Civil Rights Act

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					      Civil rights are freedoms and rights guaranteed to a member of a community,

state, or nation. Freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and of fair and equal

treatment are the basic civil rights. The constitution of the United States contains a

Bill of Rights that describes simple liberties and rights insured to every person in

the United States. Although the Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the

Constitution, civil rights were not always respected to all human beings, especially

women and blacks. When the constitution was first written, many Americans

understood the meaning of the famous inscripture «all men are created equal» to

mean that all white males were created equal, likewise with other civil rights

guarantees as well. As a result, blacks were enslaved, and women were persecuted

throughout the late 1700's and early 1800's.

      During the 1850's abolitionists in the North questioned the morality of

southern slavery by writing and preaching about the rights blacks were denied.

Abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Fredrick Douglass, and Sojourner

Truth, paved the way for the first civil rights movement that occurred after the Civil

War, during Reconstruction. In the 1950's and early 1960's, whites in the South

lived in segregated societies, separating themselves from blacks in every humanly

way possible. The old Jim Crow laws governed all aspects of their existence, from

the schoolroom to the restroom. Southern blacks faced new discrimination every
day whether it be economically, socially, or politically. America was destined for

another, more far-reaching civil rights movement. The civil rights movement during

the late 1800's and early 1900's provided the foundations for the current civil rights

laws achieved throughout the 1960's.


      Black Americans made significant gains in their struggle for equal rights

during Reconstruction, the 12-year period after the Civil War. In 1868, after

southern president Andrew Johnson vetoed a Civil Rights bill, the radically

republican influenced congress transported the principals of the Civil Rights bill to

the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment conferred civil rights and citizenship

for all former slaves, and was incorporated into the requirements for a southern

state to regain its statehood. After the 14th Amendment was passed; however, the

radical faction of congress was disappointed that it did not grant blacks the right to

vote. When this fear that southern states might amend their constitutions so as to

withdraw blacks from the ballot was recognized by moderate republicans, Congress

formally placed the ballot in the hands of blacks with the 15th Amendment, passed

in 1869. With the passing of breakthrough legislation, several leaders emerged to

lead this new civil rights movement. Ex-slave Booker T. Washington put his

newly acquired freedom to use when he started a black industrial school at

Tuskegee, Alabama. He taught his students useful trades so they could eventually
gain economic equality. However, Washington stopped short of promoting social

equality. In a famous speech in Atlanta, Washington hinted to his belief in

gradualism: «In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the

fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.» W.E.B Du

Bois, founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

(NAACP), was just the opposite of Washington. Du Bois demanded complete

equality for blacks, economic as well as social. He believed in the immediate

integration of blacks into mainstream American life, regardless of the

consequences. In the mist of the progress for the black race, women suffrage arose

to try to win the ballot just recently won by blacks. Led by Carrie Chapman Catt,

women suffragists formed the National American Women’s Suffrage Association

(NAWSA) in 1890. Suffragists under Catt threatened to discharge their traditional

duties as homemakers and mothers in the increasingly public world of the city.

Ironically with all the women’s suffrage bickering, women did not receive the

ballot until 1920 by the 19th Amendment. The civil rights movement of the late

1800's and early 1900's succeeded in «breaking the ice» for blacks and also in

leading the way to women’s triumph in 1920. However, this civil rights movement

did not accomplish its goals to the fullest due to the lack of government

enforcement. After the Reconstruction congress passed unprecedented legislation

involving black civil rights, the supreme court failed to enforce the legislation in
the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of «separate but equal» in 1896. In the South, the

Jim Crow laws emerged, segregating blacks in public places, including hotels and

restaurants. In elections, southern states used poll taxes, literacy tests, and other

means to deprive blacks of their voting rights.

      Now that the foundation was built, the ice was broken, the scene was ready

for the subsequent civil rights movement in the 1960's. The civil rights movement

of the 1960's occurred when the modern, civilized world clashed with the

traditional southern world that southern Americans were clinging to. Americans

inside and outside of Washington were realizing the damaging effects of

segregation, and along with frustrated blacks, the civil rights revolution was born.

Chief Justice Earl Warren, appointed to the bench by Eisenhower, surprised even

the president himself with his populist principles, he helped to ignite the civil

rights fire. The unanimous decision of the Warren led court in Brown v. Board of

Education of Topeka, Kansas, in May 1954 was unprecedented. The justices rule

of «the segregation in the public schools was inherently unequal and thus

unconstitutional» was a slap in the face to traditionalists. The Plessy v. Ferguson

ruling that segregating southerners lived by was now dead. The justices now

insisted that desegregation must go ahead with «all deliberate speed.» Following

up the breakthrough court decision, came the Civil Rights Acts, the first passed

since Reconstruction. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 established the Commission
on Civil Rights to investigate charges of denied civil rights. It also created the

Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice to enforce federal civil rights

laws and regulations. The Civil Rights Act of 1960 provided for the appointment of

referees to help blacks register to vote, likewise the Voting Rights Act of 1965

outlawed literacy test in many southern states. In 1964, a Civil Rights Act was

passed that ordered restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that serve the general

public to serve all people without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.

It also barred discrimination by employers and unions, and established the Equal

Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce fair employment practices. In

addition, the act provided for a cutoff of federal funds from any program or activity

that allowed racial discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed in the

Kennedy/Johnson era, was by far the climax of the civil rights movement. With

this act, Jim Crow laws in any shape or form, by any person or business, were now

illegal. Completing the civil rights legislation passed in the 60's was the Civil

Rights Act of 1968. It aimed chiefly at ending discrimination in the sale or rental

of housing. One December day, in 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to give up her

seat in a «whites only» section of a public bus, leading to her arrest. Outraged

blacks all over America, led by the 27 year old Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.,

boycotted Montgomery buses all over America. In 1957, King also formed the

Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in order to mobilize the vast
power of the black churches on behalf of black rights. By organizing peaceful

protests and giving motivating speeches, King truly was the most effective leader of

the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960's.

      The civil rights movement of the late 1800's and early 1900's was a

significant time period for blacks and women, but it cannot compare with the

progress made for the black race during the civil rights movement of the 1960's.

During Reconstruction, favorable legislation was passed for blacks, but the turn of

the century brought back the old ways of the government before the war, with

discriminating actions such as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Jim Crow Laws, and the

ignorance of black voting rights. The legislation passed in the 1960's included the

overturn of the hated Plessy v. Ferguson case, and laws outlining the complete

integration of blacks with the rest of society with laws such as the Civil Rights Act

of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Leaders of the civil rights movement

of the late 1800's and early 1900's were not as involved, motivated, or as organized

as the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960's. While Booker T.

Washington was successful in helping blacks catapult themselves into contention

with whites economically, he lacked the desire to lead blacks to social equality.

W.E.B. Du Bois did attempt to lead blacks into social equality, but he lacked

adequate support from the black majority. Civil rights leaders of the 1960's, eg.

Martin Luther King Jr., gathered large numbers of supporters during speeches,
encouraging active participation in protests for the social, economical, and political

equality for blacks.

      Through the work of the abolitionists before the war, civil rights water

sheds were established during Reconstruction. These achievements were

significant, but short lived. However, during the post war 1960's, with all the new

technology being introduced, Americans also looked to modernize their opinions

and perspectives. The goals achieved in black rights in the 1960's could not have

been reached without the foundation established the late 1800's and early 1900's

provided. An opposing view suggests that the Civil Rights Revolution of the 60's

led to reverse discrimination that some whites complain about today.

				
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