Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations

By Nina Mjagkij | Go to book overview

K

Kansas Commission on Civil Rights

See Kansas Human Rights Commission.


Kansas Human Rights Commission

The Kansas Human Rights Commission is a seven-member state agency empowered to investigate complaints of race, age, sex, religious, and disability discrimination and retaliation in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Providing impartial assistance to help mediate disputes is one of the commissions responsibilities. In addition, the commission has enforcement powers to prosecute violations of civil and human rights laws through public hearings. It also provides services to help educate Kansas citizens about state and federal harassment and discrimination laws.

The Kansas Human Rights Commission originated with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1940s, the Kansas Clearing House on Civil Rights began to press the State Legislature to end racial discrimination in Kansas businesses and labor unions. In 1949, lawmakers began to study the question, and in April 1953 Kansas became the twelfth state in the nation to enact fair-employment legislation when legislators passed a bill establishing the Kansas Anti-Discrimination Commission. The commission was a compromise between conservatives and civil rights advocates and had the power to investigate but not prosecute civil rights violations. Commission members noted this in their annual reports and insisted that, to be effective, they needed the ability to enforce Kansas civil rights laws.

By 1959, the commission's educational programs had made little difference, and Chairman Charles Arthur's 1960 study of other civil rights bodies across the nation strongly recommended that enforceable legislation in Kansas was the only way to eliminate prejudicial policies in the workplace. In 1961, legislators renamed the agency the Kansas Commission on Civil Rights and authorized it to enforce state laws prohibiting discriminatory employment practices based upon race, religion, or national origin. Although the commission now had enforcement powers, it could not initiate complaints of discrimination, and the statute of limitations for citizens to file a grievance was six months. Therefore, the commission had to rely on outside assistance, and this came from the Kansas Advisory Council on Civil Rights. Founded in 1962, the advisory council was a grassroots association that organized public support for the commissions activities and helped guide victims of discrimination through the system.

The commissions responsibilities have continued to increase throughout the ensuing decades. In 1963, the Legislature extended the commission's jurisdiction to investigate discrimination in restaurants, hotels, and other public accommodations. Legislators broadened this in 1965 and 1970 to include any business offering goods, facilities, accommodations, and personal services to the public. In 1967, the commission gained subpoena power and the authority to initiate complaints of discrimination. Its mission expanded again in 1970 to inquire into allegations of housing discrimination.

In the post-civil rights decades of the 1970s and 1980s, the commission broadened its scope to include complaints of physical and mental disability, gender, and age discrimination. In 1991, the Kansas Commission on Civil Rights reflected this growth when it became the Kansas Human Rights Commission. The commission remains an active force in Kansas and continues its mission

Kansas Human Rights Commission

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