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THEME: ROAD TO FREEDOM AND EQUALITY

Divisions over slavery precipitated the Civil War, and immediately following the war Congress passed legislation to provide African Americans with essential rights of citizenship. However, following the end of Reconstruction and the retrenchment of federal troops in 1877, state laws and federal action undermined those rights. It would take more than a century to end the legal oppression of African Americans. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s targeted continuing racial discrimination and prompted Congress to pass legislation to guarantee rights to all Americans.

April 16, 1862: Slavery Abolished in the District of Columbia

The D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862, abolished slavery in the District of Columbia. The act freed approximately 3,000 slaves and obligated the federal government to compensate their owners. This act and the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on January 1, 1863, were two important steps in the long road toward full emancipation for African Americans.

Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia, April 19, 1866

Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia, April 19, 1866

D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act, April 16, 1862

D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act, April 16, 1862

March 3, 1865: The Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman's Bank

Congress created The Freedmen’s Bureau to provide food, clothing, medicine, education, employment opportunities and legal services to former slaves and impoverished southerners. One significant component of the Bureau was the Freedman’s Bank, which helped some 70,000 African Americans build their savings and investments. Sadly, it failed in 1873 due to mismanagement and an economic downturn.

The Freedmen’s Bureau

The Freedmen’s Bureau

Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company

Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company

December 6, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States and in any place subject to its jurisdiction, and gave Congress the power to enforce it. The amendment passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, and the House on January 31, 1865. It then went before the state legislatures for ratification. Georgia’s ratification on December 6, 1865, brought the total number of state ratifications to 27, the minimum number required to amend the Constitution.

Ceremonial Copy of the Thirteenth Amendment, 1864-1865

Ceremonial Copy of the Thirteenth Amendment, 1864-1865

April 1866: Civil Rights Act of 1866

The Civil Rights Bill granted citizenship and civil rights to all male persons in the United States “without distinction of race and color.” The bill, introduced by Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull, tried to offer protection against state laws like the “Black Codes” that limited rights for African Americans in some southern states. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode the veto – the first major piece of legislation enacted over a presidential veto.

"Civil Rights Bill Passes, 1866"

July 9, 1868: The Fourteenth Amendment

Congress sent the Fourteenth Amendment to the states on June 13, 1866. It took more than two years for the necessary three fourths of the states to ratify this amendment to the Constitution. The amendment states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are both national and state citizens. Most importantly, it prohibited states from depriving any person of life, liberty or property without legal due process or from denying them “equal protection of the laws."

Fourteenth Amendment, Passed June 13, 1866

Fourteenth Amendment, Passed June 13, 1866

February 3, 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment

The Fifteenth Amendment, passed by Congress and then ratified by the states on February 3, 1870, granted all male citizens, regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude,” the right to vote. Some southern states used literacy tests, poll taxes or outright violence and intimidation to deprive African Americans of this right.

"The First Vote, November 16, 1867"

February 25, 1870: Hiram Revels

A hearty round of applause greeted Mississippi Senator-elect Hiram Revels as he entered the Senate Chamber to take his oath of office and become the first African American in Congress. A former teacher, Revels served on the Committee on Education and Labor and was an advocate for the education of former slaves.

Senator Hiram Revels

Senator Hiram Revels

December 12, 1870: Joseph Rainey

South Carolina Representative Joseph Rainey was the first African American elected to the House of Representatives. During Reconstruction, 14 African Americans served in the House and two in the Senate. Eight of these men had been born into slavery, while six were born free. After 1901, however, because of Jim Crow laws in the South that disenfranchised blacks, no African Americans sat in either house of Congress for nearly three decades.

"The First Colored Senator and Representatives," 1872

March 1875: The Civil Rights Act of 1875

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 protected the rights of all Americans, regardless of race, to use public facilities including restaurants, theaters and trains. Its great failure was that it failed to provide equal access to education. The act was not enforced and major portions of it were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883. The next federal bill to protect civil rights would not be passed until 1957.

"The Shackle Broken – By the Genius of Freedom, 1874"

Charles Sumner Mortuary Token, 1874

Charles Sumner Mortuary Token, 1874

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