In 1776 Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
These ideals, the touchstone of American freedom and political democracy, have proved difficult to practice consistently. Before the Civil War, the generally accepted status of black Americans was that of slaves, a fundamentally inferior kind of human being. Women, too, were regarded as intellectually inferior to men and denied the right to vote. In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Samford established the inferiority of blacks to whites in legal precedent.
After the abolition of slavery, laws were passed whose effect was to keep the majority of blacks in a permanent lower-caste status. In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson called for "separate but equal" facilities, opening the floodgates to government-sanctioned segregation.
Gradually during the 1950s and 1960s our nation attempted to repudiate this past. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas was decided in 1956; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting