Bill of Rights

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Civil rights are freedoms and rights guaranteed to a member of a community, state, or nation. Freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and of fair and equal treatment are the basic civil rights. The constitution of the United States contains a Bill of Rights that describes simple liberties and rights insured to every person in the United States. Although the Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the Constitution, civil rights were not always respected to all human beings, especially women and blacks. When the constitution was first written, many Americans understood the meaning of the famous inscripture «all men are created equal» to mean that all white males were created equal, likewise with other civil rights guarantees as well. As a result, blacks were enslaved, and women were persecuted throughout the late 1700's and early 1800's.

During the 1850's abolitionists in the North questioned the morality of southern slavery by writing and preaching about the rights blacks were denied. Abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Fredrick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth, paved the way for the first civil rights movement that occurred after the Civil War, during Reconstruction. In the 1950's and early 1960's, whites in the South lived in segregated societies, separating themselves from blacks in every humanly way possible. The old Jim Crow laws governed all aspects of their existence, from the schoolroom to the restroom. Southern blacks faced new discrimination every day whether it be economically, socially, or politically. America was destined for another, more far-reaching civil rights movement. The civil rights movement during the late 1800's and early 1900's provided the foundations for the current civil rights laws achieved throughout the 1960's.

Black Americans made significant gains in their struggle for equal rights during Reconstruction, the 12-year period after the Civil War. In 1868, after southern president Andrew Johnson vetoed a Civil Rights bill, the radically republican influenced congress transported the principals of the Civil Rights bill to the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment conferred civil rights and citizenship for all former slaves, and was incorporated into the requirements for a southern state to regain its statehood. After the 14th Amendment was passed; however, the radical faction of congress was disappointed that it did not grant blacks the right to vote. When this fear that southern states might amend their constitutions so as to withdraw blacks from the ballot was recognized by moderate republicans, Congress formally placed the ballot in the hands of blacks with the 15th Amendment, passed in 1869. With the passing of breakthrough legislation, several leaders emerged to lead this new civil rights movement. Ex-slave Booker T. Washington put his newly acquired freedom to use when he started a black industrial school at Tuskegee, Alabama. He taught his students useful trades so they could eventually gain economic equality. However, Washington stopped short of promoting social equality. In a famous speech in Atlanta, Washington hinted to his belief in gradualism: «In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.» W.E.B Du Bois, founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was just the opposite of Washington. Du Bois demanded complete equality for blacks, economic as well as social. He believed in the immediate integration of blacks into mainstream American life, regardless of the consequences. In the mist of the progress for the black race, women suffrage arose to try to win the ballot just recently won by blacks. Led by Carrie Chapman Catt, women suffragists formed the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890. Suffragists under Catt threatened to discharge their traditional duties as homemakers and mothers in the increasingly public world of the city. Ironically with all the women’s suffrage bickering, women did not receive the ballot until 1920 by the 19th Amendment. The civil rights movement of the late 1800's and early 1900's succeeded in «breaking the ice» for blacks and also in leading the way to women’s triumph in 1920. However, this civil rights movement did not accomplish its goals to the fullest due to the lack of government enforcement. After the Reconstruction congress passed unprecedented legislation involving black civil rights, the supreme court failed to enforce the legislation in the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of «separate but equal» in 1896. In the South, the Jim Crow laws emerged, segregating blacks in public places, including hotels and restaurants. In elections, southern states used poll taxes, literacy tests, and other means to deprive blacks of their voting rights.

Now that the foundation was built, the ice was broken, the scene was ready for the subsequent civil rights movement in the 1960's. The civil rights movement of the 1960's occurred when the modern, civilized world clashed with the traditional southern world that southern Americans were clinging to. Americans inside and outside of Washington were realizing the damaging effects of segregation, and along with frustrated blacks, the civil rights revolution was born. Chief Justice Earl Warren, appointed to the bench by Eisenhower, surprised even the president himself with his populist principles, he helped to ignite the civil rights fire. The unanimous decision of the Warren led court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in May 1954 was unprecedented. The justices rule of «the segregation in the public schools was inherently unequal and thus unconstitutional» was a slap in the face to traditionalists. The Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that segregating southerners lived by was now dead. The justices now insisted that desegregation must go ahead with «all deliberate speed.» Following up the breakthrough court decision, came the Civil Rights Acts, the first passed since Reconstruction. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 established the Commission on Civil Rights to investigate charges of denied civil rights. It also created the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice to enforce federal civil rights laws and regulations. The Civil Rights Act of 1960 provided for the appointment of referees to help blacks register to vote, likewise the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy test in many southern states. In 1964, a Civil Rights Act was passed that ordered restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that serve the general public to serve all people without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. It also barred discrimination by employers and unions, and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce fair employment practices. In addition, the act provided for a cutoff of federal funds from any program or activity that allowed racial discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed in the Kennedy/Johnson era, was by far the climax of the civil rights movement. With this act, Jim Crow laws in any shape or form, by any person or business, were now illegal. Completing the civil rights legislation passed in the 60's was the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It aimed chiefly at ending discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. One December day, in 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in a «whites only» section of a public bus, leading to her arrest. Outraged blacks all over America, led by the 27 year old Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., boycotted Montgomery buses all over America. In 1957, King also formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in order to mobilize the vast power of the black churches on behalf of black rights. By organizing peaceful protests and giving motivating speeches, King truly was the most effective leader of the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960's.

The civil rights movement of the late 1800's and early 1900's was a significant time period for blacks and women, but it cannot compare with the progress made for the black race during the civil rights movement of the 1960's. During Reconstruction, favorable legislation was passed for blacks, but the turn of the century brought back the old ways of the government before the war, with discriminating actions such as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Jim Crow Laws, and the ignorance of black voting rights. The legislation passed in the 1960's included the overturn of the hated Plessy v. Ferguson case, and laws outlining the complete integration of blacks with the rest of society with laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Leaders of the civil rights movement of the late 1800's and early 1900's were not as involved, motivated, or as organized as the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960's. While Booker T. Washington was successful in helping blacks catapult themselves into contention with whites economically, he lacked the desire to lead blacks to social equality. W.E.B. Du Bois did attempt to lead blacks into social equality, but he lacked adequate support from the black majority. Civil rights leaders of the 1960's, eg. Martin Luther King Jr., gathered large numbers of supporters during speeches, encouraging active participation in protests for the social, economical, and political equality for blacks.

Through the work of the abolitionists before the war, civil rights water sheds were established during Reconstruction. These achievements were significant, but short lived. However, during the post war 1960's, with all the new technology being introduced, Americans also looked to modernize their opinions and perspectives. The goals achieved in black rights in the 1960's could not have been reached without the foundation established the late 1800's and early 1900's provided. An opposing view suggests that the Civil Rights Revolution of the 60's led to reverse discrimination that some whites complain about today.

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