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civil rights,rights that a nation's inhabitants enjoy by law. The term is broader than "political rights," which refer only to rights devolving from the franchise and are held usually only by a citizen, and unlike "natural rights," civil rights have a legal as well as a philosophical basis. In the United States civil rights are usually thought of in terms of the specific rights guaranteed in the Constitution: freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press, and the rights to due process of law and to equal protection under the law.
Civil Rights in the United States
Since the Civil WarCivil War,
in U.S. history, conflict (1861–65) between the Northern states (the Union) and the Southern states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy.
..... Click the link for more information. , much of the concern over civil rights in the United States has focused on efforts to extend these rights fully to African Americans, and it was a primary concern of ReconstructionReconstruction,
1865–77, in U.S. history, the period of readjustment following the Civil War. At the end of the Civil War, the defeated South was a ruined land. The physical destruction wrought by the invading Union forces was enormous, and the old social and economic
..... Click the link for more information. . The first legislative attempts to assure African Americans an equal political and legal status were the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, 1871, and 1875. Those acts bestowed upon African Americans such freedoms as the right to sue and be sued, to give evidence, and to hold real and personal property. The 1866 act was of dubious constitutionality and was reenacted in 1870 only after the passage of the Fourteenth AmendmentFourteenth Amendment,
addition to the U.S. Constitution, adopted 1868. The amendment comprises five sections. Section 1
Section 1 of the amendment declares that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are American citizens and citizens of their state
..... Click the link for more information. . The fourth Civil Rights Act attempted to guarantee to the African Americans those social rights that were still withheld. It penalized innkeepers, proprietors of public establishments, and owners of public conveyances for discriminating against African Americans in accommodations, but was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1883 on the ground that these were not properly civil rights and hence not a field for federal legislation. The Supreme Court's extremely narrow construction of the Fourteenth and Fifthteen amendments facilitated the rise of legalized racial segregation.
After the Civil Rights Act of 1875 there was no more federal legislation in this field until the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, although several states passed their own civil-rights laws. The 20th-century struggle to expand civil rights for African Americans involved the National Association for the Advancement of Colored PeopleNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP), organization composed mainly of American blacks, but with many white members, whose goal is the end of racial discrimination and segregation.
..... Click the link for more information. , the Congress of Racial EqualityCongress of Racial Equality
(CORE), civil-rights organization founded (1942) in Chicago by James Farmer. Dedicated to the use of nonviolent direct action, CORE initially sought to promote better race relations and end racial discrimination in the United States.
..... Click the link for more information. , the Urban LeagueUrban League, National,
voluntary nonpartisan community service agency, founded in 1910, whose goal is to help end racial segregation and discrimination in the United States, especially toward African Americans, and to help economically and socially disadvantaged groups to share
..... Click the link for more information. , the Southern Christian Leadership ConferenceSouthern Christian Leadership Conference
(SCLC), civil-rights organization founded in 1957 by Martin Luther King, Jr., and headed by him until his assassination in 1968. Composed largely of African-American clergy from the South and an outgrowth of the Montgomery, Ala.
..... Click the link for more information. , and others. The civil-rights movement, led especially by Martin Luther KingKing, Martin Luther, Jr.,
1929–68, American clergyman and civil-rights leader, b. Atlanta, Ga., grad. Morehouse College (B.A., 1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (B.D., 1951), Boston Univ. (Ph.D., 1955).
..... Click the link for more information. , Jr., in the late 1950s and 60s, and the executive leadership provided by President Lyndon B. JohnsonJohnson, Lyndon Baines,
1908–73, 36th President of the United States (1963–69), b. near Stonewall, Tex. Early Life
Born into a farm family, he graduated (1930) from Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Southwest Texas State Univ.), in San Marcos.
..... Click the link for more information. , encouraged the passage of the most comprehensive civil-rights legislation to date, the Civil Rights Act of 1964; it prohibited discrimination for reason of color, race, religion, or national origin in places of public accommodation covered by interstate commerce, i.e., restaurants, hotels, motels, and theaters. Besides dealing with the desegregation of public schools, the act, in Title VII, forbade discrimination in employment. Title VII also prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex.
In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, which placed federal observers at polls to ensure equal voting rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 dealt with housing and real estate discrimination. In addition to congressional action on civil rights, there was action by other branches of the government. The most notable of these were the Supreme Court decisions in 1954 and 1955 declaring racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional and the court's rulings in 1955 banning segregation in publicly financed parks, playgrounds, and golf courses (see Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans.Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans.,
case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954. Linda Brown was denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka because she was black.
..... Click the link for more information. ).
In the 1960s women began to organize around the issue of their civil rights (see feminismfeminism,
movement for the political, social, and educational equality of women with men; the movement has occurred mainly in Europe and the United States. It has its roots in the humanism of the 18th cent. and in the Industrial Revolution.
..... Click the link for more information. ). The federal Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, and by the early 1970s over 40 states had passed equal pay laws. In 1972 the Senate passed an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) intended to prohibit all discrimination based on sex, but after failing to win ratification in a sufficient number of states, the ERA was abandoned. Since the 1970s a number of gay-rights groups have worked, mainly on the local and state levels, for legislation that prevents discrimination in housing and employment (see gay-rights movementgay-rights movement,
organized efforts to end the criminalization of homosexuality and protect the civil rights of homosexuals. While there was some organized activity on behalf of the rights of homosexuals from the mid-19th through the first half of the 20th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. ). In a further extension of civil-rights protection, the Americans with Disabilities ActAmericans with Disabilities Act,
U.S. civil-rights law, enacted 1990, that forbids discrimination of various sorts against persons with physical or mental handicaps. Its primary emphasis is on enabling these persons to enter the job market and remain employed, but it also
..... Click the link for more information. (1990) barred discrimination against disabled persons in employment and provided for improved access to public facilities.
See W. E. Nelson, The Fourteenth Amendment (1988); R. Berger, The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights (1989); L. W. Levy, Civil Rights (1989); T. Branch, Pillar of Fire (1997); F. M. Wirt, "We Ain't What We Was" (1997); A. Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890–2000 (2001); D. McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001); C. Polsgrove, Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement (2001); C. Carter et al., ed., Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1973 (2 vol., 2003); J. Rosenberg and Z. Karabell, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes (2003); J. Carrier, Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement (2004); N. Kotz, Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed America (2005); T. Branch, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965–68 (2006); L. F. Litwack, How Free Is Free? The Long Death of Jim Crow (2009); B. Ackerman, We the People, Vol. 3: The Civil Rights Revolution (2014); T. S. Purdum, An Idea Whose Time Has Come (2014); C. Risen, The Bill of the Century (2014); E. Foner, The Second Founding (2019).