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Improving Social Justice for Minorities and Women from the End of the Civil War Through the 1970s

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Our American History: Improving Social Justice for Minorities

and Women From the End of the Civil War Through the 1970s

History 1312

The University of Texas at Arlington

December 16, 2011

Improving Social Justice for Minorities and Women
From the End of the Civil War Through the 1970s

I. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, most African American slaves held a renewed hope that with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 would come economic opportunity and social mobility. There was the expectation that they would have political representation and the assurance of at least the beginning of attaining equality1. After the end of the war in 1865, there were enough states to ratify the 13th Amendment which outlawed slavery. However, it did not provide any equal rights or citizenship. As time passed and minorities began to assert themselves into American society, social justice movements that were led by blacks and whites alike began to become more commonplace. However, the struggle to become fully recognized as equal members of American society has been a battle that was fought through the 1970s—and in some measure, continues today. Like minorities, women have struggled with inequality and social injustice. However, their decision to fight for equality began before the start of the Civil War. The Seneca Falls Convention in New York was held in July of 1848, and can be referred to as the starting point of feminism. The inspiration for the first ever women’s rights convention was the refusal to seat women delegates at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. These types of conventions were held from 1850 until the beginning of the Civil War. After the Civil War was over, in 1866 female activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the American Equal Rights Association whose membership contained men and women, both black and white2. Their goal was voting rights, better known at the time as suffrage, for men and women of all races. And like minorities, women strived to earn their equality in all areas of American life and law. Through the 19th and 20th centuries, women participated in various movements in order to gain legal equality with men. Culminating in the 1970s, women fought to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed—but it was a fellow woman who derailed the fight. And like minorities, the struggle continues through the present day.

II. Minorities

During the Reconstruction Period following the Civil War, from 1865-1869, the Freedmen's Bureau was a government agency that helped slaves who had been freed. Intended to last for one year, it was passed by Congress on March 3, 1865 in an effort to aid former slaves with education, health care, food and housing, and employment contracts with private landowners. The most widely recognized achievement of the Freedman’s Bureau is education3. Before to the Civil War, no southern state had a system of state supported public education. Following the Civil War, Congress passed civil rights laws, and the states ratified three amendments to the Constitution. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 gave former slaves equal access to transportation and public accommodations, but the Supreme Court judged it to be unconstitutional in 1883 because they felt the government could not protect social rights4. The 13th abolished slavery; the 14th gave citizenship rights and equal protection under the law; and the 15th Amendment gave former men slaves voting rights5. It was difficult for the former slaves to take advantage of these because of economic depression and tactics utilized by some southern politicians. Many of the former slaves turned to share cropping which resulted in them remaining in economic bondage. At the same time, Black Codes kept them socially inferior for many years6. In 1896, Plessy v Ferguson was a court case heard by the United States Supreme Court which stated that as long as the separate facilities for the separate races were equal, segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. This amendment held that no state should deny to any person equal protection under the law7. Between World War I and World War II, the Great Migration occurred, as segregationist policies and the need for more skilled workers in the north pushed blacks to move to northern cities. Blacks who worked in the cities were able to benefit from the post-war economic boom during the 1950s—and they also received support from unions and the Democratic Party8. In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court. It declared as unconstitutional state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students. The decision resulted in overturning the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which allowed state-sponsored segregation. As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement and integration9. In 1957, a group of black students was enrolled in Little Rock Central High School. The students, who became known as The Little Rock Nine, were prevented from entering the racially segregated school by then Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus. After the intervention by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, they were able to enter with the assistance of the National Guard. It is considered one of the most important events in the Civil Rights Movement10. A series of grassroots movements by activists in the 1960s and 1970s led to a greater understanding of minorities wanting their rights respected. Integration was desired, Black Power was in its initial stages, and the Chicano and American Indian Movements benefitted from the swell of civil rights activism11. For the most part, blacks wanted to be seen as a group who would attempt non-violent measures—and when that failed, using violence to gain the attention of America was utilized by some factions. • The Albany Movement—1961-1962—black activists in Albany, Georgia had sit-ins and led massive boycotts of local restaurants and department stores12.

• The Birmingham Campaign—1963—Martin Luther King, Jr. and fellow activists organized a huge rally in Birmingham, Alabama (possibly the most segregated city in America). There were organized boycotts and sit-ins to provoke a reaction from white residents and city officials. Blacks wanted better jobs, better housing and education, and wanted desegregation. These events changed the civil rights movement in two ways. First, the moderate majority of northern and southern whites took a stand against segregation. Second, it marked the first time poor southern blacks demanded equality alongside their better-off peers—such as lawyers, ministers, and students13.

• The March on Washington—many activist groups organized the largest political rally in American history to convince Congress to pass President Kennedy’s new Civil Rights Bill. On August 28, 1963 more than 200,000 blacks and whites gathered peacefully in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech. He outlined the goals they sought in the civil rights movement and called for racial equality14. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, blacks feared that their efforts for equality had died with him. However, President Lyndon Johnson stated that he recognized the need for stronger civil rights legislation, and announced that he would honor Kennedy’s commitment to the civil rights cause. The Civil Rights Movement itself had an impact during Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency in the 1960s. Civil Rights leaders magnified the need for social equality, especially pointing out that the nation’s poorest residents were black. Although he was originally not a supporter of Civil Rights, his predecessor, Kennedy, was—so Johnson had no choice but to act given these circumstances. As a result, Johnson worked tirelessly to push through Congress the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination based on religion, nationality, or gender15. Therefore, although the civil rights movement itself lost focus and dissipated in the 1970s, the effects of its concrete achievements have endured, not only for blacks but for other marginalized groups in American society as well. Johnson was able to convince enough southern conservatives in the House and Senate to support and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It consisted of several laws that made segregation and discrimination in public places illegal. The Act made racial discrimination in the workplace a crime. It created the Equal Opportunity Commission to enforce these new laws, and gave the president more power to prosecute violators. Civil rights leaders agreed that it was the most important legislature since the civil rights bills passed during Reconstruction16. President Johnson was able to garner support from liberal Democrats to ratify the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment outlawed federal poll taxes as a requirement to vote in federal elections and was designed to help both poor whites and blacks in the South17. One other grassroots movement had a huge impact on getting southern whites to understand the plight of blacks. In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., along with other activist groups produced another march to provoke southern whites. In Selma, Alabama, tens of thousands of black protesters petitioned for the right to vote outside Selma City Hall. However, they were unsuccessful. When the protesters marched peacefully from Selma toward the governor’s mansion in Montgomery, police attacked the protesters, clubbing them and spraying them with tear gas. Multitudes were injured and thousands were arrested. This peaceful march turned violent attack was highly publicized, and Americans in the North were more shocked than in any of the previous protests18. The events in Selma brought forth the ire of President Johnson who summoned Congress in a special televised session. He requested strong legislation to protect black voters—and Congress overwhelmingly passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The new law sent thousands of federal voting officials into the South to supervise black voter registration. It also banned literacy tests which had been utilized in some areas for voting, and as a result, the black voter registration rate increased dramatically. Although the Voting Rights Act did not end segregation, it had the effect of the beginning of a transformation in the South19. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had been successful at campaigning against the Jim Crow laws in the South. However, some younger activists began to feel that nonviolent tactics would not be the answer to every social and political injustice. Believing that integration was not the answer, some activists thought that true social change would come only with revolution. These militant activists, such as Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, and members of the Black Panthers, grew more powerful, and they dominated the civil rights movement in the late 1960s20. Even during the time of black militancy, Martin Luther King, Jr., through nonviolent means, continued to promote racial equality in the South. However, in April 1968, King was shot and killed while making a speech from a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. The end of the movement came after The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death. The Civil Rights Movement was effectively robbed of its leader and peaceful visionary. It quickly lost momentum as rifts among the leaders led to its collapse.

III. Women

In the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States, women’s suffrage, or the right to vote, was achieved in increments at state and local levels. It culminated in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provided women the right to vote. The amendment specifically forbade any denial of voting rights based on sex21. In 1963, Congress passed legislation that made it illegal to pay men and women different wages for equal work where the job is under similar working conditions. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 included wording that made it illegal to pay different rates for jobs that require equal responsibility, equal skill and equal effort22. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial discrimination as well as discrimination based on nationality, gender, and religion. When the bill was in the formative stages, gender equality was written into the document. This was not an act of benevolence—it was added in the hope that it would kill the bill before it got out of committee. However, the conservatives who added the gender specificity and wanted the bill killed were disappointed that their ploy hadn’t worked. The act passed with the gender provisions, giving credence to the feminist movement and adding protection to the millions of working women in the United States. The act included Title VII, which makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, religion, color, or sex. Title VII addressed discrimination based on sex in a broader manner than the Equal Pay Act by including privileges of employment, terms and conditions, and compensation. Because of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, an employer cannot deny women equal pay for equal work. An employer cannot deny women promotions, transfers or wage increases because of gender. An employer may not change a job evaluation to reduce a woman’s pay and may not segregate men and women into jobs according to their gender23. The movement for birth control and legalized abortions arose in the 1960s and 1970s. Women’s advocacy groups, which included males, protested for the right for women to control their own bodies and reproductive rights. Birth control continues to be a major theme in feminist politics and they have cited reproduction issues as just one example of women's inability to exercise their rights. Birth control remains a struggle and conflict between liberal and conservative men and women. It raises questions about personal freedom, the choice of whether or not to raise a family, governmental intervention, religion as a part of politics, and sexual morality24. Reproductive rights were first discussed at the United Nation's 1968 International Conference on Human Rights25. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution. The verbiage of the proposed amendment was originally written by Alice Paul and was introduced in the Congress for the first time in 192326. Finally, in 1972, it passed both the house and senate, but failed to gain ratification before its June 30, 1982 deadline. Much of the blame rests on the shoulders of Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative who derailed the ratification of the amendment by warning women of the evils that would befall them if it became law. Included in her numerous speeches and writings were the fear that economic protections would disappear, and women would be required to be on the front line in combat27. Every few years Congress has the ERA on the table, but it continues to fail to be brought to the point of ratification. The Women’s Movement, also known as the Feminist Movement or the Women's Liberation Movement, refers to a period of feminist activity which began in the early 1960s and lasted through the early 1990s. This has been known as the second wave of feminism—following the first wave in which women fought for the right to vote and property rights. The second wave has addressed issues such as continued legal inequalities, lesbian rights, choice in the type of family, equal rights in the workplace, and the continuation of the struggle for reproductive rights. The Women’s Movement failed to get the required number of states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and add it to the United States Constitution28. Since the 1920s, women have won rights and opportunities in areas such as higher education, sports, the right to abortions, and in some states, same-sex marriage. However, until an amendment to The U.S. Constitution is ratified explicitly granting equal rights, many feel that the struggle continues.
IV. Conclusion Many historians characterize the Civil Rights Era as a series of events that happened between the 1950s and 1970s without considering just how long this struggle has been. The twentieth century struggle for racial equality that we call the modern civil rights movement was actually the culmination of a struggle that had begun nearly a century earlier, during the Reconstruction era of the late 1860s and 1870s. Nearly a century after Emancipation, not that much had changed for blacks—blacks: they were still economically disadvantaged, socially segregated at restaurants and restrooms, and there was only a slim chance for true integration. They may have won the right to vote, eat at the restaurants of their choice, sit where they want on the bus, and attend traditionally white colleges, but most still lived in poverty. The Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s gave Blacks two important things: government support and legislation that supported the government backing. Supreme Court cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, along with legislative victories such as the Twenty Fourth Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finally provided the solid legal framework for protecting blacks against over one hundred years of discrimination. In the 90 years since winning the right to vote, women have achieved gains by organizing at home and at work, by lobbying legislatures and bringing lawsuits. The struggle continues as women still fall short in their ability to earn, dollar-for-dollar, the same as their male counterparts. As long as conservatives push for the repeal of women’s right to abortions, reproductive rights will continue to be an issue. For blacks, other minorities, and women, having a “just” world will require political action at all levels, from local to national, home to workplace—and to not rest on the shoulders of previous legislation.


1. Jacqueline Jones, et al. Created Equal: A History of the United States, Brief Edition, Volume 2 (3rd Edition). (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2010). 370. 2. Ibid., p. 380. 3. Ibid., pp. 364-370. 4. Ibid., pp. 383-384. 5. Ibid., pp. 367-380. 6. Ibid., pp. 364-365. 7. Ibid., p. 432. 8. Ibid., p. 450. 9. Ibid., p. 582.
10. Ibid., p. 583.
11. Civil Rights Movement. Accessed December 15, 2011.
12. Jacqueline Jones, et al. Created Equal: A History of the United States, Brief Edition, Volume 2 (3rd Edition). (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2010). 584.
13. Ibid., p. 594.
14. Ibid., p. 594.
15. Ibid., p. 599.
16. The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Accessed December 14, 2011.
17. Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Accessed December 13, 2011.
18. Selma to Montgomery Marches. Accessed December 14, 2011.
19. Voting Rights Act. <> Accessed December 14, 2011.
20. Malcolm X. Accessed December 15, 2011.
21. John Broesamle and Anthony Arthur. Clashes of Will: Great Confrontations that Have Shaped Modern America. “Men Are Not the Enemy: Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schlafly and the Equal Rights Amendment.” (Pearson Longman 2005). 241.
22. Equal Pay Act of 1963. Accessed December 13, 2011.
23. Civil rights Act of 1964. Accessed December 13, 2011.
24. Birth Control. Accessed December 13, 2011.
25. Reproductive Rights. <> Accessed December 13, 2011.
26. Equal rights Amendment. <> Accessed December 13, 2011.

27. John Broesamle and Anthony Arthur. Clashes of Will: Great Confrontations that Have Shaped Modern America. “Men Are Not the Enemy: Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schlafly and the Equal Rights Amendment.” (Pearson Longman 2005). 252, 255.
28. Second Wave Feminism. <> Accessed December 13, 2011.

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