Civil Rights Movement

To live freely and participate in society is a right many take for granted. Acquiring and maintaining civil rights have been a struggle for different groups throughout U.S. history. Civil rights are personal rights guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal laws enacted by Congress. These personal rights and laws include protection from unlawful discrimination.

In the 1883 landmark civil rights cases, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress did not have the power to prohibit discrimination in the private sector. This ruling stripped the Civil Rights Act of 1875 of much of its ability to protect civil rights. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the legal justification for voiding the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was part of a larger trend by members of the Supreme Court to invalidate most government regulations of the private sector. An exception was made for laws and regulations designed to protect public morality. 

In the 1930s, during the New Deal, most of the Supreme Court justices shifted their legal theory to allow for greater government regulation of the private sector under the commerce clause. This change paved the way for the federal government to enact civil rights laws prohibiting both public and private sector discrimination based on the commerce clause. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the nation’s premier civil rights legislation. It outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; required equal access to employment and public places; and enforced school desegregation and the right to vote. The law did not end discrimination, but it did open the door to further progress.

Although the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments outlawed slavery, provided for equal protection under the law, guaranteed citizenship and protected the right to vote, individual states continued to allow unfair treatment of minorities and passed Jim Crow laws allowing segregation of public facilities. These were upheld by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1895), which found state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities that were “separate but equal” to be constitutional. This finding helped continue legalized discrimination well into the 20th century.

Following World War II, pressures to recognize, challenge and change inequalities for minorities grew. One of the most notable challenges to the status quo was the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which questioned the notion of “separate but equal” in public education. The Supreme Court found that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and they violate the 14th Amendment. This decision polarized Americans, fostered debate and served as a catalyst to encourage federal action to protect civil rights. [Sources: nps.gov, en.wikipedia.org, and hhs.gov.]

Legacy Stories from the Americans All Heritage Honor Roll

We are pleased to host and share these legacy stories created by honorees’ family, friends and associates. They, like us, appreciate that heritage and culture are an integral part of our nation's social fabric and want to help students participate effectively in our nation's economy, workforce and democracy.

Language
State
Last Name of Individual
First Name of Individual
Group name

Jim Crow Laws: Oregon and Pennsylvania (c.1877 - c.1967) Code, Colored, Constitution, Descendant, Felony, Intermarriage, Legislature, Mulatto, Negro, Nurse, Ordinance, Penal Code, Public Transportation, Railroads, Schools, Segregation, Separate But Equal, Slavery, Statute, Supreme Court, Voting, Waiting Rooms

From the 1880s into the 1960s, most American states enforced segregation through "Jim Crow" laws. From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.

Jim Crow Laws: Rhode Island, South Carolina and South Dakota (c.1887 - c.1967) Code, Colored, Constitution, Descendant, Felony, Intermarriage, Legislature, Mulatto, Negro, Nurse, Ordinance, Penal Code, Public Transportation, Railroads, Schools, Segregation, Separate But Equal, Slavery, Statute, Supreme Court, Voting, Waiting Rooms

From the 1880s into the 1960s, most American states enforced segregation through "Jim Crow" laws. From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.

Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement: Background and Major Events Maryland (c.1600 - December 31, 2014) American History, Assassination, Boycott, Constitutional Amendments, Desegregation, Discrimination, Education, Equality, Freedom Marches, Jim Crow, Lunch Counter Protests, Plessy, Public Laws, Riots, Segregation, Slavery, Voting Rights, Women's Rights

To live freely and participate in society is a right many take for granted. Throughout U.S. history, acquiring and maintaining civil rights has been a struggle for different groups—especially Native Americans and African Americans. The Europeans who set up trade and settlements in the Americas, beginning with Columbus’ 1492voyage, saw slaves as an indispensable source of labor. African slavery was already part of the social construct and economy of Spain and Portugal and spreading to other parts of Europe.

Jim Crow Laws: Texas, Utah and Vermont (c.1877 - c.1967) Code, Colored, Constitution, Descendant, Felony, Intermarriage, Legislature, Mulatto, Negro, Nurse, Ordinance, Penal Code, Public Transportation, Railroads, Schools, Segregation, Separate But Equal, Slavery, Statute, Supreme Court, Voting, Waiting Rooms

From the 1880s into the 1960s, most American states enforced segregation through "Jim Crow" laws. From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.

Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement: 1789 to 1920 Maryland (January 1, 1789 - December 31, 1920) American History, Assassination, Boycott, Constitutional Amendments, Desegregation, Discrimination, Education, Equality, Freedom Marches, Jim Crow, Lunch Counter Protests, Plessy, Public Laws, Riots, Segregation, Slavery, Voting Rights, Women's Rights

To live freely and participate in society is a right many take for granted. Throughout U.S. history, acquiring and maintaining civil rights has been a difficult struggle for many groups. We have created timelines that highlight their struggles. Each group of entries cannot exceed 2,000 words, so the timeline dates are structured accordingly.

Jim Crow Laws: Tennessee (c.1877 - c.1967) Code, Colored, Constitution, Descendant, Felony, Intermarriage, Legislature, Mulatto, Negro, Nurse, Ordinance, Penal Code, Public Transportation, Railroads, Schools, Segregation, Separate But Equal, Slavery, Statute, Supreme Court, Voting, Waiting Rooms

From the 1880s into the 1960s, most American states enforced segregation through "Jim Crow" laws. From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.

Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement: 1925 to 1962 Maryland (January 1, 1925 - December 31, 1962) American History, Assassination, Boycott, Constitutional Amendments, Desegregation, Discrimination, Education, Equality, Freedom Marches, Jim Crow, Lunch Counter Protests, Plessy, Public Laws, Riots, Segregation, Slavery, Voting Rights, Women's Rights

To live freely and participate in society is a right many take for granted. Throughout U.S. history, acquiring and maintaining civil rights has been a difficult struggle for many groups. We have created timelines that highlight their struggles. Each group of entries cannot exceed 2,000 words, so the timeline dates are structured accordingly.

Jim Crow Laws: Virginia (c.1877 - c.1967) Code, Colored, Constitution, Descendant, Felony, Intermarriage, Legislature, Mulatto, Negro, Nurse, Ordinance, Penal Code, Public Transportation, Railroads, Schools, Segregation, Separate But Equal, Slavery, Statute, Supreme Court, Voting, Waiting Rooms

From the 1880s into the 1960s, most American states enforced segregation through "Jim Crow" laws. From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.

Jane Addams Illinois (September 6, 1860 - May 21, 1935) Social Worker, Settlement House Founder, Author

Jane Addams received national recognition as a feminist, a social worker and the founder of the settlement house movement. She was born in Cedarville, Illinois, the eighth of nine children. Her father was a successful miller as well as a state senator and an officer in the Civil War.

Polly Bemis Idaho (September 11, 1853 - November 6, 1933) Chinese American Pioneer, Historic Building

Polly Bemis became a legend after her death when her story became a biographical novel and was fictionalized in 1991, by Ruthanne Lum McCunn in the movie, Thousand Pieces of Gold. As such, some details of her story may be tied to folklore, but one thing is clear. As Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus said in 1987 . . . "She is the foremost pioneer on the rugged Salmon River.”

Frederick Douglass Maryland (February 1818 - February 20, 1895) Abolitionist, African Americans, Author, Black, Civil Rights, Civil Servant, Civil War, Diplomat, North Star, Orator, Slavery, Social Reformer, Statesman, Underground Railroad, Women’s Suffrage, Writer

Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. His brilliant words and brave actions continue to shape the ways that we think about race, democracy, and the meaning of freedom.

Jovita Idár Texas (September 7, 1885 - June 15, 1946) Methodist, Hispanic, Teacher, Journalist, Political Activist, Idar

Jovita Idár, teacher, journalist, and political activist was born in Laredo in 1885, one of eight children of Jovita and Nicasio Idár. She attended the Holding Institute (a Methodist school) in Laredo, from which she earned a teaching certificate in 1903. She then taught at a small school in Ojuelos. Inadequate equipment and poor conditions, as well as her inability to improve them, frustrated her, so she resigned and joined . . .

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones Colorado (c.1837 - November 30, 1930) Irish, Ireland, Labor Organizer, Orator, Children's Crusade

Few would argue with this feisty little Irish lady for, although she was known as the Miner’s Angel, she was also known as the Mother of All Agitators. Born in Cork City, Ireland, her family fled the Great Hunger to Toronto, Canada, when she was a child. She trained as a teacher and worked briefly as a teacher and as a dressmaker. In 1861, Mary married George Jones, an iron molder and union organizer in Memphis, Tennessee.

Honorable John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy Massachusetts (May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963) Irish, Catholic, Ireland, Politician, Author, War Hero, President of the U.S.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was named in honor of his mother Rose’s father, John Francis Fitzgerald, the Boston Mayor popularly known as Honey Fitz. Before long, family and friends called this small blue-eyed baby, Jack. He was not a very healthy baby, and Rose recorded on his notecard [which she kept for each child] the childhood diseases from which he suffered, such as: "whooping cough, measles, chicken pox."

Honorable Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy Massachusetts (November 20, 1925 - June 6, 1968) Irish, Catholic, Ireland, Politician, U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senator

Robert Francis Kennedy was born on November 20, 1925, in Brookline, Massachusetts, the seventh child in the closely knit and competitive family of Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy. "I was the seventh of nine children," he later recalled, "and when you come from that far down you have to struggle to survive."

Honorable Edward Moore "Teddy" Kennedy Massachusetts (February 22, 1932 - August 25, 2009) Irish, Catholic. Ireland, Politician, U.S. Senator

Edward M. Kennedy, born February 22, 1932, to Joseph Patrick and Rose (Fitzgerald) Kennedy in Boston, MA., was, at his death, the third longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate in American history, having been elected to the Senate nine times. He called health care “the cause of my life,” and succeeded in bringing quality and affordable health care for countless Americans, including children, seniors and Americans with disabilities.

Honorable John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy: Presidential Years Massachusetts (May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963) Irish, Catholic, Ireland, Politician, War Hero, Author, Member of Congress, President of the U.S.

John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy, often referred to by his initials JFK was an American War hero, served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House and Senate and then elected as the 35th president of the United States, serving from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. He was the author of three books, A Nation of Immigrants, Profiles in Courage and Why England Slept.

Honorable John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy: Presidential Years Massachusetts (May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963) Irish, Catholic, Ireland, Politician, War Hero, Author, Member of Congress, President of the U.S.

John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy, often referred to by his initials JFK was an American War hero, served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House and Senate and then elected as the 35th president of the United States, serving from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. He was the author of three books, A Nation of Immigrants, Profiles in Courage and Why England Slept.

Honorable Sandra Day Day O'Connor Arizona (March 26, 1930 - ?) Episcopalian, Attorney, Author, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

From Triumph To Tragedy, 'First' Tells Story Of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Late last year, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor issued a statement announcing that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It was a poignant moment, a reminder that for decades O'Connor was seen as the most powerful woman in America. Now comes an important book about her . . .

Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor Arizona (March 26, 1930 - ?) Episcopalian, Attorney, Author, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

At a party at her Arizona home in 1981, a middle-aged Sandra Day O’Connor, ever the consummate hostess, served enchiladas poolside with good cheer. But when she greeted a friend of her son who was soon to begin a clerkship for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, her mood shifted. As Evan Thomas describes the scene in “First,” his illuminating and eminently readable biography of the Supreme Court’s first female justice . . .