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1877 - 1965: THE STRUGGLE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

Despite earlier successes, discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws and the Supreme Court’s reinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment undermined many of the rights African Americans gained during the Civil War and Reconstruction. By the 1950s and 1960s, however, growing protests brought civil rights to the forefront of American society and Congress passed important legislation to address inequalities.

Early 1900s: Introduction of Anti-Lynching Bills

In the early 1900s, more than 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress. The House of Representatives passed three such bills, but southern opposition in the Senate blocked such measures. In 2005, the Senate approved a resolution apologizing for its failure to act on such legislation which could have protected many African Americans from a terrible fate.

Rising Violence against African Americans, 1917

Rising Violence against African Americans, 1917

A Man Was Lynched Yesterday, 1936

A Man Was Lynched Yesterday, 1936

1957: The Commission on Civil Rights

Congress created the United States Commission on Civil Rights as an independent advisory commission to investigate and report abuses or denials of civil rights. The commission’s reports shaped legislation enforcing desegregation, voting rights and equal employment.

Civil Rights Commission, July 23, 1958

Civil Rights Commission, July 23, 1958

July 2, 1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

This act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, outlawed discrimination or segregation in public places, enforced school desegregation and prohibited employment discrimination. It was the most comprehensive civil rights legislation passed by Congress since Reconstruction. Senators Hubert Humphrey, Mike Mansfield, Everett Dirksen and Thomas Kuchel, as well as Representatives Emanuel Celler and William M. McCullough were among the lawmakers who supported the passage of the bill.

School Desegregation

School Desegregation

August 6, 1965: March Leads to Voting Rights Act

On March 25, 1965, Martin Luther King addressed civil rights activists in Montgomery, Alabama, who had endured violent resistance and long days of walking on a 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama. They had marched, in part, to protest the blockage of legal voting rights for African Americans in the South. The march prompted President Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that outlawed any action interfering with a citizen’s right to vote.

March Leads to Voting Rights Act

March Leads to Voting Rights Act