustained a congressionally mandated quota assuring ten percent of certain government contracts to minority contractors. And in school integration numerical measures of integration have been commonplace. In employment and voting as well, affirmative action has been incorporated into efforts to undo discrimination and has been upheld by the courts. (See regents of university of california v. bakke; fullilove v. klutznick.)

The courts usually have required a showing of discriminatory intent in order to establish an equal protection violation, but intent may be inferred from conduct. In any event, the intent requirement may be dispensed with where Congress has legislated to make discriminatory results adequate to trigger corrective action.

The public accommodations portions of the 1964 Act prohibited discrimination in specific types of establishments (typified by those providing food or amusement) that affect interstate commerce. An exception for private clubs reflected uncertainty about the lack of power (perhaps arising out of countervailing constitutional rights of association) and the desirability of controlling discrimination in such places. But the meaning of "private" in this context has not been explicated. Clubs where a substantial amount of business is conducted may not be exempt and an amendment has been proposed to make this clear.

Immediately following passage of the law the Department of Justice and private plaintiffs brought successful suits against recalcitrant enterprises. Most public accommodations complied rapidly. Large national enterprises that segregated in the South integrated because they could not afford the obloquy of resistance, threat of boycott, and consequent loss of business in the North. Many small southern businesses opened to all without problems. Even proprietors who wished to continue discriminating soon bowed to the law's commands. Today one rarely hears of public accommodations discrimination.

Before adoption of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, the only significant federal regulations of employment discrimination were the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibited federal and state employment discrimination, and executive order prohibition of discrimination by certain government contractors. The Railway Labor Act and the national labor relations act were construed to forbid discrimination by covered unions. But all such limitations were difficult to enforce. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1968 Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Act were the first effective prohibitions against discrimination in employment. Private suits (with counsel fees payable to prevailing plaintiffs), suits by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against private defendants, and suits by the Justice Department against state and local government are the primary mechanisms of enforcement. As elsewhere in modern civil rights law, the two most important issues with constitutional overtones under this law have been whether a plaintiff must prove that discrimination was intentional and whether courts may award affirmative relief, including racial quotas. As to intent, the EEO statute has been interpreted to forbid hiring and promotion criteria that have an adverse impact on a protected group but bear no adequate relationship to ability to perform the job. Thus, an intelligence test for coal handlers, or a height requirement for prison guards, which screen out blacks or women and do not indicate ability to do the job, violate the statute even absent a showing of intent to discriminate. On the other hand, when the statute is not applicable, a plaintiff can secure relief under the Constitution only by showing intentional discrimination.

Affirmative action in the form of hiring and promotion goals and timetables have been prescribed by courts and all branches of the federal government with enforcement responsibility. Moreover, some private employers have adopted these techniques as a matter of social policy or to head off anticipated charges of discrimination. The legality of such programs has been upheld in the vast majority of cases. Affirmative action has substantially increased minority and female participation in jobs it covers but continues to be attacked by nonprotected groups as unconstitutional, illegal, or unwise. In 1984 the Supreme Court held that the EEO Act prohibits enjoining layoffs of black beneficiaries of a consent decree requiring certain levels of black employment where that would result in discharging whites with greater seniority.

Although the Fifteenth Amendment expressly protects the right to vote against racial discrimination and the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause also has been interpreted to do so, voting discrimination was widespread and blatant well into the 1960s, and to some extent it still persists. Apart from physical violence and intimidation, which lasted until the mid-1960s, a long line of discriminatory devices has been held to be in violation of the Constitution and statutes, only to be succeeded by new ones. Very early, southern states adopted grandfather clauses, requiring voters to pass literacy tests but exempting those who were entitled to vote in 1866, along with their lineal descendants—which meant whites only. When the courts struck down the grandfather clause, it was succeeded by laws permitting registration only during a very brief period of time without passing a literacy test. Thereafter even those who could pass the test were not permitted to register. Very few blacks could take advantage of this narrow window, but the stratagem was not outlawed until 1939. Most southern states through the 1920s had laws prohibiting blacks from voting in party primary elections. In the South, the Democratic party excluded blacks, and the winner of the Democratic primary always was elected. These laws were held unconstitutional in the 1940s and 1950s on the grounds that the party primary was an integral part of the state's electoral system, despite its nominal autonomy. As the white primary fell, laws and practices were widely adopted requiring registrants to read and understand texts like the Alabama State Constitution or to answer registrars' questions such as "how many bubbles are there in a bar of soap." These tests were held unconstitutional. Racial gerrymandering, a not uncommon practice where blacks in fact voted, also was enjoined as unconstitutional. Other impediments to voting were not motivated solely by racial considerations but affected blacks disproportionately, such as the poll tax, later prohibited by constitutional amendment. literacy tests also lent themselves to discriminatory administration.

The voting rights act of 1965 invalidated any and all racially discriminatory tests and devices. But, more important, states in which there was a history of voting discrimination (identified by low registration or voter turnout) could not adopt new voting standards unless those standards were certified as nondiscriminatory by the Department of Justice. This prohibition ended the tactic of substituting one discriminatory device for another. Where they were needed, federal officials could be sent to monitor registration and voting or, indeed, to register voters.

Although the 1965 law significantly reduced racial discrimination in the electoral process, abuses persisted in the forms of inconvenient registration procedures, gerrymandering, occasional intimidation, and creation of multimember districts. This last device has its roots in post-Reconstruction efforts to dilute black voting strength. The use of single-member districts to elect a city council would result in the election of blacks from those districts where blacks constitute a majority. By declaring the entire city a multimember district, entitled to elect a number of at-large candidates, the majority white population can, if votes are racially polarized, elect an all-white council—a result that has occurred frequently. The Supreme Court required a showing of discriminatory intent if such a voting system were to be held unconstitutional. But the interplay between Court and Congress produced an amendment of the Voting Rights Act in 1982, permitting proof of a violation of the act by a showing of discriminatory effect.

Affirmative action has been an issue in voting as in other areas. The Supreme Court has held that, upon a showing of past voting discrimination, the attorney general may condition approval of legislative redistricting upon a race-conscious drawing of district lines to facilitate election of minority candidates.

Until 1968, the most important federal prohibition of housing discrimination was the equal protection clause, which was held in shelley v. kraemer (1948) to prohibit judicial enforcement of restrictive covenants among property owners forbidding occupancy of property by members of racial minorities. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit racial segregation in public housing, but the construction of public housing has virtually ceased.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 marked the completion of the main statutory efforts to satisfy the prescriptions of President harry s. truman's 1947 Committee on Civil Rights. On the eve of the law's passage, the Supreme Court interpreted the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to forbid refusals to engage in real property transactions on racial grounds. Nonetheless, the 1866 and 1968 acts have been the least effective of the civil rights acts. Their failure owes to deep, persistent opposition to housing integration, to a lack of means of enforcement commensurate with the extent of the problem, and to a shortage in the housing market of houses in the price range which most minority buyers can afford. Because the housing market is atomized, a single court order cannot have widespread effect. (Housing is thus unlike education, where an entire district may be desegregated, or employment, where government agencies and other large employers can be required to take steps affecting thousands of employees.)

An effort to address the relationship between race and economics in housing foundered at the constitutional level when the Court held that large-lot zoning—which precluded construction of inexpensive housing, thereby excluding minorities—was not invalid under the Constitution absent a demonstration of racially discriminatory intent. The 1968 Fair Housing Act authorizes judicial relief when such laws produce discriminatory effects, without demonstration of intent. Nevertheless, economic factors and political opposition have prevented the statutory standard from having a significant practical impact. In several states where state law has invalidated such zoning, the actual change in racial housing patterns has been slight.

Some legislative efforts to desegregate housing have run into constitutional obstacles. A municipality's prohibition of "For Sale" signs to discourage panic selling by whites in integrated neighborhoods has been held to violate the First Amendment. A judge's award of damages for violation of the Fair Housing Act has been held to violate the Sixth Amendment right of trial by jury (subsequently, contrary to civil rights lawyers' expectations, jury verdicts often have been favorable to plaintiffs). A large governmentally assisted housing development's racial quota, set up with the aim of preventing "tipping" (whites moving out when the percentage of blacks exceeds a certain point), was still being contested in the mid-1980s.

From constitutional adoption, through interpretation, and judicial and statutory implementation, the law of civil rights has interacted with the world that called it into being. No great departures from settled doctrine are to be anticipated in the near future. But similar assertions might have been made confidently at various points in the history of civil rights, only to be proved wrong in years to come.

Jack Greenberg

(see also: Civil Rights Movement.)


Black, Charles L., Jr. 1967 Foreword: State Action, Equal Protection, and California's Proposition 14. Harvard Law Review 81:69–109.

Eastland, Terry and Bennett, William J. 1979 Counting by Race. New York: Basic Books.

Greenberg, Jack 1968 The Supreme Court, Civil Rights and Civil Dissonance. Yale Law Journal 77:1520–1544.

Joint Center for Political Studies 1984 Minority Vote Dilution, Chandler Davidson, ed. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press.

Kirp, David L. 1983 Just Schools: The Idea of Racial Equality in American Education. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kluger, Richard 1975 Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality. New York: Knopf.

Konvitz, Milton R. 1961 Century of Civil Rights. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kushner, James A. 1983 Fair Housing: Discrimination in Real Estate, Community Development, and Revitalization. New York: Shepard's/McGraw-Hill.

Schlei, Barbara and Grossman, Paul 1983 Employment Discrimination Law, 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Affairs.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 1981 Affirmative Action in the 1980's: Dismantling the Process of Discrimination. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Civil Rights

views updated May 18 2018

8 Civil Rights

In 1960, when the civil rights movement first began to gain national attention, African Americans had been working to gain political and economic rights for nearly a century. Blacks had made some progress, but the laws that many southern state legislatures had written to prevent blacks and whites from living as equals—called Jim Crow laws—continued to separate the races in restaurants, schools, theaters, parks, and other public facilities in many states in the South. Those blacks who had migrated to northern and western states in an attempt to escape the legal restrictions of Jim Crow laws found that life in these new locations had similar restrictions because of customs based on racial prejudice, or a judgment or opinion based on a preconceived notions about race. Blacks in the North and West faced discrimination, or poor treatment based on race, in housing and the job market, among other areas. Police and citizens alike enforced the separation of races vigorously. Blacks who tried to mix with whites were arrested, beaten, or killed. Penalties for violence were rarely enforced when the crimes were acted out against blacks.

Early civil rights efforts

Given the dangers involved in seeking to improve their place in American society, blacks' civil rights efforts before the 1960s often consisted of small, nonviolent action and relatively quiet challenges in courts of law. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was created in 1909 to work toward political and civil liberties for blacks. Large group protests, which many associate with the 1960s, actually first gained attention during World War II (1939–45). In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) gave in to pressure from 100,000 African Americans threatening to march on Washington, D.C., by signing an executive order that banned racial discrimination in government jobs and training programs and in the defense industries that supplied the war effort.

In the 1950s blacks won national attention when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that had judged laws made to separate the races acceptable under the Constitution. The Court's 1954 ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case reversed the former opinion, making separation of the races in public schools illegal across the nation. But the Court's ruling was rejected by many white southerners who resisted strongly the idea of mixing between races. To protest the segregation of races on Montgomery, Alabama, city buses, blacks and sympathetic whites refused to ride the city buses, for nearly a year. The following struggles between southern blacks and whites as the federal government enforced this ruling set the stage for the mass protests of the 1960s.

Greensboro sit-ins

On February 1, 1960, four young black college students staged a quiet protest at a whites-only lunch counter at a Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina. The four seated themselves at the counter and politely requested service. When management refused service, the men simply remained seated, calmly asking to purchase a cup of coffee until the store closed for the day. The students returned the next day with nearly thirty more students. All protestors sat at the lunch counter requesting service for about two hours. Their second-day efforts attracted the attention of local news reporters. The following day, sixty-six protestors returned to the lunch counter and filled nearly every seat. The students continued their calm, peaceful protests for a week without once being served. In an attempt to stop the protests, the Woolworth's manager decided to close the store temporarily. But the protest spread, as students at other colleges became inspired to organize their own sit-ins.

The efforts of these students caught the attention of the nation, but especially that of seasoned civil rights activists such as Ella Baker (1903-1986), who had been working for civil rights since the 1920s. Baker organized a conference that took place on April 16, 1960, at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina,. The result of the conference was the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced "snick"). One of the founding principles of the organization was nonviolence. Members agreed that in order to win the support of non-blacks, they must never respond with acts of violence, even if attacked. By the end of April, more than 50,000 protestors, mostly students, had staged nonviolent sit-ins in every southern state. During the first half of the 1960s, SNCC members strictly followed their doctrine of nonviolence. Some members were beaten; others shot. And when these attacks hit newsstands and aired on television, SNCC won supporters.

SNCC sparks civil rights activities

A ripple effect triggered other protests throughout the South. Blacks boycotted stores that did not hire blacks and theaters that forced blacks to sit in the balcony. Activists organized voter registration drives and counseled blacks about how to deal with the unfair practices, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, designed to keep them from voting. While most of these protests were small, local events, some, especially those where peaceful demonstrators were attacked by those who opposed them, drew national attention. One example came in 1961 when the Committee on Racial Equality (CORE), a nonviolent civil rights group formed in 1942, organized "Freedom Rides" to protest southern refusal to enforce the 1960 Supreme Court ruling in Boynton v. Virginia that prohibited segregated interstate travel. On May 4, 1961, seven white and six black "Freedom Riders" boarded two buses in Washington, D.C., and started their trip into the South, hoping to make it through Alabama and Mississippi. The Freedom Riders encountered hostility at each stop the first week, but by the second week angry people began attacking the buses in earnest. One of the buses was fire-bombed and the riders were beaten in Alabama. The violent attack on the Freedom Riders in Birmingham, Alabama, where police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor (1897–1973) had agreed to ignore white supremacist Ku Klux Klan members who mobbed the bus, made international news. The U.S. Justice Department helped remove some of the riders to safety, but others remained, determined to complete the Freedom Ride into Mississippi. The Freedom Riders recruited more volunteers to join them in Birmingham and continued on to Montgomery, where a mob of nearly one thousand attacked the buses, and further to Mississippi, where they were arrested and put in jail. Soon more demonstrators began taking Freedom Rides across the South to continue the protest.

The next two years saw an increase in violence directed against blacks and sympathetic whites seeking integration. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) sent 5,000 army troops to secure a single black student's enrollment at the University of Mississippi, after 160 of the 500 federal marshals ordered to escort James Meredith (1933–) onto the university were wounded by an angry mob. In 1963 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which had formed in the aftermath of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, organized several protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), who had become well known during the bus boycott, served as the main spokesperson for the SCLC. Arrested during the 1963 Birmingham protest, King wrote a letter from his jail cell calling for other clergymen to organize against racism. The letter was smuggled out and served as inspiration to protestors who continued to hold peaceful demonstrations in Birmingham. King's plea for a peaceful, determined protest to end racism, coupled with a violent attack on protestors in Birmingham just days after King's release from jail, helped the civil rights movement. Television cameras captured the all-white Birmingham police force beating peaceful demonstrators, many of whom were women and children, with clubs and knocking them down with blasts from fire hoses. The images shaped public opinion, either for or against integration. Civil rights had become an issue on which people would take a stand; no longer could white Americans passively ignore the issue of race.

Throughout 1963 civil rights activists staged more than seven hundred protests throughout the country. Several civil rights groups cooperated to organize a massive March on Washington, D.C., to publicize their cause. On August 28, 1963, approximately 250,000 demonstrators gathered in the nation's capital to listen to speeches from leaders of civil rights organizations, including CORE, NAACP, SCLC, and SNCC. The rally ended with King's "I have a dream" speech, in which King described a peaceful nation characterized by racial equality and tolerance. King cited the Declaration of Independence to support reasons for the civil rights movement, calling upon the nation to "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed—we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." More than the thousands of demonstrators heard the rallying speeches calling for racial equality; the entire protest was broadcast by the three national television networks to millions of viewers across the country. In the months that followed, protestors continued their push for civil rights.

Shock and grief gripped the nation on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy died from gunshot wounds in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy had been considered the first president since Harry Truman to champion blacks' civil rights. But his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973; served 1963–69), quickly soothed the fears of civil rights activists that they had lost the support of the federal government. Using his considerable political know-how and playing off the memory of the slain president, Johnson lobbied congressmen to gather the needed votes to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through both the House and the Senate. Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964. The act banned discrimination and segregation based on race, color, religion, national origin, or gender throughout the nation. It also prohibited federal funding of any discriminatory national, state, or local program. The federal government created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to watch how people obey the law.

Voting rights

With the passage of the Civil Rights Act, civil rights organizations shifted their focus to voting rights. A law passed in 1960 had granted blacks the right to vote, but loopholes, or ambiguities or omissions, in the text of the law made it possible for blacks to be blocked from voting. Voter-registration officials in southern states insisted that blacks pass literacy tests or recite the Constitution before being allowed to register to vote. Many civil rights organizations had tried to increase the number of blacks registered to vote, but the first big effort was launched in 1964. SNCC leaders organized Freedom Summer that year. Hundreds of SNCC volunteers bravely set about registering blacks in rural areas of the South, where white resistance was vicious. Within a day of the campaign's beginning three workers had been killed, but the volunteers continued their work. By the end of the summer three more volunteers had been killed and a thousand had spent time in jail. Many others suffered beatings and bombings. SCLC, on the other hand, concentrated on urban areas, drawing the attention of the nation. In 1965 SCLC volunteers led demonstrators on a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in an attempt to draw attention to the voting rights issue. Just outside the Selma city limits on March 7, marching protestors were attacked with clubs and tear gas by police officers. Rather than discouraging the protestors, the event, which came to be known as Bloody Sunday, drew more volunteers to march to Montgomery. Two days later, Martin Luther King Jr. arrived from Atlanta to lead another group to the Pettus Bridge, the scene of the attack just days earlier, where police blocked their passage. King turned the protestors back.

That night, a group of angry white men from Selma killed Reverend James Reeb, a white minister who had joined the march. His death, in contrast to the death of black protestor Jimmy Lee Jackson a few weeks earlier, brought quick national support for the marchers. By March 21 the protestors had gained a court order to complete their march from Selma to Montgomery. The march took five days, and by the time the protestors reached Montgomery their group numbered 25,000. At the state capitol King handed a petition requesting voting rights for blacks to Alabama state governor George Wallace (1919–1998). Demonstrators rejoiced at their victory that day but that night were sadly reminded that their journey was not complete when news of the murder of one of the march's demonstrators reached them. Viola Liuzzo, a white homemaker from Detroit, had been driving the demonstration's volunteers to the airport with Leroy Moton, a black volunteer, when she was shot and killed by Ku Klux Klansmen. Despite hardships and loss of lives, the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signaled the success of this protest.

The violence enacted during the voter registration drives of 1964's Freedom Summer marked a turning point in the minds of many civil rights protestors, especially those trying to register voters in rural Mississippi. Volunteers both black and white were threatened, beaten, and jailed; some were killed. Many activists were upset that blacks were often attacked more harshly than whites, but the death of white volunteers drew more public sympathy than the death of blacks. Equally frustrating was the failure of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to win recognition at the Democratic presidential nomination convention in 1964. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) had been formed in 1963 to allow blacks an opportunity to vote at the official Democratic Party convention, a privilege that had long been denied them. Hearings to determine whether the MFDP delegates could participate at the convention were broadcast to the nation. MFDP delegate Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) testified to being beaten several times while in jail for attempting to organize black voters. President Johnson interrupted a broadcast of the hearings with a press conference in an attempt to arrange a compromise in the party. The compromise, which denied MFDP delegates entrance into the convention, proved to many civil rights activists that they could no longer seek answers to their concerns within the established government. Freedom Summer was the last year during the decade that a broad coalition, or joint effort, of black and white activists would work together.

A violent turn

This growing feeling of discontent within the black community marked a shift in the civil rights movement toward what came to be known as Black Power. Though blacks won legal recognition of their rights, they continued to battle the lingering effects of the Jim Crow laws and the attitudes that those laws caused. Even without the legal framework of racial segregation, racial prejudice remained a powerful force in American society. In both the North and South, many white people put social limits on blacks, keeping them from the living in the best neighborhoods, earning higher degrees of education, being hired for better paying jobs, or in countless other ways experiencing the American dream of freedom and prosperity. While the early years of the 1960s had succeeded in winning and enforcing the political rights of blacks, the later years became marked by blacks' determination to rid their lives of these lingering social restrictions as well. The social limitations placed on blacks by racial prejudices pitted blacks against whites.

The anger welling up inside black communities burst into riots. Just five days after Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Watts district of Los Angeles erupted in violence. On August 11, 1965, news of a young black man's brutal treatment by police triggered an urban riot. For five days, rioters looted stores, set fires, and attacked white motorists passing through the area. The riot left thirty-four people dead and more than one thousand wounded. It took more than 15,000 police and National Guardsmen making nearly four thousand arrests to stop the violence.

Similar riots occurred in over one hundred cities between 1965 and 1968; these riots shocked the nation, especially white Americans. One example of the gap that developed between once sympathetic white Americans and blacks occurred in Detroit, Michigan. Identified as a model city for Johnson's War on Poverty, Detroit offered poor residents more support than many other places, but racially discriminatory practices in housing and employment opportunities continued to exist in the city. The tensions within the black community erupted into a riot in the earlier hours of July 23, 1967. The Detroit riot shut the city down for seventy-two hours. Phones were dead, mail undelivered, garbage uncollected. Banks, shops, and offices closed. Army troops and National Guardsmen used tanks and machine guns to stop the fire-bombing rioters. The riot left forty-three people dead, two thousand injured, and nearly five thousand homeless, and it had done $40 million worth of damage to businesses and residential neighborhoods.

Blacks had been granted their legal rights, but many blacks realized this step was not enough. Blacks living in the north had to contend with de facto (a reality that is not legally recognized or enforced) racial segregation that left their schools inadequately funded, their homes substandard, and their job opportunities limited. At a time when the country was more prosperous than ever before, blacks in inner cities suffered double-digit, amounting to 10 percent or more, unemployment levels. Many realized that the civil rights legislation passed in the early years of the 1960s did not improve their lives. American society, they came to believe, was keeping them in poverty. The demographics, or statistical data about populations, of poverty within American society revealed how unequal opportunities for jobs, housing, and medical care were between blacks and other minorities and whites.

Moreover, many white Americans blamed black people for their poverty. To many whites, blacks had been granted more than enough rights and offered adequate federal support to make a decent life for themselves. Blacks had won their civil rights. Blacks could vote. The social programs of the Great Society, such as welfare and affirmative action, offered blacks a helping hand to right the wrongs of the past. In 1968 the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which President Johnson had created to investigate the urban uprisings that began with Watts, issued a report that identified a tendency on the part of whites to not accept responsibility for the poverty of blacks. "What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the

The Great Society: A Helping Hand or a Handout?

President Johnson tried to remedy the problems of poverty and racial inequality in his plan for the "Great Society." In 1964 Johnson laid out his plan to enlarge the government in order to improve the quality of life and economic opportunities for all Americans. Through his vision for the Great Society, Johnson and his supporters waged a war on poverty, offering preschool children the Head Start program, young adults between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two job opportunities through the Job Corps, and poor communities a variety of self-help opportunities through the Community Action Program. The Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) became a domestic version of John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps, providing help in America's poor neighborhoods. For many of the country's poorest citizens, the Great Society offered financial support by raising the minimum wage and expanding welfare to make the Food Stamp and Aid to Families with Dependent Children programs available to more people. Housing subsidies and urban renewal projects also increased the quality of life for many of America's poor by offering low-cost housing to the poor and making improvements to run-down urban residential areas. The Great Society also started Medicaid to offer free medical care to poor Americans, and Medicare to help pay for medical attention for the elderly. By the end of the 1960s, the poverty rate in America had dropped to 12 percent, down from 22 percent in the 1950s.

By 1967, however, Johnson's Great Society seemed likely to fall from the controversy it generated. The Great Society did a great deal to reduce racial injustice in housing, health care, and employment, lifting minorities out of grinding poverty and offering educational opportunities to take them further than ever before. But the growing expense of its programs burdened the government. Given the cost of the expanding war in Vietnam, the Great Society was doomed to failure. Though some of the programs continued into the early 2000s, most of them were scaled back or eliminated by the more conservative administrations of Richard Nixon and, later, Ronald Reagan (1911–2004; served 1981–89). Johnson was deeply upset by the failure of the Great Society and expressed his frustration at the end of the 1960s with his characteristically coarse language in his now famous quote: "That bitch of a war [destroyed] the woman I really loved—the Great Society."

ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it," according to the commission. Whites did not fully accept or understand how the established economics, politics, and social institutions in America had shaped the formation of the ghetto, or poor, mostly black urban neighborhoods. In the second half of the 1960s, the crusade for civil rights focused on eliminating injustice and inequality. But disagreement over what steps were needed to reach these goals led to breakups in groups formed to address civil rights issues.

Black nationalism

While Martin Luther King Jr. and others maintained that nonviolence was the only route to achieving true equality in the United States, a movement embracing violent rebellion began to draw support in the mid-1960s. The emerging movement came to be known as Black Power. Blacks who supported this movement rejected earlier attempts to integrate into American society. Instead, activists embraced all the qualities that made blacks different from whites. Many began to dress in African-inspired clothes such as brightly colored cotton shirts called dashikis, to wear their hair in naturally curly styles, and to study their African heritage. Some of the established civil rights groups kicked out white members, refusing any form of support from whites at all. Creating a separate black nation became a hot topic of discussion.

Growing weary of the slow progress made by nonvio-lent methods of protest, formerly nonviolent groups changed their approach to pursuing civil rights. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, whose peaceful sit-ins at the beginning of the decade ushered in the civil rights movement, was among those groups that changed tactics (they also changed their name, replacing the term "Nonviolent" with "National"). Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998), who had participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961 and the voter registration drives in Mississippi in 1963, became chairman of SNCC in 1966. Speaking in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1966, Carmichael announced: "The only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin' us is to take over. We've been saying freedom for six years—and we ain't got nothin'. What we gonna start saying now is 'Black Power,'" according to The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s. Under Carmichael's leadership, SNCC turned from nonviolent methods of protests and embraced the more militant aspects of Black Power. An even more radical leader, H. Rap Brown (1943–), took control of SNCC in 1967 and continued the group's emphasis on violent rebellion. That year SNCC members voted to oust all whites from their group. SNCC had dissolved by 1971, when Brown began serving a five-year prison sentence for robbery.

Inspiring Others: The Women's, Chicanos', and American Indians' Movements

The rapid succession of legal changes brought by the civil rights movement inspired other groups to organize with the hope that they could make a real difference in American society. Women, Chicanos, and American Indians (now referred to as Native Americans) formed groups who successfully organized to improve their lives. Women, including many who had participated in the civil rights movement, started to organize in 1966 once they discovered that laws against gender discrimination created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were not being adequately enforced. The first women's organization, the National Organization for Women (NOW), was led by the decade's best-selling author, Betty Friedan (1921–). Friedan is credited with starting the women's movement when she published her book The Feminine Mystique in 1963, in which she described the oppressed and stifling lives of homemakers. Friedan's book called attention to how limiting America's cultural expectations were for women. By the end of the 1960s, the women's movement had grown dramatically, effecting permanent changes in the lives of American women.

Mexican Americans, or Chicanos, also banded together to gain social justice. The Chicano movement focused on eliminating discrimination in education, housing, and jobs. César Chávez (1927–1993) emerged as a leader of the movement in 1965 when he led a nonviolent strike of the United Farm Workers (UFW, a union he had organized in California). He created a national boycott of grapes and lettuce during the five-year strike, which ended with the UFW winning for its members an acceptable labor agreement with growers. Like blacks, Chicanos also pushed for inclusion of their culture in education. By the end of the 1960s many universities taught black and Chicano cultural history.

The success of the minority movements inspired Native Americans, or American Indians, to improve their position in the country as well. Native Americans, according to the Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s, were "the poorest, least healthy, and worst educated minority group in the nation." Native American activists occupied significant places as an attention-grabbing tactic. Activists took over Alcatraz Island near San Francisco, California, in 1969, a Bureau of Indian Affairs office in 1972, and a trading post at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973. While these tactics won their cause national attention, other activists lobbied the federal government for new laws that would grant Native Americans more control over their own lives. By the mid-1970s these efforts had paid off. The federal government returned millions of acres, and the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act of 1975 granted more control to Native Americans over their own governance—or political institutions—and education.

Groups such as the Black Muslims and the Black Panthers also grew in membership. The Black Muslims, a group formed in Detroit in the 1930s, offered members a religious organization that promoted black dignity and self-respect. The Black Muslims also encouraged separation from white people, an idea called black nationalism. One influential minister of the Black Muslims, Malcolm X (1925–1965), attracted many to the organization during the 1960s. By 1963, however, Malcolm X developed a new philosophy toward gaining civil rights that clashed with the Black Muslims' ideas of separatism. So Malcolm X formed a new group called the Organization of Afro-Americans in 1963 and set about stirring blacks to use armed conflict to improve their position in the United States. Malcolm X's speeches drew crowds of supporters, but his leadership was cut short by the bullet of an assassin in February of 1965.

Another separatist group, the Black Panthers, formed in 1966. Huey P. Newton (1942–1989) and Bobby Seale (1936–), who had worked in Chicago and other cities to defend blacks against police brutality and other forms of racial aggression, founded the Black Panthers in California. Black Panthers dressed in black military outfits and carried weapons. To encourage blacks to liberate themselves through violent confrontation with whites, Black Panthers recommended "picking up the gun." The threat posed by the Black Panthers led to an FBI raid in 1969 that resulted in the death of twenty-eight of the group's members and the arrest of many more.

The violent protests that marked the second half of the decade contrasted dramatically with the peaceful demonstrations of the first half. While the peaceful protests succeeded in causing the passage of legal remedies for black's political and economic positions in America, the violent protests helped shock Americans into understanding that blacks were no longer willing to accept discrimination based on the color of their skin. The unpredictable nature of the violent protest and a general crackdown on crime, rioting, and protest following the presidential election of Richard Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) in 1968 brought an end to many rebellious groups by the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, Nixon continued to support many civil rights programs begun by Johnson. Nixon approved a federal affirmative action plan (a federal program that grants minority groups special employment and educational opportunities in an effort to right past inequalities) and even tried to offer Americans a guaranteed minimum income, or a limited amount of money on which to live, though this last proposal was defeated in the Senate.

Although de facto (socially practiced, but not legally constituted) segregation and racial discrimination continued in the United States, the civil rights movement had a lasting positive impact on the country. The protests inspired many other groups, including women, Chicanos, Native Americans, and environmentalists, to form groups to promote social change. In the early 2000s, black political candidates represented voters across the country. Blacks were appointed to high positions within local, state, and federal government. Blacks also gained access to high levels of education. The pervasive racism of the not-so-distant past had largely disappeared, and the income levels of blacks were slowly gaining ground compared to whites. In the minds of many, however, true equality had not yet been attained.

For More Information


Altman, Linda Jacobs. The American Civil Rights Movement: The African-American Struggle for Equality. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2004.

Bloom, Alexander, and Wini Breines, eds. "Takin' It to the Streets": A Sixties Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Carson, Clayborne, and Kris Shepard, eds. A Call to Conscience. New York: Warner Books, 2001.

Dudley, William, ed. The 1960s. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2000.

Farber, David. The Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

Farber, David, and Beth Bailey, with others. The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Gitlin, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York: Bantam, 1987; revised, 1993.

Holland, Gini. The 1960s. San Diego, CA: Lucent, 1999.

Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. New York: Ballantine, 1968.

Treanor, Nick, ed. The Civil Rights Movement. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2003.

Uschan, Michael V. Life on the Front Lines: The Fight for Civil Rights. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2004.

Weber, Michael. Causes and Consequences of the African American Civil Rights Movement. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1998.

Web sites

Civil Rights Heritage (accessed on June 23, 2004).

National Civil Rights (accessed on June 23, 2004).

Voices of Civil Rights: Ordinary People, Extraordinary (accessed on June 23, 2004).

We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights (accessed on June 23, 2004).

Civil Rights

views updated Jun 11 2018


The black experience in America can be largely defined in terms of the struggle to secure civil rights—the liberties inherent in legal, social, and institutional equity in the American body politic. Though 1870 opened with the promising ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment that granted suffrage to black men, the fifty-year period that followed saw African Americans subjected to the cruel irony of the post-emancipation barrage of exclusionary restrictions designed to maintain the racial hierarchy that had existed under slavery. Freedom from slavery represented a nominal condition as white supremacy in the United States was perpetuated by the increasingly repressive laws dubbed "Jim Crow" for a minstrel stereotype of blackness appropriated by a white stage performer in the 1820s. Disfranchisement, restricted access to public facilities, discriminatory hiring practices, delegitimation of court testimony, and exclusion from private establishments were all sanctioned by Jim Crow statutes, which varied in intensity from state to state. Though the North is typically considered to have been more tolerant of the black presence, the first Jim Crow laws were enacted in Northern states during the antebellum era in order to exert control over the free black population. Jim Crow gained currency in the Southern states in 1870 as part of the backlash against Reconstruction that was fueled by the disintegration of the Freedmen's Bureau, the governmental infrastructure that had provided legal protection and assistance to the millions of emancipated slaves since the end of the Civil War.


Although the Confederate effort to secede from the Union ended with the surrender at Appomattox, the effort to maintain the way of life the Southerners had fought to defend continued despite the dictate of the Emancipation Proclamation: the thwarted secessionists did not expect race relations to deviate from the established order of white supremacist repression. While blacks relished the liberties they hoped to enjoy once released from the shackles of chattel slavery, many whites labored to make their newly acquired freedom nominal, at best. Surprisingly, those who favored white supremacy found their cause aided by the successor to the assassinated Abraham Lincoln, President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875). Though virulently opposed to the institution of slavery, Johnson believed as strongly in the natural superiority of the white race as any of the staunchest Southern separatists. Though he did not block the creation of the Freedmen's Bureau, Johnson opted to make it an agency of the military rather than one of the government, and, except for rescinding General William Tecumseh Sherman's 1865 order to distribute abandoned lands to former slaves along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, did little to involve himself in the Bureau's efforts to facilitate the transition of Southern blacks from slaves to free American citizens. Johnson's inaction tacitly sanctioned the rampant incidents of violence and injustice committed against blacks by the vanquished white Southerners; his policy was to allow the individual states to reconcile the relations between the races without significant federal intervention.

Codification of the unwritten rules that governed the hierarchical interaction between blacks and whites resulted in state regulation of the working conditions and mobility of black citizens. White planters were granted the sole discretion to determine the hours of and compensation for labor, and blacks were confined to agricultural and domestic labor unless they were able to secure a special permit. African Americans were also subject to a strict curfew, and the unemployed could be imprisoned, fined, or forced to work for whomever would pay the fine. There was no provision for the public funding of African American education, and blacks were prohibited from voting. Essentially, the legislation was designed to compel blacks to return to their former slave occupations, where they would be under the control of and economically dependent upon their former owners. Until 1870 the Freedmen's Bureau effectively overruled these so-called Black Codes, but the fact that the Southern states attempted to establish them represents the desire to implement a government-controlled caste system virtually indistinguishable from the so-called peculiar institution.

Reconstruction—the effort to bring the South in alignment with the Union—was fraught by a clash of ideologies between President Johnson, who favored federal inaction in consideration of the primacy of states' rights and appointed white supremacist provisional governors to the Southern states, and the Radical Republicans, a powerful group of senators and representatives who advocated black civil rights and racial equality. In 1866, despite Johnson's opposition, the Radical Republicans were able to muster enough votes to override presidential vetoes of the Civil Rights Act and the bill extending the operations of the Freedmen's Bureau, which had been created the previous year. The Radical Republicans were also able to determine the conditions for readmission of the former Confederate states to the Union. They mandated that the Southern states ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees full citizenship rights to any person born on American soil, and they required the states to restrict the political participation of former Confederates. On the heels of a successful congressional election that secured their majority control, the Radical Republicans pushed through the Reconstruction Acts beginning in 1867. These laws instituted the presence of federal troops in the Southern states until they complied with the stipulations for rejoining the Union, including amending their state constitutions to incorporate blacks as citizens entitled to equal protection under the law and full civil rights.

While Reconstruction reigned, blacks in the South made great strides toward achieving a political voice and representation in the government. They held their own political conventions before the 1867 elections so they could choose candidates to endorse and platforms to support. Many blacks sought and held public office during the 1870s, including the United States Senators Hiram Rhoades Revels and Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi. P. B. S. Pinchback was elected to the Senate as well as the House of Representatives from Louisiana, but was not permitted to take his seat in either congressional body due to challenges against the legitimacy of the election processes. He did serve as Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, and for a brief period was the acting governor of the state. There were also twenty black members of the House of Representatives during Reconstruction, among them Joseph Hayne Rainey and Robert Smalls of South Carolina, Benjamin S. Turner of Alabama, and John R. Lynch of Mississippi.

Reconstruction officially ended in 1877 after the controversial election of Rutherford B. Hayes as president in the 1876 election. Hayes lost the popular vote but made the concession of promising to remove federal troops from the South in return for the disputed electoral votes of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. The withdrawal of the military presence from the South meant the resumption of state self-government and the consequent resurgence of the Southern Democrats, who acted quickly to reverse the measures taken under Reconstruction to secure social and political equality for blacks. One of the final triumphs of Reconstruction was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which mandated nondiscriminatory access to theaters, hotels, and railroad cars for blacks as well as whites. This act, however, did not survive a judicial challenge—it was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1883.


Frederick Douglass spoke at a rally after the court's decision on the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and opined that the strict constitutionality of the legislation should have been subordinated to the nobility of its purpose: to secure justice on the behalf of all American citizens, regardless of the ancestry of their forebears or the color of their skins. Douglass emerged as the principal spokesperson and leader for the race from the antebellum period until his death in 1895. Born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, in 1818, Douglass escaped to the North at the age of twenty and began speaking as a fugitive slave on the abolitionist circuit three years later. In 1845 the first version of his most famous publication appeared, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, which is widely considered the slave narrative that defines the genre. Several subsequent installments of Douglass's autobiographical writings chronicled his subsequent experiences. These included My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881). Both Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858–1932) and Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) wrote biographies of Douglass, published in 1899 and 1907, respectively, a testament to his significance as a pioneering race leader even among the most eminent black men of the era.

Douglass was a vociferous opponent of the Jim Crow segregation that gathered momentum in the wake of the 1883 repudiation of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. In the six years that followed the official demise of Reconstruction in 1877, blacks had been ousted from most of the political offices they had occupied during the era and lost much of the ground they had gained, principally through legislative mandate, toward true equality with whites. During the years from 1866 to 1877 blacks had constituted the majority in the South Carolina House of Representatives, but that numerical surplus evaporated once the Republicans lost political control of the South. Although the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited the restriction of voting rights on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude," it did not explicitly prohibit states from using other means to effectively bar blacks from voting. This was accomplished through the use of poll taxes and literacy tests and by holding segregated primaries to determine the candidates who would run for office. Disfranchising laws were bolstered by the tried-and-true method of intimidation: Sarah Ann Pringle, a white woman who resided in Texas during Reconstruction, recalled in a memoir that white men who had been disallowed by federal mandate from voting in the gubernatorial election of 1873 due to their active support of the Confederacy used force to defend their access to the ballot. They armed themselves, prepared to shoot anyone who attempted to bar them from the polls, and frightened off the would-be black voters with a volley of gunshots.

Such revolutions in miniature happened throughout the South. Charles Waddell Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition (1901) is a memorable literary account of politically motivated violence. It is based on the massacre and subsequent mass exodus of blacks from Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898 following an effort by white men to regain Democratic control of the city by inflaming public opinion against what they called Negro domination.

Many of the stories in Chesnutt's collection The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line (1899) trace the black experience throughout Reconstruction to its aftermath—a climate of racial hostility. "The Web of Circumstance," the last of the book's nine stories, centers on Ben Davis, a former slave who becomes a moderately successful blacksmith and chides his fellow blacks for squandering their earnings on travel and elaborate churches instead of investing in property. Wiser financial management, he suggests, would have resulted more swiftly in collective black prosperity. Davis's advice, however, is systematically undercut by the unfortunate series of events that plagues him when he is accused of stealing an ornately decorated whip belonging to one of his white clients. The blacksmith is prosecuted and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary without even so much as being able to testify in his own defense. During the term of his incarceration his property is confiscated for taxes and legal expenses, his wife runs off with his former assistant, his daughter becomes an alcoholic and accidentally drowns herself, and his son is lynched after killing a white man. Ben Davis himself, after resolving revenge against the man whose whip he is wrongfully accused of stealing, finally decides against retribution, but is killed by the man nevertheless because he misconstrues Davis's retreat as a threatened assault on his young daughter.

Chesnutt's tale constitutes a many-layered critique of the aborted promise of civil rights under Reconstruction. Ben Davis's advocacy of translating the fruits of independent labor into property acquisition loses much of its force in isolation—his lack of education and reliance upon being in favor with local whites make him vulnerable to the judicial persecution he suffers. In the court of law his reputation for honesty and integrity cannot combat the general prejudice against blacks bolstered by the chain of circumstantial evidence that indicates his guilt. His views on the unrealized potential for racial uplift are twisted by the prosecuting attorney into radical propaganda castigating whites for their continued oppression of former slaves, and Davis can understand none of the rhetoric being attributed to him. Because he has all but ostracized himself from the black community, Davis has no one besides his family to support him. In addition, his previous behavior may have inspired sufficient resentment among other blacks that they are happy to see his ruin and may even have even helped to bring it about. Through the figure of Ben Davis, Chesnutt shows that without political and civil rights, including full participation in the electoral process, legal influence, and access to education, the accumulation of land and ownership of property mean nothing to racial progress because they are insecure holdings.

The insecurity of property became abundantly clear to Frederick Douglass. In 1874 he was named president of the Freedmen's Bank, an institution dedicated to protecting the deposits of emancipated slaves. The bank collapsed that same year despite Douglass's attempts to save it by contributing $10,000 of his personal funds. The bank's failure was caused by ill-advised financial speculation long before Douglass was named president, but he bore much of the criticism for the collapse. The direction of the bank was one of several federal appointments Douglass held under the administrations of Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James A. Garfield; the other positions included federal marshal to the District of Columbia from 1877 to 1881, recorder of deeds from 1881 to 1886, and U.S. Minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891.

In his final years Douglass became active in the national anti-lynching campaign led by Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931). The last speech he wrote, "The Lesson of the Hour: Why Is the Negro Lynched?" was delivered in January of 1894 at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C., and later published under the title Why Is the Negro Lynched? (1895). In the speech he indicted the false perception of Southern black men as ruthless sexual predators, which had been disseminated by such champions of moral purity as Frances Willard of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Douglass noted that this idea had contributed to the practice and toleration of lynching. Public sentiment, as Douglass was well aware, exerted an immeasurable influence on the advancement of civil rights for blacks in America.


Public sentiment was swayed once again, and again to the detriment of the black American populace, when Booker T. Washington was invited to deliver the opening address at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition held in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps, had he not succumbed to a heart attack in February of that year, Frederick Douglass might have been entreated to deliver the speech that the Southern organizers hoped would signal to Northern white industrialists that race relations were improving. Instead, Booker T. Washington, the Hampton Institute–educated founder and president of the labor-intensive Tuskegee Institute, was asked to give a public address. Though it pleased the vast majority of Americans who heard or read it and propelled Washington to the national stage as the new voice of black America, the speech may have done more to facilitate the entrenchment of Jim Crow than any deliberate effort to galvanize support for segregation.

The speech commonly known as the Atlanta Exposition was Washington's attempt to conciliate post-Reconstruction resentment between the races and convince Southern whites that blacks shared their commitment to Southern progress and were their best allies in rebuilding the region. In trying to fore-stall potential white interest in replacing their forfeited slave labor with an influx of immigrant workers, Washington may have overdone his effort to depict Southern blacks as docile, tractable, industrious, forgiving, and altogether willing to subordinate any desire for greater civil rights to the need to work alongside whites in restoring the South to its antebellum glory. The lines that white America fixated upon and interpreted as the black endorsement of Jim Crow segregation used the human hand as an analogy for race relations with respect to leisure and labor: Washington said that while the races could be as divided as the fingers socially, "in all things essential to mutual progress" (Washington, Up from Slavery, p. 230) they could work with the united power of the hand.

The key to appreciating the import of Washington's pronouncement is determining what "social" really means. If it signifies, as it came to in the law and custom of white supremacist ideology, that blacks and whites were not to meet on terms of equality in any place where sociability might result, then strict segregationist policies were certainly in order. The races could not share the same public facilities or privileges and expect to maintain social separation, and working relationships had to be governed by a strict hierarchy in order to remain professional and not bleed over into the nebulous "social" category. In this way, many blacks felt as if Booker T. Washington had indeed compromised their interests and thwarted their advancement in order to cater to the sensibilities of proud white Southerners not yet able to stomach the notion of racial equality. This sentiment gathered momentum after the decision rendered by the Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, handed down the next year, which sanctioned the "separate but equal" doctrine that prevailed until the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Homer Plessy, a Louisiana octoroon (a person of one-eighth black ancestry), violated the state's Separate Car Act of 1890 by refusing to leave a whites-only railroad car on 7 June 1892. The train was stopped and Plessy was taken into custody, thus embarking upon a judicial journey that would end unsuccessfully four years later at the United States Supreme Court and was a precursor to the twentieth-century Rosa Parks incident. The arrest was orchestrated by the Comité des Citoyens, a group composed largely of mixed-race descendants from the celebrated gens du coleur society of free blacks that flourished in the French Quarter of antebellum New Orleans. The organization was formed in 1891 expressly to challenge the Separate Car Act as a step toward dismantling all statutes that violated the civil rights of Americans of African descent. Complicit in the effort were railroad workers who resented being compelled to police the color line by ejecting blacks from the cars reserved for whites and the detective who was compensated for his arrest of Plessy—the Comité des Citoyens did not want to surrender their compatriot to the unpredictability of the treatment he might have received at the hands of just any law enforcement officer.

Plessy's situation is reminiscent of a scene from the fictionalized memoir The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man published anonymously by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) in 1912. The unnamed narrator describes a conversation concerning the "Negro question" that he has with four white men representing four different American constituencies—an unreconstructed Texas cotton planter, a Union veteran, a Northern intellectual recently transplanted to a Deep South state college, and a Jew. What enables him to be privy to their uncensored viewpoints is that, masked by his ambiguously fair skin, he is riding unmolested on a whites-only railroad car through the segregated South. Like Plessy and the men of the organization he represented, the protagonist of Johnson's novel is not interested so much in establishing proximity to whites but in enjoying the luxuries restricted to whites alone. The discrimination that forced blacks of all classes to share the same grossly inferior accommodations violated the spirit of the socalled separate-but-equal facilities policy. The grass-roots movement to unseat Jim Crow that originated in Louisiana was a noble struggle that enlisted the courageous efforts of Louis Martinet, the black lawyer and publisher of the New Orleans Crusader, the black daily that served as the official organ of the Comité, and Albion W. Tourgée (1838–1905), a white lawyer and author of the semi-autobiographical novel A Fool's Errand (1879), who argued Plessy's case before the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, public opinion did not favor the eradication of segregation. The popularity of Booker T. Washington's recommendation that the considerations of cooperative labor take precedence over the demands for social recognition made it all the more unlikely that the nation would be receptive to challenges against Jim Crow laws.

Washington's views were also criticized on other grounds. Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906), perhaps best known as a dialect poet of the 1890s, registered concerns that a unidimensional focus on politics would inhibit racial uplift. An erudite young man from Dayton, Ohio (he died of tuberculosis at age thirty-three), Dunbar excoriated the black press for its scant attention to grammatical correctness and its overemphasis on exhaustively cataloging the wrongs perpetrated against the race. He exhorted the multi-faceted development of black America in the areas of science, art, and literature, a perspective later articulated most persuasively by W. E. B. Du Bois. Like Du Bois, Dunbar was skeptical of the industrial education solution advocated by Booker T. Washington and worried that white America would use Washington's rhetoric to forestall black ambition. In an article entitled "Our New Madness," which appeared in The Independent on 16 September 1897, Dunbar expresses his concern that, despite his "honesty of purpose," Washington is "not doing either himself or his race full justice" in his public addresses (p. 182). Dunbar felt that Washington's speeches resulted in decontextualized quotes that whites used to corroborate their desire to limit blacks to domestic, agricultural, and trade labor.


Booker T. Washington's approach to the problem of amalgamation—uniting the races into a single body politic—is often labeled "accommodationist": he opted to accept and work around white opposition to black advancement rather than openly defy it. He championed the efficacy of industrial education, which focused on practical training and the intrinsic dignity of labor, in order to avoid unnerving whites who worried about blacks seeking to elevate themselves from their "proper places." After the overwhelming success of his Atlanta Compromise speech in 1895, influential whites both North and South viewed Washington as the undisputed leader of the race, especially since Frederick Douglass's passing earlier in the same year. Virtually every issue pertinent to the welfare of black Americans was funneled through Washington for endorsement. He approved political appointments, lent support to proposed legislation, proposed individuals for jobs, and solicited funds from his wealthy contacts. For a black person with ambition he was an invaluable friend to have and a formidable enemy. Critics labeled Washington's formalized system of influence the "Tuskegee Machine."

On the other end of the ideological spectrum from Washington was the Harvard-educated William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois (1868–1963), a member of the intellectual and cultural elite. Du Bois believed in his theory of the "talented tenth"—that every race had its best and brightest, and this ten percent would be the vanguard to lead the community into collective advancement. Unlike Washington, Du Bois felt that liberal arts education would be the means by which blacks could gain access to the upper echelons of society, echoing Charles Chesnutt's sentiment that educational exclusion would be the demise of the black community, however prosperous it became through manual labor. Du Bois most famously articulated his opposition to Washington in the third chapter of his magnum opus, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others." Du Bois points out that Washington's advocacy of postponing the effort to secure political power, civil rights, and access to higher education in the interest of preserving harmonious labor relations resulted in the elimination of black voting rights, legally enforced second-class citizenship, and the reduction of public funds for advanced education for blacks. What is not demanded will not be supplied, Du Bois argued.

In 1903 a close friend of Du Bois, William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934), publicly opposed Washington at a rally in Boston. Believing the Tuskegee Machine to be responsible for having Trotter arrested following the denunciation, Du Bois issued a call to black men committed to the cause of civil justice and the abolition of caste distinctions. In July 1905 twenty-nine men responded to the call, and the group was dubbed the Niagara Movement after the site of the first meeting—the Canada side of the falls, where they convened after being refused accommodation on the American side of the border. The Niagara Movement became racially integrated and gender inclusive when it evolved into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, at the height of Washington's national prominence. Du Bois founded The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, and served as its editor for the next twenty-five years. In his Crisis editorials, as well as the Atlanta University Studies of the Negro Problem conference series, which predated his activity with the NAACP, Du Bois identified a plethora of issues facing the black community that required legislative address and reform. The Crisis also featured the literary work of up-and-coming black writers, many of whom flourished during the Harlem Renaissance, resulting in the "civil rights by copyright" initiative that pushed the cultural achievements of blacks in order to shape public perception and achieve parity with whites in America. Although segregation and legally sanctioned discrimination would essentially withstand opposition until the advent of the nonviolent protest movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, the legacy of resistance left by men and women such as Douglass, Plessy, Du Bois, Wells, and Dunbar set precedents for action and inspired the continuation of the struggle for civil rights.

See alsoThe Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man; Blacks; Jim Crow; Ku Klux Klan; Lynching; The Marrow of Tradition; Plessy v. Ferguson; Racial Uplift; The Souls of Black Folk; Up from Slavery


Primary Works

Chesnutt, Charles. Frederick Douglass. 1899. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2002.

Chesnutt, Charles W. The Marrow of Tradition. 1901. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Chesnutt, Charles Waddell. The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line. 1899. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968.

Douglass, Frederick. Frederick Douglass: New Literary and Historical Essays. Edited by Eric J. Sundquist. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History. 1881. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2003.

Douglass, Frederick. Why Is the Negro Lynched? Bridgwater, n.p.: J. Whitby and Sons, 1895.

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. 1903. New York: Penguin, 1989.

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. In His Own Voice: The Dramatic and Other Uncollected Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002.

Johnson, James Weldon. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. 1912. New York: Vintage, 1989.

Washington, Booker T. Frederick Douglass. 1907. New York: Argosy-Antiquarian, 1969.

Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery. 1901. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Wells-Barnett, Ida B. Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Wells-Barnett, Ida B. Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892–1900. Edited by Jacqueline Jones Royster. Boston: Bedford, 1997.

Wells, Ida B., et al. The Reason Why the Colored American Is not in the World's Columbian Exposition: The Afro-American's Contribution to Columbian Literature. 1893. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Secondary Works

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.

Lewis, David Levering. W. E. B. Du Bois. Vol. 1, Biography of a Race, 1868–1919. New York: Holt, 1993.

Medley, Keith Weldon. We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson. Gretna, La.: Pelican, 2003.

Meier, August. Negro Thought in America, 1880–1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963.

Mieder, Wolfgang. "No Struggle, No Progress": Frederick Douglass and His Proverbial Rhetoric for Civil Rights. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.

Moore, Jacqueline M. Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the Struggle for Racial Uplift. Wilmington, Del.: SR Books, 2003.

Wintz, Cary D., ed. African-American Political Thought, 1890–1930: Washington, Du Bois, Garvey, and Randolph. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1996.

Wormser, Richard. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. New York: St. Martin's, 2003.

Licia Morrow Calloway

Civil Rights

views updated May 14 2018


Personal liberties that belong to an individual, owing to his or her status as a citizen or resident of a particular country or community.

The most common legal application of the term civil rights involves the rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens and residents by legislation and by the Constitution. Civil rights protected by the Constitution include freedom of speech and freedom from certain types of discrimination.

Not all types of discrimination are unlawful, and most of an individual's personal choices are protected by the freedoms to choose personal associates; to express himself or herself; and to preserve personal privacy. Civil rights legislation comes into play when the practice of personal preferences and prejudices of an individual, a business entity, or a government interferes with the protected rights of others. The various civil rights laws have made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Discrimination that interferes with voting rights and equality of opportunity in education, employment, and housing is unlawful.

The term privileges and immunities is related to civil rights. Privileges and immunities encompass all rights of individuals that relate to people, places, and real and personal property. Privileges include all of the legal benefits of living in the United States, such as the freedom to sell land, draft a will, or obtain a divorce. Immunities are the protections afforded by law that prevent the government or other people from hindering another's enjoyment of his or her life, such as the right to be free from illegal searches and seizures and the freedom to practice religion without government persecution. The Privileges and Immunities Clause in Article IV of the U.S. Constitution states, "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States." The clause is designed to prevent each state from discriminating against

the people in other states in favor of its own citizens.

The bill of rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, delineates specific rights that are reserved for U.S. citizens and residents. No state can remove or abridge rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution.

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in dred scott v. sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 15 L. Ed. 691, that the Constitution did not apply to African Americans because they were not citizens when the Constitution was written. After the Civil War, therefore, new laws were necessary for the purpose of extending civil liberties to the former slaves.

In 1865, the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution was enacted to make slavery and other forms of involuntary servitude unlawful. In addition, Congress was given the power to enact laws that were necessary to enforce this new amendment.

The fourteenth amendment, ratified in 1868, provides that every individual who is born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen and ensures that a state may not deprive a citizen or resident of his or her civil rights, including due process of law and equal protection of the laws. Congress is also empowered to enact laws for the enforcement of these rights.

The Origin of Federal Civil Rights Laws

During the period immediately following the Civil War, civil rights legislation was originally enacted by Congress, based upon its power under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to pass laws to enforce these rights. The first two of these laws were based upon the civil rights act of 1866 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1982), which had preceded the Fourteenth Amendment.

The first civil rights law guaranteed equal rights under the law for all people who lived within the jurisdiction of the United States. The second guaranteed each citizen an equal right to own, inherit, rent, purchase, and sell real property as well as personal property. The third original civil rights law, the ku klux klan act of 1871 (17 Stat. 13), provided citizens with the right to bring a civil action for a violation of protected rights. The fourth law made violation of such rights a criminal offense.

Subsequent Legislation

Although these initial laws purported to guarantee the civil rights of all citizens, including African Americans and other minorities,

they were effectively negated for most African-Americans in the late nineteenth century by the passage of jim crow laws, or black codes, in the South. These laws made it illegal for African-Americans to use the same public facilities as whites, restricted their travel, impeded their ability to vote, forbade interracial marriage, and generally relegated them to a legally inferior position.

In the 1896 landmark case plessy v. ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S. Ct. 1138, 41 L. Ed. 256, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Jim Crow law that required the segregation, or separation, of the races on railroad cars. The Court held that the Louisiana law in question was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as long as the facilities that were provided for each race were "separate but equal." This separate-but-equal doctrine was used to support other segregation laws applying to public schools and public facilities.

No significant civil rights legislation was enacted until many decades later, when the commission on civil rights was established by Congress in the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1975) to monitor and collect facts regarding race relations for consideration by Congress and the president. Congress subsequently passed the Civil Rights Act of 1960 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1971). The statute guarantees that qualified voters have the right to register to vote in any state and that they have the right to sue any person who prevents them from doing so. Voters possess this right to sue regardless of whether the individual who so prevents them is a state official or merely an individual who acting as one.

The civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000a et seq.) is the most comprehensive civil rights legislation in the history of the United States. It contains provisions for parity in the use and enjoyment of public accommodations, facilities, and education, as well as federally assisted programs and employment. Title VII of that act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on an employee's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, is regarded as the most inclusive source of employment rights. All employers who have at least 15 employees, including state and local governments and labor unions, are subject to its provisions, but it does not apply to the federal government, American Indian tribes, clubs, or religious organizations.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 (25 U.S.C.A. § 1301 et seq.) proscribes discrimination in the sale and rental of most U.S. housing. It also prohibits discrimination in financing arrangements and extends to agents, brokers, and owners. Both the 1964 and 1968 Civil Rights Acts establish the right of an injured party to sue and to obtain damages from any individual who illegally infringes with a person's civil rights, conspires to deprive others of their civil rights, or abuses either government authority or public office to accomplish such unlawful acts.

In the area of education, a significant civil rights milestone was achieved in 1954 with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in brown v. board of education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873. In Brown, the justices unanimously rejected the separate-but-equal doctrine that it had upheld in Plessy. They found that segregating black and white children in different public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Segregation, the Court held, effectively discriminates against African-American children by promoting in them a sense of inferiority that limits their opportunities in life. The Court also required that school districts desegregate "with all deliberate speed." integration, or desegregation, of public schools has been a divisive issue ever since. In particular, arguments arise over the practice of busing students a distance to school, a method that has been used, often by court order, to create a better racial balance.

The issue of segregation continues to cause strife. In 2002, Senate Majority Leader trent lott (R.-Miss.) suggested during comments at the 100th birthday party of retired Senator strom thurmond that he was proud that the state of Mississippi had supported Thurmond in a presidential bid in 1948. Thurmond had run on the so-called "Dixiecrat" platform that advocated segregation. The comments caused a storm of criticism directed at Lott, and he resigned as senate majority leader in December 2002.

In employment, common law permits an employer or labor union to discriminate for a valid reason in its relations with employees, unless otherwise provided by federal or state statute. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.) initially restrained discrimination against employees or job applicants who engage in union activities. Subsequently, the act has been extended through various amendments to prohibit other forms of discrimination, including race and sex discrimination. In 1963, Congress enacted the Equal Pay Act (29 U.S.C.A. § 206), which requires that men and women be paid the same wages when they do substantially similar work. The federal equal employment opportunity commission (EEOC) is the initial forum for claims of illegal employment discrimination. It also publishes advisory guidelines that explain or define the law. Many states have agencies or human rights commissions that are similar to the EEOC.

The 1980s and Beyond

One result of civil rights legislation is affirmative action, which is the effort to enforce race and sex classifications when necessary to correct past discriminatory patterns. The ordering of affirmative action requires employers or labor unions to make concerted efforts to hire minorities who traditionally have been discouraged from seeking employment with them. The basis for affirmative action is that if such efforts are not made, unlawful discrimination will be perpetuated.

Affirmative action and other attempts to end discrimination raise new questions. For example, have efforts to help minorities and women begun to infringe on the rights of individuals outside of those groups, such as white men? Some argue that affirmative action results in reverse discrimination, which is prejudice or bias practiced against a particular person or class of people in order to remedy a pattern of past discrimination against another individual or group of individuals.

Much of the attention on the constitutionality of affirmative action programs has focused upon the federal courts of appeals. The most heated controversy has centered on affirmative action programs in higher education. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Hopwood v. Texas,78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996) held that a program at the University of Texas School of Law granting preferences to minorities in admissions decisions was unconstitutional. This case stirred a national debate, and several commentators noted that the percentage of minorities who were admitted to the school dropped markedly after the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the decision to stand when it denied certioari.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified some of the confusion experienced by the lower federal courts with respect to affirmative action programs in higher education. In Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S.___, 123 S. Ct. 2325, ___ L. Ed. 2d ___ (2003), the Court upheld a practice by the law school at the University of Michigan that considered race one of the factors the school considered when admitting students. The ruling upheld the decision in board of regents of the university of california v. bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 98 S. Ct. 2733, 57 L. Ed. 2d 750 (1978), a controversial decision that had likewise allowed schools to consider race as a factor in admissions. In a companion case to Grutter, however the Court limited the scope of affirmative action programs of universities when it struck down Michigan's undergraduate admissions policies. Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. ___, 123 S. Ct. 2411, ___ L. Ed. 2d ___ (2003). Unlike the law school's admissions policies at Michigan, the undergraduate admissions department added a certain number of "points" to the application of a racial minority. Because the university added these points automatically without consideration of the individual applicant, the Court held that this policy could not pass constitutional muster.

After President ronald reagan appointed three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court during his two presidential terms between 1981 and 1989, the Court proceeded to render more conservative opinions regarding civil rights. For example, in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 109 S. Ct. 2363, 105 L. Ed. 2d 132 (1989), it addressed the issue of discrimination in the private sector and held that section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 barred only racial discrimination in hiring, and thus not racial harassment while on the job. Minority-rights groups were disappointed by the ruling and saw it as part of a general trend toward making civil rights violations more difficult to prove. However, Justice anthony m. kennedy, who wrote the Court's opinion, stated, "Neither our words nor our decisions should be interpreted as signaling one inch of retreat from Congress's policy to forbid discrimination in the private, as well as the public, sphere."

Less controversial have been developments in the area of civil rights for handicapped people. In 1990, President george h. w. bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Pub. L. No. 101-336, 104 Stat. 327 [codified in scattered sections of 42, 29, 47 U.S.C.A.] [effective 1992]), which was quickly hailed as the most significant civil rights legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The ADA prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. Referred to as the bill of rights for physically and mentally disabled citizens—who were estimated to number 43 million at the time of the act's passage—the act supersedes previous state and local laws and extends protection to any person with a physical or mental impairment that "substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual."

The act includes many features that are intended to improve living conditions for those with disabilities. For example, employers, providers of public transportation, and private businesses with public accommodation (such as theaters, restaurants, hotels, and banks) must make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled persons. Often such accommodations must include wheelchair access. Similarly, all commuter and intercity trains are required to have at least one car that is handicapped-accessible, and telephone companies must provide relay operators for hearing-impaired individuals who use special telecommunications devices.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 (Pub. L. No. 102-166, 105 Stat. 1071 [codified in scattered sections of 42, 29, 2 U.S.C.A.]) marked another important step in civil rights legislation. The act repudiated several U.S. Supreme Court decisions on civil rights; granted women and disabled persons the right to recover money damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and granted congressional employees the protection of Title VII. Among the high court's decisions that were overturned by the 1991 act was Patterson. Section 101 of the act states that employees may sue for damages experienced through racial discrimination in hiring, promotion, dismissal, and all other terms of employment. The changes in Title VII employee-discrimination cases entitle plaintiffs to jury trials and allow them to recover damages in addition to back pay.

Although many minority groups have made rapid advances toward recognition of their civil rights, one group that continues to struggle is the homosexual community. Similar to ethnic and racial minorities, individuals who identify themselves as homosexual, bisexual, or transsexual have long been subject to disparate treatment from the majority. Although gay and lesbian rights groups have made advances toward changing perceptions in society, challenges in the courts have been only marginally successful.

Gay and lesbian rights group claimed a victory in 1996 with the Supreme Court's decision in romer v. evans, 517 U.S. 620, 116 S. Ct. 1620, 134 L. Ed. 2d 855 (1996). In that case, a constitutional amendment in the state of Colorado prohibited governmental units from passing any statute, regulation, or ordinance purporting to protect the rights of homosexuals or bisexuals. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the amendment violated the Equal Protection Clause because it explicitly denies a single group protection under the law.

Although Romer represented one of the first major victories for gay and lesbian groups, other decisions have been less favorable. In boy scouts of america v. dale, 530 U.S. 640, 120 S. Ct. 2446, 147 L. Ed. 2d 554 (2000), the Court held that the Boy Scouts could properly exclude gay boys from their organization based upon the principle of freedom of association. Due in large part to their limited success in the courts and legislatures, gay and lesbian advocates have focused much of their attention on changing societal perceptions of homosexual, bisexuals, and other similar minority groups.

Another issue that has arisen in the courts with respect to civil rights is the limitations placed upon section 1983 actions against governmental officials for violations of constitutional rights. For instance, in Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County, Okla. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 117 S. Ct. 12382, 137 L. Ed. 2d 626 (1997), the U.S. Supreme Court clarified that a plaintiff cannot recover in an action under section 1983 under a theory of repondeat superior. The plaintiff in the case was injured when a police officer forced her to the ground after a chase. The officer had been hired by his great-uncle, a county sheriff, despite the fact that he had had a number of criminal convictions. The plaintiff claimed that the sheriff and the county had shown a reckless indifference toward her constitutional rights through their hiring practices. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, holding that a plaintiff in a Section 1983 action must prove that a governmental unit, through deliberate conduct, was a moving force behind the alleged injury.

Prisoners' Rights

Lawsuits brought by prisoners to recover damages for alleged violations of their civil rights have caused problems in American legal systems. Many of these cases have involved alleged violations by prisons or prison officials against inmates. Although many of these claims have no valid legal basis, some do, so courts must determine, among the thousands of cases that are filed each year, which ones have merit. In response to these claims, Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1932 (2003), which requires prisoners to pay filing fees and restricts the amount of money damages that prisoners can recover.

Prisoners have prevailed on a variety of claims, notwithstanding limitations placed upon their court actions. For example, in Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 118 S. Ct. 1584, 140 L. Ed. 2d 759 (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an appellate court decision that had imposed a higher burden of persuasion on inmate claims. Similarly, prisoners are periodically successful in claims that prison officials have deprived them of constitutional rights, including due process of law.

However, the majority of claims by inmates fail. For instance, in Correctional Services Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61, 122 S. Ct. 515, 151 L. Ed. 2d 456 (2001), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a plaintiff held in a halfway house that was operated by a private corporation under a contract with the federal government could not sue the corporation. The plaintiff had sought to bring the case under the rule in Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S. Ct. 1999, 29 L. Ed. 2d 619 (1971) (called a Bivens action), which allows for suits against federal officials who have violated the civil rights of plaintiffs. The Court in Malesko held that Bivens actions do not apply the to acts of government agencies or business entities and ruled against the plaintiff.

further readings

Abraham, Henry J., and Barbara A. Perry. 2003. Freedom and the Court: Civil Rights and Liberties in the United States. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

Hepple, Bob, and Erika M. Szyszczak, eds. 1992. Discrimination: the Limits of Law. New York: Mansell.

Lewis, Harold S. Jr., and Elizabeth J. Norman. 2001. Civil Rights Law and Practice. St. Paul, Minn.: West.

Rutland, George H., ed. 2001. Civil Rights in America. Huntington, N.Y.: Nova Science Publishers.

Shull, Steven H. 1999. American Civil Rights Policy from Truman to Clinton: the Role of Presidential Leadership. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe.


Civil Rights Acts; Ku Klux Klan Act; Section 1983; Voting Rights Act of 1965. See also primary documents in "Civil Rights" section of Appendix.

Civil Rights and Liberties

views updated May 18 2018


CIVIL RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES refer to the various spheres of individual and group freedoms that are deemed to be so fundamental as not to tolerate infringement by government. These include the fundamental political rights, especially the franchise, that offer the citizen the opportunity to participate in the administration of governmental affairs. Since these individual and group freedoms may also be abridged by the action or inaction of private institutions, demand has increased for positive governmental action to promote and encourage their preservation.

Constitutional provisions, statutes, and court decisions have been the principal means of acknowledging the civil rights and liberties of individuals; for those rights to be maximized, their acknowledgment must be accompanied by legislation and judicial enforcement. Any conception of individual rights that does not include this action component may actually be instrumental in limiting the exercise of such rights.

Constitutional Provisions

The U.S. Constitution, drawn up in the summer of 1787, included guarantees of the following civil rights and liberties: habeas corpus (Article I, section 9); no bills of attainder or ex post facto laws (Article I, sections 9 and 10); jury trial (Article III, sections 2 and 3); privileges and immunities (Article IV, section 2), later interpreted to be a guarantee that each state would treat citizens of other states in the same way they treated their own citizens; and no religious test for public office (Article VI, paragraph 3). Four years later ten amendments (the Bill of Rights) were added to the Constitution in response to demands for more specific restrictions on the national government. The Bill of Rights guarantees certain substantive rights (notably freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, and of religious worship) and certain procedural rights in both civil and criminal actions (notably a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury). In 1833 (Barron v. Baltimore, 7 Peters 243) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these amendments were designed to serve as protections against federal encroachment alone and did not apply to state and local governments. The Supreme Court's position in this case, as stated by Chief Justice John Marshall, was to prevail throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, despite the efforts of attorneys who argued that the intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause (1868) was to extend the protection of the Bill of Rights to the actions of states and localities. From 1925 (Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652) through 1969 (Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784), Supreme Court rulings had the effect of incorporating most of the major provisions of the Bill of Rights into the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, there by making them applicable to states and localities as well as to the federal government.

Prior to the adoption of the Civil War amendments there had been little effort to invoke federal authority to preserve individual rights. Furthermore, revisionist historians have shown that the generation that framed the first state declarations of rights and the federal Bill of Rights was not as libertarian as is traditionally assumed—the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798 being a case in point. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and the five general civil rights acts spanning the years 1866–1875 established the bases for a vast expansion of federal authority. Although the Thirteenth abolished slavery and involuntary servitude and the Fifteenth prohibited the abridgment of a citizen's fight to vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, the Fourteenth proved to be of greatest import to the sub-sequent development of individual rights.

The first sentence of section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment defines U.S. citizenship: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." This provision overturned the Supreme Court's 1857 decision in the Dred Scott Case (19 Howard 393) and recognized the primacy of national citizenship. (Citizenship was later described by Chief Justice Earl Warren [Perez v. Brownell, 356 U.S. 44, 64 (1958)] as "man's basic right, for it is nothing less than the right to have rights.") The remainder of the first section of the amendment prohibits the states from abridging the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States (which the courts interpreted quite narrowly); depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; and denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Judicial Interpretation

The five general civil rights acts of the post–Civil War period were efforts to implement the Civil War amendments. Although Congress was primarily motivated by a concern for the newly freed blacks, these statutes—which provided federal protection of individual rights against interference by either public officials or private individuals—never made specific references to African Americans as such. The last of these nineteenth-century civil rights statutes, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, was designed to guarantee to blacks equal accommodations with white citizens in all inns, public conveyances, theaters, and other public places. In 1883 the Supreme Court (Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3) concluded that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment had not intended to enable Congress to prohibit private persons from discriminating against blacks. The Fourteenth Amendment was interpreted as prohibiting discriminatory acts by the states only, and consequently the act was declared void.

The major test of state legislation designed to support the segregation and suppression of blacks came in 1896. In Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537) the Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana statute requiring separate accommodations for blacks and whites on public carriers, so long as the accommodations were equal. In the years that followed, segregation of the races on the basis of the separate-but-equal doctrine became commonplace throughout the South, and segregation resulting from Jim Crow legislation continued to be pervasive into the mid-twentieth century; in 1947 President Harry S. Truman's Committee on Civil Rights reported that the separate-but-equal doctrine was "one of the outstanding myths of American history, for it is almost always true that while indeed separate, … facilities are far from equal."

The separate-but-equal doctrine became deeply entrenched in the field of public education in the South, and it was not until 1938 (Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337) that the Supreme Court began to examine the equality requirement. From then until 1950 the Court, in a series of cases involving graduate school education, held that the separate facilities provided for black students were not equal educationally, but in granting relief to black plaintiffs, the Court did not publicly reexamine the separate-but-equal doctrine. Nevertheless, these decisions paved the way for the Supreme Court's landmark decision of 17 May 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483), overturning the Plessy v. Ferguson precedent and unanimously holding that the separate-but-equal doctrine had no place in the field of public education. The Court based its decision on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibited states from denying any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. A companion case that year (Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497) prohibited segregation in the public schools of the District of Columbia.

A year later, in its implementation decree in the Brown case, the Court ordered the desegregation process to be carried out "with all deliberate speed." Massive resistance ensued, most notably in Arkansas and Virginia, and in 1964 (Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 377 U.S. 218) the Court held that the time for mere "deliberate speed" had run out. Subsequent implementation decrees emphasized the obligation of school districts to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate only unitary schools thereafter. When confronted in 1971 with the question of the scope of a federal district court's ability to order school busing to correct state-enforced racial school segregation, the Supreme Court was unanimous in finding that the district court had not transcended the limits of "reasonableness" in its remedial order concerning busing (Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1). After rejecting in 1974 arguments that courts could order metropolitan-wide busing to remedy past discrimination (Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717), the Supreme Court became increasingly skeptical about the ability of courts to eliminate racially identifiable schools in urban areas.

The Court in Plessy v. Ferguson had distinguished between social rights, such as the right to ride on public transportation and the right to education, and civil and political rights, saying that the Constitution protected only the latter. Activist groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union would soon argue against that distinction. Eventually the idea of civil rights expanded to include the right against discrimination in employment, in housing, and in all places of public accommodation.

The Civil Rights Movement and New Legislation

The nonviolent civil rights movement, which had its beginning in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955–1956 led by Martin Luther King Jr., received increasing national attention during the sit-ins and freedom rides of the early 1960s. Mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, in the spring of 1963, also led by King, further heightened the urgency of African American demands and helped precipitate President John F. Kennedy's civil rights legislative proposals of June 1963. This legislation, including provisions regarding access to public accommodations, use of federal funds without discrimination, and equal employment opportunity, was signed into law on 2 July 1964, during the early months of President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration. It was the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since 1875.

The public accommodations title of the 1964 act, Title II, was similar in substance to the 1875 provisions struck down in the Civil Rights Cases; this time the legislation rested upon both the Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court in 1964 found the Commerce Clause fully adequate to sustain the public accommodations title (Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S., 379 U.S. 241, and Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294).

Title VI, which prohibited discrimination in any federally assisted programs, was to prove instrumental in accelerating school desegregation during the Johnson administration. In particular, the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 provided funds of sufficient magnitude so that most school districts would be at a serious disadvantage should they lose federal assistance for failing to desgregate. Finally, Title VII created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which struggled for seven years before it was granted enforcement powers—that is, the ability to institute suits in federal courts to enforce U.S. laws against job discrimination.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed in the aftermath of black-led demonstrations, especially in Selma, Alabama, against discriminatory practices in voter registration in the South. This was the most sweeping voting rights legislation of the century, even though there had been antecedents in the civil rights acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964. The Voting Rights Act of 1970, in addition to being a five-year extension of the 1965 act, included provision for the eighteen-year-old vote in all elections. Before the year was over, the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was invoked to test the constitutionality of the new minimum voting age provisions. Although the Court sustained them insofar as they pertained to federal elections, it held that the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause and enforcement clause did not authorize Congress to impose such a requirement in state and local elections. This necessitated the adoption of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which lowered the minimum voting age to eighteen in all elections.

Of the major civil rights problems confronting the country, housing was the last to be dealt with by Congress. It was not until 1968, shortly after the assassination of King, that Congress—in a new Civil Rights Act—prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of about 80 percent of the nation's housing, the major exceptions being owner-occupied dwellings with no more than four units and the sale or rental of private homes without the services of a real estate agent.

As the nation's largest minority, blacks have been in the vanguard of efforts to secure individual civil rights. However, the other large minority groups—Indians, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Asians—have been victims of the same types of discrimination. Unquestionably, the black revolution has had a salutary effect on the struggles of these minorities to actualize the civil rights guaranteed them by the Constitution. One example is the so-called Indian Civil Rights Act, a rider to the Civil Rights Act of 1968. In view of the anomalous position of the tribal governments of American Indians, the legislation was designed to ensure that tribal governments would be bound by the same limitations imposed by the Constitution on the federal and state governments.

Civil Liberties

The term "civil rights" has been associated with claims by racial minorities against racial discrimination. The term "civil liberties" refers to rights to political participation, particularly freedom of expression and in more recent years the right to privacy, held by every citizen. The scope of protection accorded civil liberties was relatively narrow until the 1960s, in part because the Supreme Court defined freedom of expression narrowly and in part because state infringements on civil liberties could not be challenged until the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment protected people against such infringements. By the late 1960s, however, the Court had developed a robust jurisprudence of civil liberties, insulating speech from punishment unless it threatened immediate social harm, guaranteeing citizens the right to conduct political demonstrations in public places, and protecting the right of privacy in connection with reproductive decisions. Later Court decisions refused to extend these protective doctrines significantly, but the Court's decisions had nurtured a culture of rights that placed political limits on what legislatures could do when addressing concerns that speech caused social harm.


Abraham, Henry J., and Barbara A. Perry. Freedom and the Court: Civil Rights and Liberties in the United States. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Garrow, David J. Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality. New York: Knopf, 1975.

To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President's Commission on Civil Rights. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Post Office, 1947.

Urofsky, Melvin I. A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Wilkinson, J. Harvie III. From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration, 1954–1978. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.



See alsoBill of Rights in U.S. Constitution ; Busing ; Civil Rights Act of 1866 ; Civil Rights Act of 1957 ; Civil Rights Act of 1964 ; Civil Rights Act of 1991 ; Civil Rights Movement ; Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 ; Equal Protection of the Law ; First Amendment .

Civil Rights

views updated May 21 2018

Civil Rights




The term civil rights refers to equal treatment for individuals under the law. Political scientists Morris Fiorina, Paul Peterson, D. Stephen Voss, and Bertram Johnson define civil rights as embody[ing] the American guarantee to equal treatment under the lawnot just for racial groups, as people often assume, but more generally (2007, p. 381). Civil rights are related to, but distinct from, civil liberties and human rights. In the American context, civil liberties are the freedoms granted to citizens in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These include, among other things, the freedoms of speech, peaceable assembly, and religion; protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, forced self-incrimination, and cruel and unusual punishment; and, for criminal suspects, the rights to a trial by jury and to representation by an attorney. These protections derive largely from the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments, all part of the Bill of Rights. Many other nations also grant both civil rights and civil liberties to their citizens through their constitutions or legislation.

Human rights are those rights that most scholars believe all human beings should have, regardless of which nation they live in. In 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that human rights include, among other things, rights to life, liberty, security, travel, property ownership, education, free thought and religion, work, rest, leisure, and an adequate standard of living. The declaration also prohibits governments from certain practices, including torture and arbitrary arrest and detention. Human rights, then, are conferred not by individual nations, but by virtue of being human. Human rights may also be more broadly defined to include some rights outside the reach of both civil rights and civil liberties.


Civil rights derive from the U.S. Constitution, specifically the Fourteenth Amendments equal protection clause, which states that government cannot deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. In practice, government often draws distinctions between individuals, and the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits some, but not all, of these distinctions. When governments can treat people differently is a question often resolved by the courts. Some distinctions, such as race, are automatically suspect; the courts apply strict scrutiny, where government must demonstrate a compelling state interest and show there is no other way to pursue that interest. This test is very difficult to meet. In 1978 the Supreme Court prohibited a strictly race-based quota system for admitting students to the medical school at the University of California at Davis. In 1995 the Court prohibited a program that awarded municipal contracts to minority-owned firms on the basis of race.

Other distinctions, such as gender, receive heightened scrutiny, which is somewhat less demanding. Still, the courts often overturn government actions that treat men and women differently. In 1976 the Supreme Court overturned an Oklahoma law that established a drinking age of twenty-one for men but eighteen for women. And in 1996 the Court prohibited the state-run Virginia Military Institutes policy of admitting only male students. Still other distinctions, such as age, are evaluated by the courts based on whether the government can show a rational basis for its action. For example, states seeking to place special restrictions on issuing drivers licenses to people over seventy-five years old must only show that the states actions are reasonably related to promoting a legitimate government purpose. In short, the answer to the question when can government treat individuals differently? depends on the basis for classifying people.


Civil rights are widely regarded as essential in democratic societies. The absence of civil rights would mean governments have few limits against enacting laws that enshrine unequal treatment by declaring some groups superior to others. American history provides many examples. The extreme racial segregation and discrimination against southern blacks between 1880 and 1965 resulted from the conviction among most southern whites that civil rights did not exist for blacks. Without civil rights, government could pass laws prohibiting blacks from holding certain kinds of jobs or requiring black and white schoolchildren to attend segregated schools, as many, mostly southern, states did before the Supreme Court prohibited segregated public schools in 1954. Without civil rights, government could not require that women be admitted to state-supported military academies, be allowed to practice the occupation of their choice, or even be allowed to hold checking accounts in their own name. Without civil rights, public buildings would not necessarily be accessible to the physically disabled, as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires. Without civil rights, governments would be free to declare same-sex sodomy (but not opposite-sex sodomy) illegalas Texas and several other states did before the Supreme Court overturned such laws in 2003. Without civil rights, governments could pass restrictive immigration laws targeting people of certain national origins, denying them entry.

Guarantees of civil rights, then, protect people based on race and ethnicity, but also other factors, including nationality, gender, disability status, and sexual orientation. The presence of civil rights protects citizens against discrimination by their government, and often, by private action. The absence of civil rights opens the door to group-based domination, discrimination, and oppression, and would raise serious doubts about any societys claim of upholding liberty and justice for all.

SEE ALSO Black Power; Citizenship; Civil Disobedience; Civil Liberties; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Constitution, U.S.; Disability; Due Process; Equal Protection; Human Rights; Public Rights; Sexual Orientation, Social and Economic Consequences


Fiorina, Morris P., Paul E. Peterson, D. Stephen Voss, and Bertram Johnson. 2007. Americas New Democracy. 3rd ed., 2006 election update. New York: Pearson Longman.

United Nations. 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

U.S. Supreme Court. 1954. Brown v. Board of Education.

U.S. Supreme Court. 1978. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

U.S. Supreme Court. 1995. Adarand Contractors v. Pena.

U.S. Supreme Court. 1996. United States v. Virginia.

U.S. Supreme Court. 2003. Lawrence et al. v. Texas.

Fred Slocum

Civil Rights

views updated May 21 2018

Civil Rights

Personal liberties that belong to an individual owing to his or her status as a citizen or resident of a particular country or community.

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White

In an important civil rights case addressing actionable conduct and plaintiff burden, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, No. 05-259, 548 U.S. ___ (2006), distinguished the scope and meaning of substantive discrimination from retaliatory discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under its anti-retaliatory provision, the Act prohibits discrimination against an employee or job applicant who has "opposed" a practice that Title VII forbids, or who has "made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in_" a Title VII proceeding or investigation. 42 USC 2000e-3(a). The Court found that the anti-retaliation provision under the Act does not confine the actions and harms it prohibits to those that are related to employment or that occur at the workplace. However, the provision covers only those employer actions that would have been materially adverse to a reasonable employee or applicant.

The Tennessee Yard of Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway (Burlington) maintained railroad track and cleared litter and cargo spillage from the track right-of-way in the area. In June 1997, Burlington's roadmaster, Marvin Brown, interviewed Sheila White and expressed interest in her previous experience operating forklifts. White was hired as a general track laborer, but when another worker assumed other job responsibilities, White was assigned to operate the forklift as her primary responsibility.

In September 1997, White complained to Burlington officials that her immediate supervisor, Bill Joiner, had repeatedly told her that women should not be working in her department. She also complained that Joiner had made insulting and inappropriate remarks to her in front of male coworkers. Burlington investigated the complaint and suspended Joiner for ten days. When roadmaster Brown advised White of the disciplinary action taken against her supervisor, he also advised that he was reassigning her from the forklift duties to standard track labor duties. He explained that the reassignment addressed coworkers' complaints that, in all fairness, a "more senior man" should have the less strenuous and cleaner job of forklift operaton.

By October, White had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming that the reassignment was in reality a gender-based discriminatory action as well as retaliation for her earlier complaint against her supervisor. In December, she filed a second EEOC complaint that Roadmaster Brown had placed her under surveillance and was monitoring all her activities. A few days after this, White and her immediate supervisor, Percy Sharkey, disagreed over which truck should transport White from one location to another. Later that afternoon, Sharkey informed Roadmaster Brown that White had been insubordinate. Brown immediately suspended her without pay. White filed an internal grievance, and management's responsive investigation showed that White had not been insubordinate. Burlington reinstated her and awarded her 37 days' backpay. White then filed her third EEOC charge based on this suspension.

After exhausting administrative remedies, White filed a Title VII action in federal court. She alleged unlawful retaliation under §2000e-3(a) on the part of Burlington officials by (1) changing her job duties, and (2) suspending her for 37 days without pay. The jury returned a verdict in her favor for both claims. Burlington appealed. A divided Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals initially found in favor of Burlington and reversed the judgment, but an en banc court voted to affirm the district court's judgment. Notwithstanding, they differed internally as to the proper standard to use. Other appellate circuits also had struggled (and came to different conclusions) in determining whether an allegedly discriminatory action had to be employment- or work-related, and in determining the degree of harmfulness that an action must reach to constitute a prohibited retaliatory action. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve this confusion.

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court. First, the high court noted that the language of the substantive discrimination and the anti-retaliation provisions differed to reflect their respective purposes. Explicit language (e.g., "hire," "discharge," "compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment," etc.) limited the substantive provision's scope to actions that affect employment or alter workplace conditions. No such limiting words are found in the anti-retaliatory provision. This reflects the fact that the substantive anti-discrimination provision seeks a workplace free of discrimination based on status, while the anti-retaliation provision seeks to prevent employers from interfering with an employee's efforts to secure the discrimination-free guarantees protected by Title VII. The Court presumes that, where words differ, Congress intended the difference. Therefore, concluded the Court, the anti-retaliatory provision does not confine prohibited harms and actions to only those related to employment or that occur at the workplace.

Next, the Court reviewed the differing standards of interpretation among the various circuit appellate courts as to the threshold of harmfulness needed for a challenged action to constitute a retaliatory one. The Court explained that the anti-retaliatory provision covers only those employer actions that would have been materially adverse to a reasonable employee or applicant. But what is the threshold for "materially adverse?" The Court referred to "material" adversity to distinguish significant from trivial harm. The Court referred to a "reasonable" employee or applicant to remind that the standard for judging harm is an objective, not subjective one.

Ultimately, the high court agreed with and accepted the standard used by the Seventh and District of Columbia Circuits. Those circuits require a plaintiff alleging retaliation to show that the challenged action "well might have 'dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination,'" (quoting from Rochon v. Gonzales, 438 F.3d 1211).

Applying the standard to the facts in White's case, the Court found sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict for White. A reassignment of duties can constitute retaliatory discrimination where both the former and the present job duties fall within the same job description. Since almost every job category involves at least some less desirable tasks or duties, this is presumably why the EEOC has consistently recognized retaliatory job reassignments as prohibited retaliation.

Burlington also argued that White's suspension was moot because she was made whole again, i.e., she was reinstated with backpay. But the Court rejected this, noting that Congress intended both compensatory and punitive damages as recoverable in order to make a wronged plaintiff "whole" again; otherwise, employers could avoid liability by simply responding in a manner similar to that used by Burlington.

All nine justices concurred in the judgment, but eight justices comprised the majority opinion. Justice Alito filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. However, he disagreed with the majority's interpretation of the anti-retaliatory provision as having no basis in the statutory language, potentially leading to "practical problems."

Domino's Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald

The federal civil rights law that governs racial discrimination in the making and enforcing of contracts, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1981, was enacted in 1866 and amended as recently as 1991. A person may sue for damages under the law. Section 2 of the statute defines "make and enforce contracts" to include the "making, performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship." In Domino's Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, ____U.S.___, 126 S.Ct. 1246, 163 L.Ed.2d 1069 (2006), the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that only a person who was party to a contract could sue under § 1981. A shareholder of a corporation did not have standing to sue for discriminatory acts allegedly committed against the corporation.

John W. McDonald, a black man, was the sole shareholder and president of JWM Investments, Inc. (JWM), a Nevada corporation. JWM and Domino's Pizza entered into contracts in which JWM would build four restaurants in the Las Vegas area and then lease them to Domino's. Problems occurred after JWM completed the first building. Debbie Pear, Domino's agent, refused to cooperate with bank financing paperwork for JWM and persuaded the local water district to change its records to reflect that Domino's owned the real estate that JWM had acquired for construction of the four restaurants. McDonald had this action rescinded but tensions increased. Pear told him he risked serious consequences if he didn't agree to end the contractual relationship. Pear allegedly told McDonald that "I don't like dealing with you people anyway." She refused to explain what she meant by "you people." The contracts remained uncompleted and JWM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy trustee pursued an action for breach of contract against Domino's but did not make a § 1981 claim alleging racial discrimination in the making and enforcing of JWM's contracts. Domino's settled with the trustee and paid $45,000; in turn, JWM gave Domino's a complete release against further claims. However, McDonald filed a § 1981 federal lawsuit against Domino's in his personal capacity while the bankruptcy proceedings were still active. He claimed that Domino's had broken the contracts with JWM because of racial animus against McDonald and that the contract breach had caused him severe financial and emotional injury. McDonald sought compensatory and punitive damages.

Domino's filed a motion with the court asking it to dismiss the case because McDonald was not a party to the contract. The district court agreed, noting that it is fundamental proposition that "a corporation is a separate legal entity from its stockholders and officers." Therefore, JWM would have had standing to file a § 1981 lawsuit but for its signed release of claims but McDonald, as sole shareholder and president, could not "step into the shoes of the corporation and assert that claim personally." The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court, relying on a circuit case that held when there are "injuries distinct from that of the corporation," a nonparty like McDonald may sue under § 1981. The court did acknowledge that other circuit courts of appeals did not agree with this holding. The Supreme Court agreed to hear Domino's appeal to resolve the issue.

The Supreme Court, in an 8-0 decision (newly confirmed Justice Samuel Alito did not participate in the case), reversed the Ninth Circuit decision. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Court, pointed out that § 1981 was enacted following the Civil War to give African Americans the right "to give and receive contractual rights on one's own behalf." A claim brought under § 1981 must identify a contractual relationship under which the plaintiff has rights. Moreover, the statute can apply even when no contractual relationship exists. If racial animus prevents the creation of a contractual relationship, a plaintiff would have the right to sue as long as the plaintiff would have rights under the proposed contract. On its face, § 1981 clearly required that the person suing must have rights under the contractual relationship. To ignore the plain meaning would turn § 1981 into a "strange remedial provision designed to fight racial animus in all of its noxious forms, but only if the animus and the hurt it produced were somehow connected to somebody's contract." Justice Scalia concluded that the Court had never read the statute in this "peculiarly bounded way."

Justice Scalia also looked to the 1991 congressional amendments to § 1981 for additional support. Congress overturned a Supreme Court ruling and reinstated the interpretation that applied the statute to postformation conduct, but it inserted the reference to a "contractual relationship" in the definition section. Scalia saw this as reinforcing the need for a plaintiff to have contractual rights to sue under § 1981. With these factors in tow, Justice Scalia concluded that McDonald did not have a contractual relationship with Domino's. The JWM corporation was a separate legal entity, a "person" recognized as such in civil law. Scalia noted that McDonald had benefited from this separate legal status-Domino's had made a claim in bankruptcy against JWM, not McDonald personally. McDonald's personal assets were protected even though he had negotiated and signed contracts for JWM. The Court refused to alter settle corporation and agency law to allow McDonald to proceed personally against Domino's.

Civil Rights

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Civil Rights

Personal liberties that belong to an individual owing to his or her status as a citizen or resident of a particular country or community.

Andrews v. City of West Branch Iowa

Law enforcement officers have the authority to kill animals such as dogs that are a menace to the public but they may be subject to civil liability if they act unreasonably in killing a pet. The federal civil rights tort law 42 U.S.C.A. §1983 gives individuals the right to sue a police officer for injuries caused by the officer's unconstitutional actions. Though most 1983 lawsuits involve injuries to the suing individual, in some cases the injuries may be related to the killing of a pet by a police officer. In these cases the plaintiff claims the killing was an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In Andrews v. City of West Branch, Iowa, 454 F.3d 914(8th cir.2006), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a police could be sued for the killing of a dog. The officer did not have immunity because his actions were unreasonable and did not conform to state law and local regulations.

The actions at the heart of the case unfolded on February 28, 2002 in West Branch, Iowa, when the city administrator received a phone call from a local resident complaining about a large black dog loose in the neighborhood that was harassing her dog. The administrator passed on the information to police chief Dan Knight, who drove to the neighborhood and tried to catch the dog. Though he saw the dog several times during his pursuit, the dog managed to elude him. Knight finally parked his car in the driveway of a home because he had seen a large black dog in the backyard of the home. As he approached the fenced backyard he fired two shots at the dog. He immediately realized he had shot the wrong dog—the owner of Riker, Jana Andrew, was standing outside just a few feet away from her dog. She had just let Riker out to go to the bathroom inside the fenced backyard. Knight, seeing that Riker was badly injured, fired a third shot to end his suffering. Riker had not been wearing his collar and tags when he was shot but he was current on his rabies and distemper booster vaccines. Knight had not given any warning before he shot and had not attempted to ask Andrews whether Riker had been running free prior to the shooting. Andrews and her husband responded by filing a 1983 lawsuit against Knight and the city that alleged the killing was an unreasonable search and seizure.

The federal district court dismissed the lawsuit against the city and dismissed the claims against Knight because he was entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a doctrine developed by the U.S. Supreme Court that protects police officers when the officers' actions were reasonable and the constitutional right supposedly violated was not clearly established under the law. The court concluded that Knight's actions were lawful under an Iowa statute dealing with dangerous animals. The Andrews then appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court decided, on a 2-1 vote, that the city was properly dismissed from the appeal but Knight was not entitled to qualified immunity. Judge Gerald Heaney, writing for the majority, first looked at whether Knight was authorized by state law or local regulation to shoot Riker. The city ordinance regulated dogs "running at large" but the plain meaning of that phrase meant that Riker, a fenced-in dog, was not at large. That meant that Knight did not have animal control jurisdiction over the dog at the time of the shooting. Knight argued that he was justified in shooting Riker because he was not wearing his rabies tag, which is a state law requirement. However, Judge Heaney pointed out that this statutory requirement did not apply if the local jurisdiction had regulations for the seizure and impoundment of dogs. West Branch did have such an ordinance, which stated that the discharge of a firearm at an animal was a last resort, so Knight's plain meaning argument was ineffective. The appeals court found that this seizure and impoundment policy "logically extended to a fenced-in, passive dog." Therefore, a reasonable jury could conclude that Knight's shooting of Riker was premature. He had not exhausted other means of dealing with the dog before he discharged his firearm.

As to the Andrewses' contention that Knight violated their Fourth Amendment rights by his unreasonable shooting and killing of Riker, Judge Heaney found ample evidence for this argument. To seize property a person must interfere with another person's possessory interest in that property. Knight clearly seized the dog, so the only remaining issue was whether his seizure was reasonable. The appeals court held that his seizure was unreasonable, for Knight could not claim that Riker posed an imminent danger to the public. Riker was "not on the loose, growling, acting fiercely, or harassing anyone at the time Knight killed him." Knight knew that state law and local regulations required him to use all means of capturing an at-large dog before resorting to killing the animal. Knight could not claim qualified immunity because at the time he shot Riker he knew he was violating the Andrewses' clearly established right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Judge Dianna Murphy dissented, believing Knight was entitled to qualified immunity.

Wallace v. Kato

The federal rights statute 42 U.S.C.A. §1983 is recognized as one of the most important civil rights law, allowing a person to sue state and local government officials for damages and equitable relief based on the alleged deprivations by the officials of the plaintiff's constitutional rights. Though §1983 is a federal law, in some areas state law may have a bearing on the case. This is particularly true in terms of statutes of limitation, which govern the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a civil rights lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that all §1983 actions are to be classified for statute of limita-tions purposes as actions to recover damages for injury to the person, and the appropriate state statute of limitations for such claims are to be applied. However, the Court, in Wallace v. Kato, __U.S.__, 127 S.Ct. 1091, __L.Ed.2d __ (2007), ruled that the accrual date, i.e., the date the clock starts ticking to file the lawsuit, is a question of federal law that is not resolved by reference to state law. It further held that the accrual date begins when the plaintiff becomes detained pursuant to legal process, making it more difficult to pursue a §1983 action.

Andre Wallace, a fifteen-year-old Chicago resident, was picked up by the Chicago police in January 1994 in connection with the murder of a man. After a lengthy interrogation at the police station Wallace confessed to the murder. He signed a statement prepared by an assistant state's attorney and waived his Miranda rights. Before trial Wallace sought to suppress his confession, arguing that it was the product of an unlawful arrest. The judge rejected the suppression motion and Wallace was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison. The Appellate Court of Illinois overturned his conviction, ruling that the police officers had arrested Wallace without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Another round of appeals ensued but in August 2001 the appeals court reaffirmed its ruling and remanded the case for a new trial. In April 2002 the prosecutors dropped all charges against Wallace.

In April 2003 Wallace filed a §1983 lawsuit against the city of Chicago and several police officers, seeking damages for his unlawful arrest. The federal district court dismissed the lawsuit and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the action was barred by the statutes of limitations (two years in Illinois) because the accrual date began at the time of his arrest in 1994 and not when his conviction was set aside in 2002. If the court had measured the time period from the dismissal of Wallace's case the lawsuit would have been timely. Wallace then appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court, in a 7-2 decision, upheld the Seventh Circuit ruling. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, stated that the accrual date of a §1983 action is a question of federal law that is not resolved by reference to state law. The Court is guided by federal rules that conform "in general to common-law principles." It was clear to Scalia that Wallace could have filed his lawsuit "as soon as the allegedly wrongful arrest occurred, subjecting him to the harm of involuntary detention, so the statute of limitations would normally commence to run from that date." However, the tort of false imprisonment, which was Wallace's essential claim, gave the Court more direction. Under the tort of false imprisonment Wallace could only sue for the period he was detained "without legal process." Acknowledging the reality that a victim may not be able to sue while still imprisoned, Scalia sought to pinpoint the beginning of the limitations period. The crucial inquiry was when Wallace's false imprisonment ended. Scalia concluded that Wallace's false imprisonment ended when he was arraigned on the murder charge before a state court judge and bound over for trial. That occurred in 1994, which meant that Wallace's filing was seven years too late.

Wallace argued that the false arrest and imprisonment led to his coerced confession, conviction, and incarceration. Therefore, the accrual date for his lawsuit began the date he was released from custody in 2002, a full year under the two-year statute of limitations. Justice Scalia rejected this claim, finding that neither Court precedent nor state law authorized the tolling (suspension) of the statute of limitations until the conviction was set aside.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, argued that the Court should have applied the doctrine of "equitable tolling," which "tolls the running of the limitations period until the disabling circumstance[in this case, Wallace's incarceration] can be overcome." He believed that equitable tolling would remove the need for an individual to immediately file a §1983 lawsuit. It would permit "the criminal proceedings to winnow the constitutional wheat from chaff, and thereby increase the likelihood that the constitutionally meritless claims will never (in a §1983 action) see the light of day.

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