MLK, Jr. Day: A Short History of Civil Rights


Today we celebrate and honor the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   He is indisputably the father of the modern American civil rights movement.   Our law firm is exclusively dedicated to enforcing civil rights in the Southern states.  We do nothing else.  So we felt today was an appropriate date to review the process that led to the laws – more than a hundred of them – that our firm uses to pursue and punish employers and businesses that continue to discriminate.

Incredibly, it hasn’t been that long since all citizens were given equal protection under the law.  Here’s a short course on how and when the primary laws came about.

A Short History of Civil Rights in the US

While some laws were adopted that touched on discrimination in our country, it was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that took the boldest and most sweeping steps to end segregation in public places.  And it banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  It was swiftly followed by another major civil rights act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  That law banned discriminatory practices in voting, mostly in place in the South, that impaired the right of African-Americans to vote on equal footing with whites.

The first major civil rights act was passed in 1866, the year following the end of the American Civil War.  That law, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, declared that all citizens were to be treated equally.  It was chiefly designed to ensure blacks were given equal rights as citizens, although it did not extend as far in its protections as later laws.

(The Civil Rights Act of 1866 is still in effect, and our firm regularly uses it to sue employers who discriminate against employees on the basis of race.  We also use this law to sue businesses on behalf of customers who are denied equal treatment and service because of their race.)


Lead-up to the Civil Rights Act

Even with the 1866 law (and a few others) in place, many states, again mostly in the South, continued to adopt laws and practices that deprived African-Americans of equal footing in society.  This is despite the loss in the Civil War, the passage of laws abolishing slavery, and the passage of laws giving all men the right to vote.  Southern states also enforced strict segregation through “Jim Crow” laws, which required separate bathrooms, facilities, and transportation for blacks.

Incredibly, it wasn’t until 1957 that Congress established a civil rights section of the Justice Department, and a Commission on Civil Rights to investigate discriminatory conditions.

Civil Rights Act In Congress

It was President John Kennedy who began the most serious effort to eliminate discrimination in all facets of our society. His assassination in 1963 meant that his successor, Lyndon Johnson, would be responsible for keeping the effort going.  And he did, immediately announcing that it was his goal to guarantee equal rights.

Considering the turmoil surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination, President Johnson moved with great speed, and in less than ten months, in July 1964, he signed the Civil Rights Act into law.  Notably, he signed the law with 75 pens, which he handed out to supporters and to civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.

What Does the Civil Rights Act Do?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids segregation on the grounds of race, religion,  national origin and other grounds in all places of public accommodation, including courthouses, parks, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas, and hotels. No longer could blacks and other minorities be denied service because of their race. The act also bars discrimination by employers and created the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Civil Rights Act, popularly referred to as Title VII for the federal code section it occupies, is the chief law we use to pursue employers who discrimination.

The Civil Rights Act’s protections were later expanded to include disabled Americans, the elderly and women in college athletic programs.  Today there are dozens of federal laws protecting employees in and citizens in a range of areas.  Our firm enforces more than one hundred laws in this mission.  We are not a one-size-fits-all firm.  Our fire burns solely for victims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

It is a mission we proudly pursue, every day.

Categories: Discrimination

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