Civil Rights Movement: The Legal Road to Freedom and Equality
January 15, 2016
Every January, we celebrate the man known as the leader behind the civil rights movement: Martin Luther King Jr.
Many Americans remember Dr. King for his “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington. It was Dr. King’s persistence and persuasiveness that helped push Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the most comprehensive civil rights legislation passed by Congress since the Reconstruction period.
As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, here’s a look at how legislation and Supreme Court rulings shaped our nation’s past and continues to shape our future.
The 13th Amendment, 1865
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery nationwide and gave Congress the authority to enforce it. It paved the way for future amendments granting African-American basic human rights.
Civil Rights Act of 1866
Not long after the ratification of the 13th Amendment, Southern states looked for ways to continue to suppress African-American rights, creating legal ramifications such as “Black Codes.” Congress retaliated, passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to grant citizenship and civil rights to all male persons in the United States “without distinction of race and color.”
The 14th Amendment, 1868
According to the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, all persons born or naturalized in the United States were both national and state citizens. This amendment also prohibited states from depriving any person of life, liberty or property without legal due process or from denying them “equal protection of the laws.”
The 15th Amendment, 1870
All male citizens were guaranteed the right to vote regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude.”
Civil Rights Act of 1875
All Americans, regardless of race, were guaranteed the rights to use public facilities, including restaurants, theaters and trains. Yet, equal access to education was not granted.
Civil Rights Cases, 1883
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was not constitutional under the 13th and 14th Amendments.
Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other public places could serve African-Americans with separate, but equal, accommodations.
Korematsu v. U.S., 1944
The Supreme Court held that the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was Constitutional.
Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 1950
The Supreme Court struck down segregation of African-American students in law and graduate schools. In its brief to the Court, the Justice Department said it believed Plessy v. Ferguson was unconstitutional and should be overturned.
Brown v. Board of Education, 1954
The Supreme Court concluded that separate educational facilities are unequal, thereby enforcing all public education facilities to desegregate.
Hernandez v. Texas, 1954
The Court ruled the 14th Amendment’s equal protection extends beyond African-Americans and includes any individual singled out for discriminatory treatment.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, outlawing discrimination or segregation in public places, enforcing school desegregation and prohibiting employment discrimination.
Voting Rights Act, 1965
President Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that outlawed any action interfering with a citizen’s right to vote.
Miranda v. Arizona, 1966
All detained criminal suspects must be informed of their constitutional rights prior to police questioning. These rights include the right to counsel and the right to be free of self-incrimination.
Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, emphases have been placed on disparities for any person in economics, health care, education, voter empowerment and the criminal justice system.
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