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UNIT 3: PROTECTIONS OF AND FROM GOVERNMENT U.S.

GOVERNMENT | Peterson

Chapter 6 Civil Rights
African Americans and the Consequences of Slavery in the United States
Before 1863, the Constitution protected slavery. In Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), the Supreme Court
provided its support for the institution of slavery and ruled that slaves were not citizens nor entitled to
the rights and privileges of citizenship. President Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the
passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution ended
constitutional support for inequality. The Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery. The Fourteenth
Amendment stated, among other things, that no state could deny any person equal protection of the
laws. The Fifteenth Amendment stated that the right to vote could not be abridged because of race.
Although these are considered routine protections today, at the time these ideas were revolutionary.
From 1865-1875, the Republican-controlled Congress passed several civil rights acts. The Supreme Court
ruled these acts unconstitutional, concluding that the Constitution prohibited only state discrimination,
not the discriminatory acts of individuals. One of the most significant of the Courts decisions was Plessy
v. Ferguson (1896), in which the doctrine of separate but equal was given constitutional approval.
Separate but equal was an oxymoronic device in which states would require separate facilities and
opportunities for the different races while maintaining the facade of equality. The states also found
ways to prevent African-Americans from exercising their newly-granted right to vote. When federal
troops that occupied the South were withdrawn in 1877, these states imposed any number of devices
intended to restrict the right to vote, including the grandfather clause, poll taxes, and literacy tests. The
white primary was finally ruled unconstitutional in the 1944 case of Smith v. Allwright.
The end to the separate but equal doctrine and racial segregation began in the 1930s with a series of
lawsuits designed to admit African-Americans to graduate and professional schools. These lawsuits
culminated in the unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954,
which ruled that public school segregation of the races violates the equal protection clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. The Court concluded that separate is inherently unequal. In reaction to this
decision, state governments sought loopholes in the decision and society witnessed a tremendous
increase in private, often religion-based schools.
The Civil Rights Movement
The Brown decision was a moral victory, but did little to change the underlying structure of segregation.
In 1955, an African-American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a
white man. She was arrested and fined. Thus began the civil rights protests that would eventually end
racial segregation. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, organized a yearlong boycott of the
Montgomery, Alabama bus line, the success of which propelled King to national leadership of the civil
rights movement. The culmination of the movement came in 1963, when Dr. King, with the intent to
spark support for civil rights legislation, led a march on Washington D.C. and gave his famous I have a
dream speech.
The Climax of the Civil Rights Movement
In passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress created the most far-reaching bill on civil rights in
modern times. This legislation targeted discrimination in the areas of public accommodations such as
hotels and restaurants. This was followed the next year by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which
eliminated discriminatory voter-registration laws and authorized federal officials to register voters,
primarily in the South. Subsequent amendments to the Voting Rights Act granted protections, such as
bilingual ballots, to other minorities. Although there is increased voting participation among all
UNIT 3: PROTECTIONS OF AND FROM GOVERNMENT U.S. GOVERNMENT | Peterson

minorities, there are lingering social and economic disparities. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned
discrimination in housing.
Womens Struggle for Equal Rights
Women first became involved politically in the movement to abolish slavery. From this effort, Lucretia
Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the first womens rights convention in 1848. The 1870
campaign to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment giving voting rights to African-American men split the
womens suffrage movement. However, women successfully campaigned for passage of the Nineteenth
Amendment which enfranchised women and was ratified in 1920.
Gender-Based Discrimination in the Workplace
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited gender discrimination in employment, including sexual
harassment. In 1991, it became apparent that these laws were not being vigorously enforced when
Anita Hill charged Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment. The publicity from
this encounter resulted in a heightened awareness of the issue and an increasing number of cases
dealing with sexual harassment. Another important issue for women in the workplace has been wage
discrimination. Although the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was designed to provide for equal pay, a woman
earns about seventy-eight cents for every dollar earned by a man. Some of the key reasons for this are
the low pay for jobs traditionally held by women, such as child care, and the corporate glass ceiling
that prevents women from reaching the highest executive positions in business.
Immigration, Hispanics and Civil Rights
Today, immigration rates are the highest they have been since their peak in the early twentieth century.
Since 1977, more than eighty percent of immigrants have come from Latin America or Asia. In recent
years the nation has become focused on the question of illegal immigration and what should be done
about it. Lawmakers are dramatically split over the issue of how to treat those in the country illegally,
with some calling for amnesty, others creating a schedule by which they could become citizens and still
other lawmakers demanding that they be returned to their home countries. Another issue concerns the
education of those who are in this country with little or no English skills. Both Congress and the
Supreme Court in the past have supported the rights of those who require bilingual education. In recent
years, however, resentment and resistance has grown over the issue of bilingual education, as
demonstrated by California passing a ballot initiative that would end bilingual education in the state.
The Rights and Status of Juveniles
Children have generally not been accorded the same legal protection as adults, based on the assumption
that parents will provide for and protect their children. The Supreme Court has slowly expanded the
rights of children in a wide range of situations. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, ratified in 1971, granted
the right to vote to citizens who are eighteen years old. The fact that eighteen years olds could be
drafted and sent to fight and possibly die in Vietnam was a key factor in lowering the voting age. In civil
and criminal cases, the age of majority, the right to manage ones own affairs and have full enjoyment of
civil rights, varies from eighteen to twenty-one years, depending on the state. In criminal cases, the
assumption of common law is that children from seven to fourteen years cannot commit a crime
because they are not mature enough to understand what they are doing. In the past decade a number
of high-profile crimes committed by children have caused some state officials to consider lowering the
age at which a juvenile may be tried as an adult and faced with adult penalties, including the death
penalty.