In this great nation of ours, maintaining respect for diversity is one of our biggest problems and has been since the 1600s. People’s rights have been violated for years. The term “civil rights” is often used interchangeably with the terms “civil liberties” and “human rights,” which refer to people achieving freedom, equality, and justice. They include such basic rights as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, the right to take part in the political process, and the right to fair and equal treatment under the law. These rights are protected against government interference. Civil rights and civil liberties are the cornerstone of a free society.
There have been many movements in the United States in which various groups of citizens have fought to secure personal and property rights guaranteed them by the United States Constitution. The Civil Rights movement in the U.S. refers to the campaign of African-Americans, who for reasons of prejudice, had long been denied many of the rights of citizenship enjoyed by white Americans. The racial injustices inflicted on African-Americans led to a period of social unrest in the 1950s and 1960s, when the black communities supported by many white sympathizers, rose up and challenged the social systems and authorities that were depriving them of their rights as citizens.
After the civil war, from 1861 to 1865, three amendments to the Constitution, known as the Reconstruction Amendments, were approved. The Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 ended slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 made citizens of ex-slaves, and the Fifteenth Amendment of 1870 guaranteed African-American men the right to vote. The prejudice against blacks was so pervasive that the new laws, and the rights that accompanied citizenship, were often ignored.
After the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, Congress took the first legislative steps to forbid the government to discriminate against blacks in public facilities at any level. This really did not work because the U. S. Supreme Court later held that the law applied only to legislation passed by the federal government. Many states, in the south particularly, took advantage of the ruling and passed a series of racially discriminatory laws that segregated the blacks from the whites in public accommodations. These laws were strengthened by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1896 in the ruling that approved “separate but equal, “
Plessy V. Ferguson
. The laws gave whites legal permission to treat blacks as second-class citizens.