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Civil Rights and Social Justice: Civil Rights Acts

Civil Rights Acts, 1866-1964

Civil Rights Act of 1866

Andrew Johnson vetoed this bill twice, forcing the House to override the presidential action. “First introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, the bill mandated that "all persons born in the United States," with the exception of American Indians, were "hereby declared to be citizens of the United States." The legislation granted all citizens the “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property.” To Radical Republicans, who believed the federal government had a role in shaping a multiracial society in the postwar South, the measure seemed the next logical step after the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 18, 1865 (which abolished slavery). Representative Henry Raymond of New York noted that the legislation was “one of the most important bills ever presented to this House for its action.” President Johnson disagreed with the level of federal intervention implied by the legislation, calling it “another step, or rather a stride, toward centralization and the concentration of all legislative power in the national Government” in his veto message.”- History, Art & Archives, United States House of Representatives

Read the Civil Rights Act of 1866

Civil Rights Acts of 1870 and 1871 (Enforcement Acts)

“The adoption of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution extended civil and legal protections to former slaves and prohibited states from disenfranchising voters “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Forces in some states were at work, however, to deny black citizens their legal rights. Members of the Ku Klux Klan, for example, terrorized black citizens for exercising their right to vote, running for public office, and serving on juries. In response, Congress passed a series of Enforcement Acts in 1870 and 1871 (also known as the Force Acts) to end such violence and empower the president to use military force to protect African Americans.”- Landmark Legislation: The Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871

Civil Rights Act of 1875

“First introduced by one of Congress’s greatest advocates for black civil rights, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, in 1870, the original bill outlawed racial discrimination in juries, schools, transportation, and public accommodations. Republican leaders were forced, however, to chip away at the legislation’s protections in order to make it palatable enough to pass in the face of growing public pressure to abandon racial legislation and embrace segregation. A record-number seven African-American Representatives carried debate in favor of the bill, offering personal accounts of discrimination on railroads and in restaurants. “Every day my life and property are exposed, are left to the mercy of others, and will be so long as every hotel-keeper, railroad conductor, and steamboat captain can refuse me with impunity,” Representative James Rapier of Alabama said. He later added, “After all, this question resolves itself into this: either I am a man or I am not a man.” The weakened legislation—which only passed after all references to equal and integrated education were stripped completely—failed to have any lasting effect. The Supreme Court struck down the 1875 Civil Rights Bill in 1883 on the grounds that the Constitution did not extend to private businesses.” - History, Art & Archives, United States House of Representatives

Civil Rights Act of 1957

“The new act established the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department and empowered federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote. It also established a federal Civil Rights Commission with authority to investigate discriminatory conditions and recommend corrective measures.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library

Civil Rights Act of 1960

The Civil Rights Act of 1960 was created to prevent the disenfranchisement and segregation of minorities and prevent individuals who had destroyed buildings from escaping prosecution by fleeing the state. It was also intended to fill loopholes left by the 1957 act.

Link to the text of the Civil Rights Act of 1960

Civil Rights Act of 1964

“This act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. This document was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.” - Our Document.gov

Link to a Transcript of Civil Rights Act (1964)