Civil Rights in the USA 1865-1969

Federal Government actions

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Key Amendments

The 13th Amendment (1865)

Banning of slavery and involuntary servitude.

The 14th Amendment (1868)

Equal protection for American citizens under the law. Outlawed Black Codes

The 15th Amendment (1870)

Right to vote, not based on race, colour, or previous condition of servitude

The 24th Amendment (1964)

Banned the use of poll tax.

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Supreme Court Cases

1873: in the Slaughterhouse Case, it declared that the 14th Amendment protected national civil rights but not state civil rights

1883: The KKK Act and the 1875 Civil Rights Act were declared unconstitutional

1896: Plessy vs Ferguson - 'Separate but equal'. Approval of segregation

1899: The Cunningham Case confirmed that segregation was legal in education

1944: Smith vs Allright outlawed attempts to prevent African Americans voting in primaries

1946: Morgan vs Virgina prohibited segregation on interstate transport

1950: McLaurin vs Oklahoma State University upheld the rights of African Americans to receive equal higher education

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Supreme Court Cases continued

1954: Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka. Banned segregation in education

1955: Brown 2 - desegregation should take place 'with all deliberate speed'

1956: Browder vs Gayle ended the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Segregation on buses deemed unconstitutional.

1960: Boynton vs Virginia. Racial segregation on public transport was illegal. Tested by freedom rides

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Civil Rights Acts

1866: extending the rights of emancipated slaves

1871 (AKA the KKK Act): Banned violent intimidation. Repealed in 1883

1875: prohibiting discrimination in "public accommodations". Repealed in 1883

1957: establishing the Civil Rights Commission. Primarily a Voting Rights bill

1960: establishing federal inspection of local voter registration polls. Addressed some shortcomings of the 1957 CRA

1964: prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual preference and national origin by federal and state governments as well as some public places

1965: Voting Rights Act.

1968 (AKA the Fair Housing Act): prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion or national origin

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Not an abolitionist. Pragmatic.

A. Johnson

Racist. Attempted to veto many CRAs. Wanted to avoid former slaves being in competition with whites.


In 1869 and 1871, Grant signed bills promoting voting rights and prosecuting Klan leaders and later signed the Civil Rights Act of 1875.


Hayes vetoed bills repealing civil rights enforcement four times before finally signing one that satisfied his requirement for black rights. Compromised to gain Southern Democratic support- ended Reconstruction by removing troops. Former slaves lost protection.

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Presidents continued

  • Civil Rights often ignored by Presidents. Taft Consulted Booker T Washington but Theodore Roosevelt showed little interest.
  • Wilson and Hoover were racist to some extent.


Sympathetic to CR movement. New Deal implemented specific policies to help African Americans. Appointed 'Black Cabinet'. Number of African Americans employed by the Federal Government began to rise. His wife campaigned against racism. Many African Americans became members of Trade Unions for the first time. However, he showed little real interest in the CR movement personally.


Prepared to act in support of CR. Set up a commission in 1946 to look at voting rights and fair employment. Proposed a Civil Rights Bill in 1947. Ordered desegregation of armed forces. Navy desegregation in 1946, rest in 1948. Officially took effect in 1950.

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Presidents continued


Appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren to Supreme Court. Supported the outcome of the Brown case. He proposed to Congress the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960. Involved in the Little Rock incident but not before violence had broken out. Many schools closed as a result- harming the education of many.


Policy was pragmatic rather than principled. Ready to compromise. Slim Democrat majority in Congress- little support. Also had other things to worry about -Cuba, Berlin and Vietnam. But did have plans for a Civil Rights Bill.


Used Kennedy's death to pass Civil Rights legislation. Much changed during his term in office. Denounced the KKK. Introduced CRA of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, the first African American. His Great Society programme helped many African Americans.

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