Civil Rights Movement

civil rights

civil rights, rights that a nation's inhabitants enjoy by law. The term is broader than "political rights," which refer only to rights devolving from the franchise and are held usually only by a citizen, and unlike "natural rights," civil rights have a legal as well as a philosophical basis. In the United States civil rights are usually thought of in terms of the specific rights guaranteed in the Constitution: freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press, and the rights to due process of law and to equal protection under the law.

Civil Rights in the United States

Since the Civil War, much of the concern over civil rights in the United States has focused on efforts to extend these rights fully to African Americans. The first legislative attempts to assure African Americans an equal political and legal status were the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, 1871, and 1875. Those acts bestowed upon African Americans such freedoms as the right to sue and be sued, to give evidence, and to hold real and personal property. The 1866 act was of dubious constitutionality and was reenacted in 1870 only after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. The fourth Civil Rights Act attempted to guarantee to the African Americans those social rights that were still withheld. It penalized innkeepers, proprietors of public establishments, and owners of public conveyances for discriminating against African Americans in accommodations, but was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1883 on the ground that these were not properly civil rights and hence not a field for federal legislation.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1875 there was no more federal legislation in this field until the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, although several states passed their own civil-rights laws. The 20th-century struggle to expand civil rights for African Americans involved the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and others. The civil-rights movement, led especially by Martin Luther King, Jr., in the late 1950s and 60s, and the executive leadership provided by President Lyndon B. Johnson, encouraged the passage of the most comprehensive civil-rights legislation to date, the Civil Rights Act of 1964; it prohibited discrimination for reason of color, race, religion, or national origin in places of public accommodation covered by interstate commerce, i.e., restaurants, hotels, motels, and theaters. Besides dealing with the desegregation of public schools, the act, in Title VII, forbade discrimination in employment. Title VII also prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex.

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, which placed federal observers at polls to ensure equal voting rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 dealt with housing and real estate discrimination. In addition to congressional action on civil rights, there was action by other branches of the government. The most notable of these were the Supreme Court decisions in 1954 and 1955 declaring racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional and the court's rulings in 1955 banning segregation in publicly financed parks, playgrounds, and golf courses (see Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans.).

In the 1960s women began to organize around the issue of their civil rights (see feminism). The federal Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, and by the early 1970s over 40 states had passed equal pay laws. In 1972 the Senate passed an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) intended to prohibit all discrimination based on sex, but after failing to win ratification in a sufficient number of states, the ERA was abandoned. Since the 1970s a number of gay-rights groups have worked, mainly on the local and state levels, for legislation that prevents discrimination in housing and employment (see gay-rights movement). In a further extension of civil-rights protection, the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) barred discrimination against disabled persons in employment and provided for improved access to public facilities.

Bibliography

See W. E. Nelson, The Fourteenth Amendment (1988); R. Berger, The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights (1989); L. W. Levy, Civil Rights (1989); T. Branch, Pillar of Fire (1997); F. M. Wirt, We Ain't What We Was (1997); A. Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890–2000 (2001); D. McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001); C. Polsgrove, Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement (2001); C. Carter et al., ed., Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1973 (2 vol., 2003); J. Rosenberg and Z. Karabell, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes (2003); J. Carrier, Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement (2004); N. Kotz, Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed America (2005); T. Branch, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965–68 (2006); L. F. Litwack, How Free Is Free? The Long Death of Jim Crow (2009).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Civil Rights Movement
Peter B. Levy.
Greenwood Press, 1998
Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement
Robert Weisbrot.
W. W. Norton, 1990
Let Freedom Ring: A Documentary History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement
Peter B. Levy.
Praeger, 1992
Student's Guide to Landmark Congressional Laws on Civil Rights
Marcus D. Pohlmann; Linda Vallar Whisenhunt.
Greenwood Press, 2002
From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality
Michael J. Klarman.
Oxford University Press, 2004
The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Passage of the Law That Ended Racial Segregation
Robert D. Loevy; Hubert H. Humphrey; Joseph L. Rauh Jr.; John G. Stewart.
State University of New York Press, 1997
Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936-1961
Mark V. Tushnet.
Oxford University Press, 1994
American Civil Rights Policy from Truman to Clinton: The Role of Presidential Leadership
Steven A. Shull.
M. E. Sharpe, 2000
Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks
Michael R. Gardner.
Southern Illinois University Press, 2002
Fog of War: The Second World War and the Civil Rights Movement
Kevin M. Kruse; Stephen Tuck.
Oxford University Press, 2012
I Am a Man! Race, Manhood, and the Civil Rights Movement
Steve Estes.
University of North Carolina Press, 2005
Northern Protest: Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement
James R. Ralph Jr.
Harvard University Press, 1993
But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle
Glenn T. Eskew.
University of North Carolina Press, 1997
How Long? How Long?: African American Women and the Struggle for Civil Rights
Belinda Robnett.
Oxford University Press, 1999
In a Madhouse's Din: Civil Rights Coverage by Mississippi's Daily Press, 1948-1968
Susan Weill.
Praeger, 2002
Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement
Daniel Levine.
Rutgers University Press, 2000
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