Chapter Study Outline
The Struggle for Civil Rights
- With the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, civil rights became part of the Constitution, guaranteed to each citizen through “equal protection of the laws.” This equal protection clause launched a century of political movements and legal efforts to press for racial equality.
- The movements for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery were closely linked. The start of the modern women’s movement was considered the Seneca Falls Convention, where the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions was drafted.
- The hopes of African Americans for achieving full citizenship rights initially seemed fulfilled when three constitutional amendments were adopted after the Civil War: the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed equal protection under the law; and the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed voting rights for African Americans.
- From 1896 until the end of World War II, the Supreme Court held that racial discrimination did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause as long as the facilities were equal, thus establishing the “separate but equal” rule that prevailed through the mid-twentieth century.
- African Americans built organizations and devised strategies for asserting their constitutional rights. One such strategy, championed by the NAACP, sought to win political rights through political pressure and litigation.
- After World War II, the Supreme Court began to undermine the separate but equal doctrine, eventually declaring it unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. This decision marked the beginning of a difficult battle for equal protection in education, employment, housing, voting, and other areas of social and economic activity.
- The first phase of school desegregation was met with such massive resistance in the South that ten years after Brown, less than 1 percent of black children in the South were attending schools with whites.
- In 1971, the Supreme Court held that state-imposed desegregation could be brought about by busing children across school districts.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed job discrimination by all private and public employers—including governmental agencies—employing more than fifteen workers.
- In 1965, Congress significantly strengthened legislation protecting voting rights by barring literacy and other tests as a condition for voting in southern states. In the long run, the laws extending and protecting voting rights could prove to be the most effective of all civil rights legislation, because increased political participation by minorities has altered the shape of American politics.
- The movement toward women’s suffrage was formally launched in 1878 with the introduction of a proposed constitutional amendment in Congress. Parallel efforts were made in the states. Women’s organizations staged mass meetings, parades, petitions, and protests. The Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920.
Extending Civil Rights
- The protections won by the African American civil rights movement spilled over to protect other groups as well, including women, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, disabled Americans, and gays and lesbians.
- In the 1970s, the Supreme Court helped to establish gender discrimination as a major and highly visible civil rights issue. Although the Court refused to treat gender discrimination as the equivalent of racial discrimination, it did make it easier for plaintiffs to file and win suits on the basis of gender discrimination by applying intermediate scrutiny to these cases.
- Latino political strategy has developed along two tracks. One is a traditional ethnic-group path of voter registration and voting along ethnic lines. The second is a legal strategy using the various civil rights laws designed to ensure fair access to the political system. Since the 1960s, rights for Latinos have been intertwined with immigrant rights.
- Asian Americans faced discriminatory citizenship and immigration regulations in the early to mid-twentieth century. The denial of basic civil rights to Japanese Americans culminated in the decision to remove forcibly Americans of Japanese descent as well as Japanese noncitizen residents from their homes and confine them in internment camps during World War II. Asian immigration increased rapidly after the 1965 Immigration Act, which lifted discriminatory quotas.
- In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled in Lau v. Nichols, a suit filed on behalf of Chinese students in San Francisco, that school districts have to provide education for students whose English is limited.
- The 1970 amendments to the Voting Rights Act permanently outlawed literacy tests in all fifty states and mandated bilingual ballots or oral assistance for those who speak Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Native American languages, or Eskimo languages.
- The concept of rights for the disabled began to emerge in the 1970s as the civil rights model spread to other groups. The movement achieved its greatest success with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which guarantees equal employment rights and access to public businesses for the disabled.
- In less than thirty years, the gay and lesbian movement has become one of the
largest civil rights movements in contemporary America. In 1996, the Supreme
Court, in Romer v. Evans, explicitly extended fundamental civil rights protections to gays and lesbians. In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the Court struck down a Texas statute criminalizing certain intimate sexual conduct between consenting partners of the same sex, thus extending the right of privacy to gays and lesbians.
- The gay and lesbian movement continues to press for the right to marry and for legislation to extend the definition of hate crimes to include crimes against gays and transgendered people.
- By seeking to provide compensatory action to overcome the consequences of past discrimination, affirmative action has expanded the goals of groups championing minority rights.
- Affirmative action has been a controversial policy. Opponents charge that affirmative action creates group rights and establishes quotas, both of which are inimical to the American tradition. Proponents of affirmative action argue that the long history of group discrimination makes affirmative action necessary and that efforts to compensate for some bad action in the past are well within the federal government’s purview.
- Recent conflicts over affirmative action have raised questions about what is effective political action.