Civil Rights Timeline
First African slaves arrive in the New World.
Twenty Africans are imported by Dutch merchants to Jamestown, Virginia as indentured servants and sold to British colonists.
A ship arrives in Boston Harbor with the first African chattel slaves in the British-American colonies.
Declaration of Independence is drafted and approved, declaring that “all men are created equal.” The final version of the Declaration omits an anti-slavery clause due to the objections of South Carolina and Georgia.
Vermont becomes the first state to abolish slavery, prohibiting the institution in its constitution.
The Northwest Ordinance abolishes slavery in the Northwest Territory above the Ohio River, which includes the present-day states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The U.S. Constitution is drafted in Philadelphia. The document does not explicitly mention slavery. However, four different parts of the Constitution reflect a compromise on the issue. First, representation in the House is in proportion to the sum of “free persons” and “three-fifths” of “all other persons,” (i.e., slaves). Article I, Section 9 includes a “migration or importation” clause that prohibits the slave trade from being banned before 1808 but nevertheless provides that a tax May be levied on imported slaves. The Fugitive Slave Clause of Article IV, Section 3 provides that “Person[s] held to Service or Labour,” (i.e., slaves), escaping from one state shall be delivered to the party “to whom such Service or Labour May be due.” Finally, Article V makes the slave trade clause unamendable.
Bill of Rights ratified.
New Jersey passes the last of the Northern gradual emancipation laws, providing that boys will receive freedom at 25 and girls at 21. Thus, by 1804, some form of abolition law had been passed in Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. In Massachusetts, slavery was abolished in 1781 by judicial interpretation of the state constitution.
Congress prohibits the importation of slaves into the United States. Subsequent federal enactments punish persons engaged in the slave trade.
Abraham Lincoln is born in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky.
Missouri Compromise causes Missouri to become a slave state. Maine becomes a free state, and bans slavery in the territory west of Missouri.
Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 539 (1842), invalidates a Pennsylvania statute designed to prevent self-help by slave owners in the return of fugitive slaves.
The First American Women’s Rights Convention takes place in Seneca Falls, New York.
Benjamin Roberts, a free black living in Boston, attempts to enroll his daughter Sarah in the public schools, but she is denied entrance because of her race. Roberts, joined by anti-slavery activist Charles Sumner sues the city, challenging its segregated school system. Anticipating arguments that would be made a century later, Roberts and Sumner argue that black schools have inferior resources to white schools and that segregation injures both races. They contend that segregation creates feelings of degradation among blacks and fosters prejudice in whites. The next year, in Roberts v. City of Boston, 59 Mass. 198 (1849), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts rejects Roberts’ and Sumner’s arguments. The Court holds that they had not proven that the black school was inferior. The Court offers a separate but equal rationale for segregated schools, reasoning that “prejudice, if it exists, is not created by law, and probably cannot be changed by law.” Chief Justice Shaw’s opinion is later cited by Justice Brown in his opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson.
Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The Massachusetts state legislature abolishes racially segregated schools.
In Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), the Supreme Court holds that blacks, including free blacks, cannot be citizens of the United States. Chief Justice Taney, arguing from the original intentions of the framers of the 1787 Constitution, states that blacks, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, were considered to be a subordinate and inferior class of beings, “with no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
John Brown leads a raid on a garrison in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia to free and arm slaves. The raid fails, and Brown is captured and executed.
In November, Abraham Lincoln is elected President. On the 20th of December, South Carolina becomes the first state to secede from the Union.
Southern States meet in Montgomery to draft a Confederate Constitution. It forbids the passage of any law denying the right of property in slaves, and citizens of the Confederacy are guaranteed the right to take their slaves into any territory acquired by the Confederate states.
The U.S. Congress passes a proposed thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, which Abraham Lincoln endorses in his inaugural address. It provides that no amendment shall be made to the Constitution to authorize Congress to abolish or interfere with the domestic institutions of any state, including “that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” The amendment represents a desperate attempt to hold the Union together. Ohio, Maryland, and Illinois approve the amendment, but with the outbreak of the Civil War, it is forgotten.
Civil War begins.
President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation takes effect on New Year’s Day. It frees slaves in parts of the Confederacy not occupied by the North.
Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude. It is ratified by the states in December.
Congress establishes the Freedman’s Bureau to provide aid to former slaves during Reconstruction.
On the 9th, General Robert E. Lee surrenders to the General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia, ending the Civil War. On the 14th, John Wilkes Booth assassinates Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, is sworn in as President. In May, President Johnson grants amnesty to former Confederate officials.
Black Codes proliferate across the South, segregating public schools and barring blacks from voting, entering into contracts, holding property, serving on juries, and testifying against whites. The Black Codes are generally understood as an attempt to reduce the newly freed blacks to a condition little better than slavery.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 guarantees blacks basic economic rights to contract, sue, and own property.
The Fourteenth Amendment is submitted to the states. The Amendment overrules the Dred Scott case. It guarantees that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and of the state in which they reside, and that no state shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens, deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person the equal protection of the laws.
The Ku Klux Klan is founded in Nashville, Tennessee.
The impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson begins in the Senate. He is acquitted by one vote in May after he promises to stop interfering with the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Fourteenth Amendment is declared officially ratified.
Senator Charles Sumner introduces a bill to Congress to outlaw public school segregation and segregation in common carriers and public accommodations, under Congress’s powers to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. The school desegregation provision is later removed. A modified version of the bill is passed as the Civil Rights Act of 1875 after Sumner’s death.
Hiram R. Revels of Mississippi, the first black man to be elected to the Senate, takes his seat. In December, Joseph H. Rainey, the first black man to be elected to the House of Representatives, joins Congress as a representative from South Carolina. Rainey becomes the first black man to preside over the House as Speaker pro tempore in 1874.
From 1870 to 1876, nine Southern states send 20 black men to Congress. When the last of these elected officials leaves his seat in 1901, no other African American serves in Congress until 1928.
The Fifteenth Amendment, guaranteeing blacks the right to vote, is ratified.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1871, popularly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. It is designed to combat the violent intimidation tactics used by the Klan to prevent blacks from voting or claiming basic rights.
In the Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873), the Supreme Court upholds a Louisiana statute requiring butchers in the city of New Orleans to use a common slaughterhouse. Justice Miller’s opinion strictly limits the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was originally intended to be the basic guarantor of civil equality. The Court’s interpretation virtually reads the Clause out of the Constitution. Later, in Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 130 (1873), the Court holds that Myra Bradwell has no right to be admitted to the Illinois state bar. The Court argues that the right to choose one’s profession does not constitute a privilege or immunity of citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment and that women in particular are not fit to be lawyers because of their legal and natural disabilities. Two years later, in Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 162 (1875), the Court confirms that the Privileges or Immunities Clause does not give women the right to vote.
The Indiana Supreme Court holds that segregated schools do not violate the federal or state constitutions.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1875, prohibiting discrimination in inns, theaters, and other places of public accomodiation. It is the last federal civil rights act passed until 1957.
Between 1875 and 1905 several states in the North and West pass their own civil rights statutes, forbidding discrimination in public accommodations. These states include: Iowa, New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Washington, California, Wisconsin, and Connecticut.
In United States v. Cruishank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875), the Supreme Court narrowly construes the civil rights enforcement laws passed in 1870 and 1871, dismissing indictments against whites for the massacre of hundreds of blacks in a dispute over election results. The Court finds no evidence that the wrong done was based on race.
Republican Rutherford B. Hayes defeats Democrat Samuel Tilden in a contested election amidst allegations of widespread voter fraud in crucial districts. This leads to the so-called Compromise of 1877, under which Democrats do not strongly contest the election results and Republicans agree to withdraw federal troops, returning Southern governments to white local control and thus effectively ending Reconstruction.
President Hayes orders the last federal troops withdrawn from Louisiana. Reconstruction ends.
In Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880), the Supreme Court holds that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from excluding blacks from juries.
In Pace v. Alabama, 106 U.S. 583 (1883), the Supreme Court upholds an Alabama statute that punishes fornication and adultery more heavily when the parties are of different races. The Court reasons that the statute does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the penalty applies equally to whites and blacks who engage in interracial adultery or sex.
In United States v. Harris, 106 U.S. 629 (1883), the Court holds unconstitutional portions of the the Ku Klux Klan Act ( the Civil Rights Act of 1871). The Court holds that Congress cannot reach purely private conspiracies to violate civil rights under its powers to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. Later that year, in The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883), the Court strikes down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation, on the ground that the Fourteenth Amendment reaches only state action and that Congress has no power to regulate private discrimination. Justice Bradley’s majority opinion states that blacks had been freed from slavery, and that it was time that they “cease to be the special favorite of the laws.”
In King v. Gallagher, 93 N.Y. 438 (1883), The Court of Appeals of New York upholds segregated schools where black schools have equal facilities.
From 1884 through 1900, the Supreme Court issues a series of decisions known as the Chinese Exclusion Cases, which uphold congressional power to order Chinese laborers expelled from the United States.
Grover Cleveland is elected President. He is the first Democrat to win the White House since James Buchanan in 1856.
In Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886), the Supreme Court strikes down a San Francisco ordinance regulating laundries that was routinely enforced only against Chinese immigrants.
Florida becomes the first state to enact a statute requiring segregation in places of public accommodation. Eight other states follow Florida’s lead by 1892. The practices of comprehensive racial segregation known as “Jim Crow” emerge in the final fifteen years of the nineteenth century, and racial separation becomes entrenched. Blacks largely disappear from juries in the South. Southern states begin adopting legal measures that interfere with blacks’ right to vote, including literacy tests and poll taxes, which effectively charge a fee for the right to vote. Around the turn of the century, Southern state legislatures enact increasingly restrictive labor control measures designed to coerce black agricultural workers into situations little better than slavery. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, many states pass statutes requiring segregation in railroad transportation.
Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, the number of lynchings rises precipitously. The victims are overwhelmingly black. Approximately 49 lynchings are reported in 1882; 70 in 1887; 161 in 1892; and 106 in 1900. Between 1889 and 1918, 3,224 people are murdered as the result of lynchings. Fewer than 30% of the victims of lynchings are ever formally charged with a crime.
Grover Cleveland is once again elected President. Democrats now control both the White House and Congress for the first time since before the Civil War. Democrats repeal several of the remaining provisions of the Ku Klux Klan Acts of 1870 and 1871 that regulate the intimidation and harassment of voters.
In Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), the Supreme Court holds that separate but equal facilities for white and black railroad passengers do not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Brown’s majority opinion explains that the purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment is not to enforce social equality as compared to political equality or to achieve a “commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” Justice Harlan is the lone dissenter, arguing that forced segregation of the races stamps blacks with a badge of inferiority.
The United States enters the Spanish-American War, acquiring Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Arguments for the war repeatedly allude to the “inferior” races in the Spanish-held colonies.
States along the eastern seaboard begin to pass statutes requiring segregation in places of public accommodation. Ordinances segregating streetcars sweep the South from 1900 to 1906.
In Cumming v. Richmond Board of Education, 175 U.S. 528 (1899), the Supreme Court upholds a local school board’s decision to close a free public black school due to fiscal constraints, despite the fact that the district continues to operate two free public white schools. Justice Harlan’s opinion argues that there is no evidence in the record that the decision was based on racial discrimination, and that the distribution of public funds for free public education was within the discretion of school authorities.
Black disenfranchisement unfolds through a typical pattern in many states at the turn of the century. Black participation in elections is reduced through force and fraud. Legislatures controlled by Democrats enact complex voter registration requirements that reduce the number of black votes. Amendments to state constitutions impose poll taxes and literacy tests.
In Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475 (1903), the so-called “black disenfranchisement” case, the Supreme Court effectively acquiesces in these practices and upholds Alabama’s voter registration scheme. Justice Holmes rejects the claim that the state is trying to prevent blacks from registering to vote. More importantly, even if that was the goal, Holmes argues, there is nothing that the Supreme Court can do to prevent it: “Apart from damages to the individual, relief from a great political wrong, if done, as alleged, by the people of a state and the state itself, must be given by them or by the legislative and political department of the government of the United States.”
School boards in East Orange, New Jersey and Wichita, Kansas pass school segregation ordinances as part of a general trend at the turn of the century. The San Francisco city council orders segregation of the Japanese in public schools.
Thurgood Marshall is born in Baltimore on July 2nd.
In Berea College v. Kentucky, 211 U.S. 45 (1908), the Supreme Court upholds a Kentucky state law forbidding interracial instruction at all schools and colleges in the state.
W.E.B. Du Bois founds the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Among its early crusades is a movement for anti-lynching legislation. Using graphic leaflets, the NAACP highlights the proliferation of lynchings in the early years of the twentieth century, exposing their racial motivations and condemning authorities for failing to investigate them.
Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, is elected to his first term as President. Although he later becomes famous for his support of progressive legislation and his promotion of the League of Nations, Wilson sympathizes with the Southern cause and once describes Reconstruction as the overthrow of civilization in the South. As President of Princeton University, he barred the entry of black students. As President of the United States, he presides over the extensive expansion of segregationist practices in the federal government, helping to make Washington, D.C. one of the most segregated cities in America. The Post Office begins to segregate black clerks, the Treasury Department establishes segregated toilets, and Wilson defends segregation as being to the advantage of blacks themselves.
World War I begins.
America enters World War I in April. In July five thousand blacks march down Fifth Avenue in New York to protest a race riot by a white mob in East St. Louis. They carry a banner that reads, “Mr. President, Why Not Make America Safe for Democracy?”
In Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60 (1917), the Supreme Court strikes down a Louisville ordinance that prohibits black persons from residing on a block in which a majority of houses are occupied by whites and vice versa. Buchanan is one of the few cases during this period that does not follow the logic of Plessy v. Ferguson.
From June through December, as many as 25 race riots break out in cities across the country, with white mobs attacking blacks and looting their homes and businesses. The worst of the riots takes place in Chicago and is sparked when a group of whites attacks a black man who ventures into the white section of a Lake Michigan beach. Thirty-eight people are killed and more than 500 are injured.
The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
Beginning in the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan experiences a revitalization. The Klan attracts over 100,000 members across the nation and dominates state governments in Indiana and Oregon
Race riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma erupt in the Greenwood district of the city. White mobs rampage through the mostly black Greenwood for three days, setting fire to black-owned property, breaking into homes, and looting business. The rioters kill 250 people, destroy 35 city blocks, and 18,000 black homes, businesses, and churches. Four thousand blacks who are rendered homeless are relocated to fair grounds in cattle and hog pens.
In Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78 (1927), the Supreme Court holds that a Mississippi school district May require a Chinese-American girl to attend a segregated black school rather than a white school. The Court applies the “separate but equal” formulation of Plessy v. Ferguson to the public schools.
On the 15th of January, Martin Luther King, Jr., is born in Atlanta.
Nine black boys are arrested in Scottsboro, Alabama and are charged with raping a white woman on a train. Over the course of three trials, they are found guilty and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court reverses the death sentences in Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932), on the grounds that the defendants were denied adequate counsel. However, the defendants are retried over the course of over 20 years, and the “Scottsboro Boys” become a cause celebre among Northern liberals as symbols of the South’s backwardness, its racism, and the unfairness of its criminal justice system.
Assisted by his protege Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston of the NAACP begins his strategy of challenging segregation in graduate and professional schools. Through these efforts, an organization which will later become the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund begins to take shape.
After the Daughters of the American Revolution bar Marian Anderson, a black contralto, from singing in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigns from the organization. The NAACP obtains permission from the Department of the Interior to have an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial at which Marion Anderson performs. The event becomes a symbol for racial equality. Nevertheless, neither Eleanor nor Franklin Roosevelt publicly speak out against Jim Crow. Civil rights advocates throughout the 1930s fail to achieve anti-lynching legislation, the abolition of the poll tax, and full inclusion of blacks in a variety of New Deal programs.
In Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938), the Supreme Court decides in favor of Lloyd Gaines, a black student who had been refused admission to the University of Missouri Law School. The Court holds that the state must furnish Gaines “within its borders facilities for legal education substantially equal to those which the State there offered for the persons of the white race, whether or not other Negroes sought the same opportunity.”
Thurgood Marshall is named special counsel of the NAACP, succeeding Charles Hamilton Houston.
In September, Germany invades Poland, beginning World War II.
Between 1889 and 1941, approximately 3,842 lynchings are recorded.
President Roosevelt establishes a Fair Employment Practices Commission. In a series of Executive Orders during the War, the Roosevelt administration expands the employment of blacks in the federal bureaucracy and writes “no discrimination” clauses into war contracts.
The United States enters World War II after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.
The Soldiers Vote Act abolishes the poll tax as a prerequisite for voting by members of the armed services.
During the Southern election campaigns of 1942, lynchings resurge as an intimidation tactic. In Mississippi, for example, three lynchings occur in a single week. Throughout the course of 1942, black soldiers are beaten or shot by whites in the South. Concerned about the pervasive crisis in black morale, the federal government for the first time becomes involved in the prosecution of lynchings.
On February 19, President Roosevelt issues Executive Order 9066. It authorizes the Secretary of War and his subordinates to designate military zones from which “any or all persons May be excluded.” All persons of Japanese, German, and Italian ancestry residing in “zone No. 1,” which includes most of the Western United States, are ordered to give military authorities notice if they decide to change residence. On May 3, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt issues Civilian Exclusion Order 34, which states that all persons of Japanese ancestry – including both Japanese resident aliens and American citizens– are to be removed from Military Area No. 1 and placed in internment camps. Many of them remain in the camps until 1946.
Now that the Chinese are allies, Congress lifts the ban on the naturalization of persons of Chinese origin. In 1946, the naturalization laws are broadened to include the Phillippines and India. Finally, in 1952, Congress establishes that “the right of a person to become a naturalized citizen of the United States shall not be denied or abridged because of race or sex,” eliminating all race-based restrictions on naturalization.
In Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943), the Supreme Court unanimously upholds curfew orders directed against persons of Japanese ancestry.
In Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), the Supreme Court upholds Fred Korematsu’s conviction for violating Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, which required the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Justice Black’s majority opinion announces for the first time that all restrictions that curtail the civil rights of a racial group must be subjected to “the most rigid scrutiny.” Nevertheless, he justifies the internment as a necessary military measure taken during a time of war. The Attorney General of California, Earl Warren, announces his support for the policy.
World War II ends.
Thurgood Marshall establishes the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
President Truman creates the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. The Committee’s October 1947 report, To Secure These Rights, calls for a broad range of policies against racism: elimination of discrimination and segregation in employment, housing, health facilities, interstate transportation, and public accommodations; a federal law making lynching a crime; abolition of the poll tax; federal protection of voting rights; and Executive Orders against discrimination in the federal civil service and the armed forces.
Jackie Robinson becomes the first black to play major league baseball.
The NAACP board of directors formally endorses Thurgood Marshall’s view that the NAACP should devote its efforts solely to an all-out attack on segregation in education rather than pressing for the equalization of segregated facilities.
In Sipuel v. University of Oklahoma Board of Regents, 332 U.S. 631 (1948), a unanimous Supreme Court holds that Lois Ada Sipuel cannot be denied entrance to a state law school solely because of her race. In response, the University of Oklahoma designates an area in the state capitol as the “negro law school” and hires three black lawyers to be the faculty. In Fisher v. Hurst, 333 U.S. 147 (1948), the Supreme Court refuses to order the state to desegregate its law school, holding that it is the province of the district court to determine if the University of Oklahoma has followed the Court’s mandate. On remand, the trial court gives the state the option of establishing a separate black law school. In 1949, Sipuel is finally admitted to the University of Oklahoma’s law school, but she is forced to sit in a raised chair apart from other students behind a sign reading “colored.” She is required to enter the law school from a separate entrance and to eat alone in the school cafeteria. She graduates from the law school in 1951.
President Truman sends a message to Capitol Hill calling for the enactment of some of his civil rights committee’s recommendations, including an end to segregated schools and employment discrimination. He does not introduce any legislation.
In Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), the Supreme Court holds that judicial enforcement of racially restrictive covenants in private housing violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
President Truman orders the desegregation of the Armed Forces. Army Chief of Staff Omar Bradley declares, “The Army is not out to make any social reform. The Army will not put men of different races in the same companies. It will change that policy when the nation as a whole changes it.” Truman’s order is not implemented until after the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950. The process of desegregating the Army is not “complete” until 1954, at which point no unit is more than 50% black.
At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Southern delegates stage a walk-out to protest the civil rights plank of the party platform. Dissident members of the party form the States’ Rights Party, also called the Dixiecrats. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina is their nominee for President.
In Perez v. Lippold, 198 P.2d 17 (1948), the Supreme Court of California holds that the state’s ban on interracial marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The United Nations General Assembly adopts and proclaims The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It provides that all people are entitled to basic human rights without regard for race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Thurgood Marshall and NAACP officials meet with black residents of Clarendon County, South Carolina. They decide that the NAACP will launch a test case against segregation in public schools if at least 20 plaintiffs can be found. By November, twenty plaintiffs are assembled, and the NAACP files a class action lawsuit against the Clarendon County School Board. The case, known as Briggs v. Elliott, eventually becomes one of the cases consolidated by the Supreme Court into Brown v. Board of Education.
In Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950), the Supreme Court holds that the University of Texas Law School must admit a black student, Heman Sweatt. The University of Texas Law School is far superior in its offerings and resources to the separate black law school, which had been hastily established in a downtown basement. The Truman Administration’s Justice Department files a brief asking the Court to directly overrule Plessy v. Ferguson, but the Court declines, simply holding that Texas failed to provide separate but equal education. In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950), the Court invalidates the University of Oklahoma’s requirement that a black student, admitted to a graduate program unavailable to him at the state’s black school, sit in separate sections of or in spaces adjacent to the classroom, library, and cafeteria.
On February 28, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka is filed in federal district court in Kansas.
NAACP lawyer Spottswood Robinson files Davis v. Prince Edward County, a challenge to Virginia’s segregated schools and another of the cases eventually consolidated with Brown.
Briggs v. Elliott, the South Carolina case, goes to trial. Marshall and the NAACP present a vast array of social science evidence showing how segregation harms black school children, including Kenneth Clark’s controversial “Doll Study.” A three judge panel upholds segregation in the schools by a vote of 2 to 1.
Brown v. Board of Education goes to trial with Robert Carter leading the NAACP legal team. In August, a three judge panel unanimously holds that “no willful, intentional or substantial discrimination” exists in the Topeka public schools. The court finds that the physical facilities in white and black schools are comparable and that the Supreme Court’s decisions in Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin apply only to graduate education. However, the court also includes a finding of fact that echoes the testimony of the social science experts by noting that segregation has a detrimental effect on black school children. “The impact [of segregation] is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group… . Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.”
The Delaware cases, Belton v. Gebhart and Bulah v. Gebhart, go to trial.
The trial court in Davis v. Prince Edward County finds in favor of the School Board under the theory of “separate but equal.”
A Delaware court rules in Belton v. Gebhart and Bulah v. Gebhart that the plaintiffs are entitled to immediate admission to white public schools.
The Supreme Court announces that it will hear oral arguments in Briggs and Brown during the upcoming October 1952 Term.
Days before arguments are to be heard in Briggs, and Brown, the Supreme Court announces a postponement. Three weeks later, the Court announces that it will also hear the Delaware cases, as well as Davis v. Prince Edward County and the District of Columbia case, Bolling v. Sharpe. The cases are collected together as Brown v. Board of Education.
First round of arguments held in Brown and its companion cases.
The black community of Baton Rouge, Louisiana launches a mass boycott against segregated buses, marking the beginning of the direct action phase of the Civil Rights Movement. Organized through a network of local black churches, the boycott is led by Reverend T.J. Jemison, pastor of one of the largest black churches in the city. The boycott lasts seven days and proves highly successful. It galvanizes the black community; the New York Times reports that at least 90% of the black population participates. Eventually, white city leaders compromise by agreeing to reserve the two side front seats of the bus for whites and the long rear seat for blacks. All other seating is to be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. Although the victory is limited, news of the success of this direct-action grass-roots strategy reverberates throughout black church networks across the South.
The Supreme Court orders a second round of arguments in Brown, originally scheduled for October 12.
Chief Justice Vinson dies unexpectedly of a heart attack on the 8th. President Eisenhower nominates California Governor Earl Warren to replace Vinson as interim Chief on the 30th. The Court reschedules arguments in Brown for December. Warren is confirmed as Chief Justice by the Senate in March of 1954.
Second round of arguments in Brown v. Board of Education.
In Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954), the Supreme Court strikes down state policies that discriminate against Mexican Americans in jury selection.
The Supreme Court decides Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (Brown I), declaring that racial segregation in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause. The same day, it holds that racial segregation in the District of Columbia public schools violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment in Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954).
In the wake of the decision, the District of Columbia and some school districts in the border states begin to desegregate their schools voluntarily. State legislatures in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia adopt resolutions of “interposition and nullification” that declare the Court’s decision to be “null, void, and no effect.” Various southern legislatures pass laws that impose sanctions on anyone who implements desegregation, and enact school closing plans that authorize the suspension of public education and the disbursement of public funds to parents to send their children to private schools. The governor of Virginia declares that he will do everything within his power to maintain segregated schools. Some states enact statutes mandating school segregation, ordering state and local officials to take all measures within their authority to preserve segregation, terminating funding for racially mixed schools, and repealing compulsory attendance laws.
The Court schedules arguments on remedy in Brown for October but eventually puts them off to April of 1955.
In a series of per curiam opinions handed down between 1954 and 1962, the Supreme Court holds unconstitutional a wide variety of Jim Crow laws, citing Brown as authority. The Court strikes down segregation in golf courses and fishing lakes in Muir v. Louisville Park Theatrical Ass’n., 347 U.S. 971 (1954) and Holmes v. City of Atlanta, 350 U.S. 879 (1955); in public beaches, bathhouses, and swimming pools in Mayor of Baltimore v. Dawson, 350 U.S. 877 (1955); in a public law school in Florida ex rel. Hawkins v. Board of Control, 350 U.S. 413 (1956); on buses in Gayle v. Browder, 352 U.S. 903 (1956); in city parks in New Orleans City Park Improvement Ass’n v. Detiege, 358 U.S. 54 (1958); and in airport restaurants and rest rooms in Turner v. City of Memphis, 369 U.S. 350 (1962).
The Department of Defense announces that all-black units no longer exist in the military.
Justice Jackson dies suddenly. President Eisenhower nominates John Marshall Harlan, the grandson of the lone dissenter in Plessy, to fill the vacancy. After long hearings before the Senate, Harlan is finally sworn in as an Associate Justice in March of 1955.
The Supreme Court hears its third round of arguments in Brown� this time concerning remedies.
On the last day of the Term, the Supreme Court hands down Brown II, 349 U.S. 294 (1955), ordering that desegregation occur with “all deliberate speed.”
In response to Brown II, White Citizen’s Councils are formed by businessmen and professionals to oppose desegregation. Lynchings resurge.
Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, is murdered for saying “Bye, baby” to and allegedly whistling at a white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi. The case quickly attracts national attention. In September, an all-white jury finds his alleged assailants not guilty of murder.
On December 1, Rosa Parks refuses to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white passenger. She is arrested for violating municipal laws and ordered to appear for trial four days later. She is convicted and ordered to pay a fine of $10. When she refuses to pay, she is jailed.
On the 5th, the Montgomery Bus Boycott begins, inspired by Rosa Parks and led by Martin Luther King, Jr. It continues through 1956. The boycott gives King a position of leadership within the national civil rights movement and demonstrates that nonviolent methods of protest could be effective.
An angry mob prevents Autherine Lucy, a black student, from being admitted to the University of Alabama. Lucy is nearly lynched. President Eisenhower declines to employ federal force or power to secure her admission. She is eventually expelled from the University for allegedly bringing false contempt charges against a member of the Board of Trustees of the University.
Twenty-two Senators and 82 of the 106 Southern Representatives issue the Southern Manifesto, a declaration charging that the Court’s opinion in Brown was “a clear abuse of judicial power” that substituted the Justices’ “personal political and social ideas for the established law of the land.” They pledge to “use all lawful means to bring about the reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution.” Meanwhile, The Georgia state legislature votes to adopt as its new state flag a design that includes the Confederate battle insignia.
The Supreme Court refuses to decide a challenge to miscegenation laws in Naim v. Naim, 350 U.S. 891 (1956), arguing that the record was insufficient.
On the13th, the Supreme Court rules that the city ordinances segregating seating on the Montgomery city buses violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision is implemented on December 21st, finally bringing the Montgomery Bus boycott to an end.
Martin Luther King and his allies found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to carry out the civil rights agenda. On February 14th, King is officially elected as leader.
Congress passes its first civil rights bill since 1875. It creates a Civil Rights Commission and establishes the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department. Nevertheless, the bill’s provisions are so watered down that it is widely regarded as ineffectual.
Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus posts members of the National Guard at the entrance of Central High School in Little Rock to prevent the court-ordered admission of black students. Three weeks after the stand off begins, the students try to enter the school and are greeted by an angry mob. On September 24th, Eisenhower finally sends 1100 army paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock, federalizes 10,000 members of the Arkansas National Guard, and orders the school to be desegregated. Governor Faubus eventually closes all four high schools in Little Rock rather than allow desegregation to continue.
In Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958), the Supreme Court unanimously holds that Little Rock must proceed with the desegregation of its public schools despite state-inspired opposition, violence, and disorder.
Prince Edward County, Virginia closes all of its public schools rather than desegregate them.
Congress passes 18 U.S.C. �1509, making the obstruction of federal court desegregation orders a crime.
On the 1st, four freshmen from all-black North Carolina A&T College sit down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, vowing to stay until the management agrees to desegregate it. No one serves them, and the store closes half an hour early. Eventually, lunch counter sit-ins take place across the state as well as in other parts of the South. The sit-in eventually becomes a vital tactic for civil rights protesters. A new organization, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), grows out of the sit-ins.
John F. Kennedy is elected President.
In Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960), the Supreme Court holds that a black patron of a restaurant located in an interstate bus terminal has a federal statutory right to be served without discrimination.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) begins the Freedom Rides to integrate interstate bus routes throughout the South. Riders are met by angry white mobs and one bus is stoned and firebombed. The Freedom Riders are repeatedly jailed. By November the Interstate Commerce Commission prohibits interstate bus companies from using segregated facilities.
Justice Felix Frankfurter retires from the Supreme Court and is replaced by Arthur J. Goldberg, solidifying a liberal majority on the Warren Court.
Federal marshals escort James Meredith to the University of Mississippi to register. Riots break out at Ole Miss on September 30th in response to Meredith’s matriculation, killing two people and wounding scores of others.
According to a poll by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 65% of whites believe in the principle of integration.
At his inauguration as Governor of Alabama, George Wallace states: “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny … and I say … Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”
Civil rights protesters led by Martin Luther King, Jr. begin boycotts, sit-ins, and demonstrations in Birmingham�perhaps the South’s most segregated city. On April 10th, the Birmingham protesters are dispersed by police dogs in a violent scene televised across the country. King is arrested and jailed for a week. He issues his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, explaining why civil disobedience is justified. King is released from jail on April 20th.
King organizes the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham. On the 2nd, he sends some 1000 children from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on a demonstration march through downtown Birmingham. The police promptly arrest them and take them off to jail. The next day, hundreds of students assemble at the church for another march. Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor orders firemen to turn high-pressure hoses on the protesters, and policemen confront the students with attack dogs. Over 2000 protesters are thrown in jail, and many are knocked unconscious by the fire hoses. Protesters begin throwing stones and police respond by beating them with night sticks; the protests escalate into ever-more violent confrontations. Photographers and cameramen capture the treatment of the protesters on film, and the resulting outrage sways public sympathies further toward the Civil Rights Movement. By May 10th, the Mayor of Birmingham and local business men agree to the eventual desegregation of public facilities.
In Watson v. City of Memphis, 373 U.S. 526 (1963), the Supreme Court rejects the City of Memphis’ request for a delay in desegregating its facilities. The Court writes, “Brown never contemplated that the concept of �deliberate speed’ would countenance indefinite delay in elimination of racial barriers in schools.”
On the 11th, Governor George Wallace tries to stop two black students from entering Alabama’s state university by standing in the doorway.
On the 12th, Medgar Evers, a field secretary for the NAACP, is murdered in Jackson, Mississippi.
On the 28th, two hundred fifty thousand demonstrators participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, gathering at the Lincoln Memorial. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Governor George Wallace fights a court desegregation order and delays the opening of Alabama public schools. President Kennedy federalizes the Alabama National Guard to enforce the admission of black students.
On the 15th, Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist church is bombed, killing four young black girls attending Sunday school.
On the 22nd, President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson becomes President.
More than 99.5% of black students in the South, excluding Texas and Tennessee, still attend all-black schools. Only 2.3% of black students throughout the country attend predominantly white schools.
Congress passes the Twenty-fourth Amendment, which prohibits the states from imposing poll taxes as a condition for voting in elections for federal offices. It is ratified by the states the same year.
In Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 377 U.S. 218 (1964), the Supreme Court holds that closing the public schools in Prince Edward County and appropriating public money to support private, segregated education violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Mississippi Freedom Summer Project begins. Hundreds of student volunteers from across the country move into black neighborhoods in Mississippi to encourage voter registration. On June 21, three civil rights workers� James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner� are reported missing. Their bodies are later discovered in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and President Johnson signs it on the 2nd. The Act outlaws race and gender discrimination in voting, public accommodations, and employment. Title VI, which prohibits discrimination in education, becomes a major tool of desegregation efforts.
Lyndon B. Johnson defeats Barry Goldwater in the presidential election by a margin of 16 million votes. The black vote overwhelmingly supports Johnson and signals the beginning of a fundamental realignment in American politics. Most blacks shift their allegiance to the Democratic party, and over the next thirty years the white South becomes increasingly Republican.
On the 4th, President Johnson issues an executive order prohibiting discrimination in federal aid programs.
On the 7th, in McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184 (1964), the Supreme Court strikes down a criminal statute that punishes cohabitation by interracial couples more severely than cohabitation by persons of the same race.
On the 10th, Martin Luther King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
On the 14th, the Supreme Court upholds Congress’s power to pass Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964) and Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294 (1964).
The Philadelphia Plan, the first federal affirmative action program, begins under the aegis of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCC) in the Department of Labor. By September 1967, the Department of Labor informs all federal agencies that they must abide by the Philadelphia Plan, causing hostility among labor unions as well as contractors.
On the 21st, Malcolm X is assassinated.
On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7th, six hundred demonstrators gather at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin a four day march from Selma to Montgomery to petition Governor Wallace for black voting rights. After the protesters cross the Pettus bridge, Alabama state troopers are unleashed on them, leading to one of the most violent episodes of the civil rights struggles. Sympathy marches occur across the country over the next few days. On the 15th, President Johnson sends a voting rights bill to Congress.
On the 6th, President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
On the 11th, riots break out in Watts, California.
Congress passes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 20 U.S.C. ��1861 et. seq., giving the federal government the ability to enforce compliance with court desegregation orders by threatening to withhold federal funding. This threat proves vital to producing genuine desegregation in the South.
In Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), the Supreme Court holds that state governments May not impose poll taxes in state elections.
Stokey Charmichael ousts John Lewis as the head of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Radical separatist black activists, such as Carmichael, Hubert “Rapp” Brown, who replaced Carmichael as the head of SNCC in 1967, and the soon-to-be founders of the Black Panthers Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, begin overtly challenging Martin Luther King’s leadership of the movement and his non-violent principles. The civil rights movement splinters from within. Black radicals reject integrationist strategies and call for a return to black control of local school districts in black neighborhoods under the banner of “black power.”
The National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded in Washington, D.C., with Betty Friedan as its first president.
Huey Newton and Bobby Seale found the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, California.
In United States v. Jefferson County Bd. of Education, 372 F.2d 836 (5th Cir. 1966), Judge Minor Wisdom orders New Orleans school districts to abandon “freedom of choice” plans that have consistently failed to desegregate schools. The court orders the city to “undo the harm” of past desegregation by racially balancing the schools, using guidelines issued by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW).
In Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), the Supreme Court strikes down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages. It holds that all racial classifications are to be subjected to the “most rigid scrutiny.” This test of “strict scrutiny” means that a classification is almost always unconstitutional.
On the 13th, President Johnson nominates Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. He takes his seat in October, becoming the first African-American Justice of the Supreme Court. It turns out to be the last Supreme Court appointment the Democrats will make for 27 years.
Race riots erupt in cities across the country, including Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Memphis, Milwaukee, and Newark. President Johnson forms a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (The Kerner Commission) to investigate the causes of the riots in the urban centers. The Commission issues its report on March 1, 1968, warning that the nation is rapidly moving toward two separate societies� -one black and poor, the other affluent and white. It calls for major anti-poverty efforts and strengthened civil rights enforcement to eliminate the causes of the disorders.
Approximately 13% of black students in the country attend predominantly white schools. By 1980, the percentage rises to 37%. The percentage of white students attending predominantly white schools drops from 78% in 1968 to 61% in 1980.
In 1968, 64.3% of black students attend schools that are 90% minority.
Almost 85% of Southern whites and 35% of Northern whites object to sending their children to schools that are over 50% black.
A group of parents in San Antonio, Texas file a suit on behalf of their children who attend schools in the Edgewood district, alleging that the Texas system of public school financing discriminates against the poor. The Edgewood districts spends $231 per student and has one of the highest tax rates in the area, while the city’s wealthiest school district, Alamo Heights, is able to spend $543 per student with a substantially lower tax rate. The Supreme Court eventually upholds the state financing scheme in 1973 in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973).
Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated on the 4th. Riots break out in cities all over the country.
Congress passes the Fair Housing Act, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, on the 10th. President Johnson signs it on the 11th. The Act makes it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent, or negotiate for the sale or rental of a dwelling because of race or religion. Only the Justice Department is authorized to enforce the Act’s provisions through lawsuits.
In Green v. New Kent County School Board, 391 U.S. 430 (1968), the Supreme Court holds that segregation must be dismantled “root and branch.” It rejects a freedom-of-choice plan that allowed black students to transfer to white schools because it placed the burden of desegregation on black students and preserved white- and black- identified institutions. School officials, the Court says, must “fashion steps which promise realistically to convert promptly to a system without a �white’ school and a �Negro’ school, but just schools.”
Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles on the 6th.
On the 23d, Earl Warren retires as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. President Johnson nominates Associate Justice Abe Fortas to replace Warren as Chief Justice, but Senate opposition and allegations of financial impropriety lead Johnson to withdraw the nomination in October. Fortas resigns from the Court a year later amid financial scandal. The failed nomination leaves the Republicans with two appointments and signals the end of the liberal majority on the Supreme Court. Warren Burger becomes Chief Justice in June 1969, and after two failed nomination attempts, Richard Nixon replaces Fortas with Harry Blackmun in April 1970.
Richard Nixon wins the Presidency, receiving 43.4 % of the vote. Democrat Hubert Humphrey wins 42.7% of the vote, and George Wallace wins 13.5% as a third party candidate. The Democrats maintain their majority in the House of Representatives. A record number of black men and women are elected to Congress.
As president, Nixon shifts the emphasis away from the cutting off of federal funds to coerce desegregation and toward Justice Department sponsored lawsuits. Throughout his presidency, Nixon repeatedly attacks busing as a remedy and states that he will do no more than the minimum required by law. He even proposes a constitutional amendment to prohibit busing to achieve racial balance in the public schools.
By the summer of 1969, more than 800,000 black voters are registered in the states covered by the Voting Rights Acts. Black registration has increased from 20% of the voting age population to 56%. In Mississippi alone, 60% of the black voting-age population is registered.
The Stonewall riots erupt on the 27th, marking the beginning of the gay rights movement.
The Department of Justice and HEW announce that strict compliance with timetables for integration will be dropped. The Nixon Administration files a motion in the Supreme Court to delay integration throughout the country. The Court denies the motion, but Nixon announces that he does not feel obligated to do any more than the minimum required by law. At Nixon’s direction, HEW Secretary Robert Finch asks the federal courts to delay desegregation measures for 33 school districts in Mississippi. A unanimous Supreme Court rejects the request in October in Alexander v. Holmes, 396 U.S. 19 (1969), unanimously declaring that Brown II’s “all deliberate speed” time frame has expired and that desegregated schools must therefore be achieved “at once.”
The Nixon administration expands federal affirmative action. The Department of Labor’s Order No. 4 declares that government contractors should set their own minority hiring targets but that the targets must be equal to the “minority ratio of the local applicant population.” In February, the Department issues a revised order, requiring all government contractors to file an affirmative action program within 120 days of signing a contract.
The enrollment of black students in predominantly white Southern schools rises to 33% from one-tenth of one percent in 1960. Whereas in 1960 almost all black students attended all-black schools, by 1970, only 34% of blacks remain in intensely segregated schools in the South.
In Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471 (1970), the Supreme Court upholds a Maryland law that limits monthly welfare grants to a family to $250, regardless of the family’s size or computed need. The Court holds that regulations directed against the poor do not warrant any special judicial scrutiny. By contrast, in August the California Supreme Court strikes down a property-based school financing scheme in Serrano v. Priest (Serrano I), 487 P.2d 1241 (Cal. 1970), holding that wealth is a suspect classification and that education is a fundamental right.
In Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971), the Supreme Court holds that employment practices that have a disparate impact on black workers are illegal, even without a showing of intent to discriminate, if employers cannot demonstrate that the practice is justified by a business necessity.
The Supreme Court specifically endorses busing as a remedy for school desegregation in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971). The Court holds that desegregation must be achieved in each of a district’s schools to the “greatest extent possible.” In the companion case of North Carolina State Board of Education v. Swann, 402 U.S. 43 (1971), the Court strikes down North Carolina’s Anti-Busing Law that prohibited making student assignments on the basis of race.
In Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217 (1971), the Court upholds Jackson, Mississippi’s decision to close public swimming pools after a court ordered them desegregated. The Court refuses to inquire into the motivation behind legislative action.
Justices Hugo L. Black and John Marshall Harlan retire. They are replaced in January 1972 by William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell, giving Nixon four appointments to the Supreme Court in his first term.
In Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971), the Supreme Court strikes down an Idaho law that required that men be chosen as administrators of estates; the decision marks the beginning of modern constitutional doctrines of sex equality.
The proportion of black children attending all-black schools in the South falls to 8% from 68% in 1968. By the end of Nixon’s first term, Southern school systems lead the nation in desegregation rates. Ninety-one percent of black students in the South attend integrated schools.
On March 22, 1972, Congress passes the Equal Rights Amendment to guarantee sex equality. By early 1973, 30 of the necessary 38 states have endorsed the amendment, but it ultimately fails to win ratification. The next year, the Supreme Court decides Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973) and four justices hold that classifications based on sex should be treated with the same degree of suspicion as those based on race.
In San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973), the Supreme Court holds that education is not a fundamental right and that unequal school funding does not violate the Constitution. It reaffirms that classifications based on wealth are not unconstitutional. Attention now shifts to state constitutional challenges, and between 1973 and 1988 courts in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming hold unequal school financing schemes unconstitutional. In 1989, the Texas Supreme Court holds that the state’s public school financing scheme upheld in Rodriguez violates the state constitution.
In Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1, 413 U.S. 189 (1973), the Supreme Court considers the problems of Northern metropolitan segregation for the first time, as well as the rights of Latinos to desegregated education. In the North, school segregation is often the result of demographic shifts and residential segregation rather than deliberate segregation of schools. The Court uses an elaborate series of presumptions to establish discriminatory intent and justify a remedy. Justice Powell rejects this inquiry into intention, arguing that the harm of segregation is the same whether school segregation is mandated by law (de jure segregation) or produced by other factors (de facto segregation). However, he argues that busing as a remedy should be significantly limited.
In Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455 (1973), the Supreme Court holds that Mississippi cannot lend textbooks to students attending private segregated schools.
Congress attempts to limit courts’ ability to order busing in the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, 20 U.S.C. �1703.
In Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974), the Supreme Court strikes down a desegregation plan that involved black schools in the city of Detroit and white schools in the suburbs. The Court holds that courts May not order remedies among different districts unless it shows discriminatory intention in each district or a discriminatory policy in one district that has segregative effects in other districts. The decision effectively puts an end to most judicial remedies linking white suburbs with black inner cities. The case is decided by a 5 to 4 vote, with all four of President Nixon’s appointees in the majority. Prior to Milliken, all school desegregation cases had been unanimous.
President Nixon resigns and is replaced by Gerald Ford.
According to a poll by the National Opinion Research Center, black opposition to busing reaches its high point with 53% of blacks opposed.
Judge Arthur Garrity issues an elaborate plan to desegregate Boston’s public schools, ordering the busing of 21,000 students. In response, race riots erupt in high schools in Hyde Park, Roxbury, and South Boston. Governor Francis Sargent calls in the National Guard and appeals to President Ford to send federal troops to quell the disturbances.
The violence in Boston represents the height of national tension over busing. Also in the early 1970s, dynamite explosions in Denver destroy over one-third of the city’s buses; a mob in Lamar, South Carolina attacks school buses carrying children; protesters in Pontiac, Michigan boycott the schools and firebomb buses; and in Trenton, New Jersey, race riots by students and others force the schools to close for two days.
In the same month that Boston erupts in race riots, the public swimming pools in Jackson, Mississippi are finally integrated.
Congress prohibits the department of Health Education and Welfare from threatening to withhold federal funds to force school districts to bus students beyond the schools nearest their homes as a means of achieving racial integration.
In Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229 (1976), the Supreme Court holds that a law or government policy does not violate the Equal Protection Clause even if it has discriminatory effects unless it can be proved that it was motivated by a purpose or intention to discriminate against a racial group. The Court upholds the use of a qualifying exam for police officers despite allegations that the test was racially biased.
According to a Harris & Associates opinion poll, 63% of black parents and 56% of white parents say that their experience of being bused for desegregation has been “very satisfactory.”
In Regents of The University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), the Supreme Court confronts the growing debate over affirmative action. It strikes down a state medical school admissions policy that set aside a specific number of seats for minority candidates. Justice Powell’s opinion takes a middle position and becomes generally recognized as stating the holding of the case, even though it is joined by no other Justices. Powell holds that “benign” racial classifications are subject to the test of “strict scrutiny,” and the set-aside is unconstitutional. However, a race-conscious admissions policy that uses race as a “plus factor” in an effort to achieve “diversity” May be constitutional. As a result, the language of “diversity” becomes a key concept in the affirmative action debate.
In August, the ACLU and a group of black parents reopen the original Brown case in Topeka, arguing that twenty-five years after the decision many of the city’s schools remain racially segregated.
The percentage of white students attending predominantly white schools drops from 78% in 1968 to 61% in 1980. The percentage of black students attending schools that are at least 90% minority drops from 64.3% in 1968 to 33.2% in 1980.
The Supreme Court upholds an affirmative action program for federal contractors in Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448 (1980).
Ronald Reagan is elected President
At the behest of the Reagan administration, Congress converts the Emergency School Aid Act of 1972, which provided schools with $149 million for desegregation programs, into a block grant program for education generally. This effectively cuts off the only substantial source of federal funding for desegregation remedies. This is the largest of the many federal spending programs slashed in the first months of the Reagan Administration. However, the provision that earmarks funds for magnet schools is later restored in June of 1984.
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights William Bradford Reynolds tells a congressional committee that “compulsory busing of students in order to achieve racial balance in the public schools is not an acceptable remedy.” Throughout the Reagan Administration, Reynolds makes speeches emphasizing that blacks would be better off in de facto, segregated, neighborhood schools than in integrated, non-neighborhood schools. He also speaks out repeatedly against affirmative action, arguing that colorblindness was the basic principle of the Civil Rights Movement.
Los Angeles becomes the first major city to abandon desegregation and to return to neighborhood schools. Between 1979 and 1993, the city receives over three billion dollars in federal and state aid to equalize resources and opportunities in minority schools.
Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman Supreme Court Justice.
According to the National Opinion Research Center, 90% of whites now believe in the principle of integration.
In Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), the Supreme Court holds that Texas May not deny free public education to the children of illegal immigrants.
In Washington v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 458 U.S. 457 (1982), the Supreme Court strikes down a popular initiative that prevented school boards from ordering busing. However, in Crawford v. Los Angeles Board of Education, 458 U.S. 527 (1982), the Court upholds a California constitutional amendment that limited judicial power to order busing.
After renouncing segregation, George Wallace is re-elected as Governor of Alabama, this time with the support of a majority of black voters.
In Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429 (1984), the Supreme Court holds that a state court custody ruling that denied a mother custody of her child because she remarried a black man violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court notes that though the child of an interracial couple May face stigma, “the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give [private biases] effect.”
The largest twenty-five urban school districts in the country now enroll 30% of Latino students, 27% of black students, and only 3% of the white population. According to a poll conducted by the National Opinion Center, black opposition to busing falls to 38% .
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated as a federal holiday for the first time.
The Fourth Circuit allows the Norfolk school district, which had been declared unitary in 1975, to dismantle its segregation plan and return to local control and neighborhood schools. Norfolk promptly ends its busing plan and creates ten almost all-black elementary schools and three disproportionately white elementary schools.
In Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, 476 U.S. 267 (1986), the Supreme Court holds that a school board’s layoff policy that granted preferences to minority employees violates the Equal Protection Clause.
President Reagan appoints Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Burger’s resignation and appoints Justice William H. Rehnquist as Chief Justice.
In metropolitan Los Angeles, high schools with more than 80% white students average less than 3% low income students. Those high schools attended predominantly by minorities are composed of one-third low-income students.
Justice Powell retires. President Reagan nominates Robert Bork to fill the vacancy. His confirmation hearings become an ideologically charged battle, and he is not confirmed. Reagan then nominates Douglas H. Ginsburg from the D.C. Court of Appeals, but his nomination is derailed when it is discovered that he smoked marijuana while a law professor. In November, Reagan nominates Anthony M. Kennedy of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who is confirmed and takes his seat the next February.
Segregation trends in Chicago exemplify the pattern in big cities. Of the over one million students enrolled in public schools, 30% are black, 13% are Latino, and slightly more than 50% are white. Sixty-nine percent of black students attend schools that are 90-100% minority. Sixty-three percent of white students are enrolled in schools that are 90-100% white. All but one of these schools is located in the suburbs of Chicago, and 94% of the students in the 90-100% minority schools attend schools within the Chicago city limits.
On the 22nd, Congress passes the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 over President Reagan’s veto. The Act corrects a 1984 Supreme Court decision, Grove City College v. Bell, 465 U.S. 555 (1984), that limited the government’s ability to withhold federal funds from institutions that discriminated on the basis of race or sex.
In Kadrmas v. Dickinson Public Schools, 487 U.S. 450 (1988), the Supreme Court reaffirms that education is not a fundamental right.
According to a Harris poll, 64% of whites, 63% of blacks, and 70% of Asians whose children have been bused say that the experience has been “very satisfactory.” Only 4% of blacks, 6% of whites, and 2% of Asians say the experience has been “unsatisfactory.”
Between 1989 and 1999, twenty-two challenges to school financing schemes are brought under state constitutional provisions that promise educational adequacy, in contrast to the equity challenges brought in the 1970s and 80s. Eleven state supreme courts invalidate financing schemes as inadequate and order state legislatures or school boards to craft new financing schemes includes: Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont. Eleven other states reject the challenges: Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, 488 U.S. 469 (1989), the Supreme Court holds 5-4 that state and local affirmative action plans are subject to the same strict scrutiny as deliberate discrimination against racial minorities. In effect, this makes racial affirmative action presumptively unconstitutional. The Court strikes down the City of Richmond’s plan to award minority owned businesses a certain percentage of construction contracts to help remedy the effects of past discrimination in the industry. The Court holds that remedying past societal discrimination cannot be a constitutional justification for affirmative action.
In Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Antonio, 490 U.S. 642 (1989), the Supreme Court makes it more difficult for plaintiffs to win employment discrimination suits. The case generates an outcry to amend Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to overturn the decision, and Congress passes a 1990 Civil Rights Act. President Bush vetoes the bill, declaring it a “quota bill.” During the furor over the Clarence Thomas nomination in 1991, the Act is passed again, and Bush signs it into law.
In Metro Broadcasting v. FCC, 497 U.S. 547 (1990), the Supreme Court upholds the FCC’s affirmative action policies, arguing that in contrast to state programs, federal affirmative action programs need only bear a substantial relationship to important governmental interests. Shortly thereafter, in July, the author of the opinion, Justice Brennan, retires from the Court after 34 years. He is replaced by David Souter.
1991 By the 1990-1991 school year, three-fourths of the white population lives in suburban and rural areas; blacks and Latinos reside largely in urban areas. Although whites comprise 70.7% of student enrollment nationwide, only 25% of students enrolled in the nation’s largest forty-seven urban districts are white; blacks comprise 42.1% of the enrollment, and Latinos comprise 26.5%. Over 50% of students in the country’s large urban districts are eligible for a free or reduced lunch�the primary measure of student poverty. Sixty-six percent of black students are now enrolled in public schools with a more than 50% minority population. National data demonstrate that schools with a majority of minority children are dominated by poor children, but that 96% of white schools are populated by a middle-class majority.
In Board of Education v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237 (1991), the Supreme Court holds that courts May end desegregation orders in school districts that had attempted in good faith to comply, even if this would result in immediate resegregation.
Justice Thurgood Marshall retires from the Supreme Court on June 27. President Bush nominates Clarence Thomas to replace him. During his confirmation hearings, Thomas becomes embroiled in a national controversy after being accused by Anita Hill, a former employee, of sexual harassment. Despite the controversy, the Senate confirms the nomination, and Thomas takes his seat in October.
According to Census Bureau statistics, from 1972 to 1992, the number of blacks in the public schools increased 3%, whereas the number of Latino students jumped 89%, and the enrollment of white students fell 14%.
In a Harris poll conducted for the Boston Globe, when given a choice between busing and segregation, blacks and Latinos now overwhelmingly support busing. Seventy-nine per cent of blacks support busing if there is no other way to achieve integration. Whites support busing by a 48% to 41% majority.
In Freeman v. Pitts, 503 U.S. 467 (1992), the Supreme Court holds that courts May release school districts from parts of desegregation orders even if they have never fully complied with other aspects.
After an all-white jury acquits four Los Angeles police officers on trial for the beating of motorist Rodney King, riots erupt in South Central Los Angeles. The riots last three days, resulting in $1 billion in property damage. Fifty-one people are killed, 2000 are injured. In August, a federal grand jury indicts the officers for violating King’s civil rights. Two of the four officers are eventually convicted the following year.
In United States v. Fordice, 505 U.S. 717 (1992), the Supreme Court holds that the state of Mississippi has failed to dismantle the effects of previous segregation in public colleges and universities.
Approximately 95% of white Americans now support the principle of integrated education as compared to 42% in 1942. Public opinion polls reveal similar increases in white support for the integration of public accommodations and mass transportation. Nevertheless, while only 17% of whites object to sending their children to a school that is half black, 42% of whites are opposed to sending their children to a school that is majority black. In Norfolk, Virginia, a return to neighborhood schools has led to the creation of disproportionately white and black schools. In 1985, before the end of busing, 11% of Norfolk’s black students were in schools that were 75% black or more. In 1993, 41% of all black students are in predominantly black schools. In a majority of the segregated schools, more than 90% of the students are poor. In Montgomery County, Maryland, there is a dramatic increase in the percentage of students in high-poverty schools for every group but white students. From 1988 to 1993, the rate of black students in high poverty schools jumps from 11% to 25%; the rate for Latinos rises from 14% to 40%; and the rate for whites moves from just 7% to 8%. According to a United Nations report, on the Human Development Index, which is based on per capita income, educational attainment, and longevity, the United States rank sixth in the world; white Americans by themselves rank first, and African Americans by themselves rank thirty-first.
On the 24th, Thurgood Marshall dies at the age of 84. Millions of people watch the memorial service on television, and over 4000 people attend the service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
In Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630 (1993), the Supreme Court permits a challenge to a North Carolina redistricting plan designed to increase minority representation in Congress. In a series of cases following Shaw the Court eventually holds that redistricting primarily based on racial demographics is presumptively unconstitutional.
A national Gallup Poll finds that 87% of Americans now believe that Brown v. Board of Education was rightly decided�up from 63% in the early 60s. Fifteen per cent of Southerners still say that Brown was wrongly decided. Sixty-five per cent of the general population and 70% of African Americans in particular say that desegregation has improved the quality of education for black students. Sixty-two percent of those polled say that desegregation has improved race relations. Eighty-four per cent of African Americans support further desegregation efforts.
NovemberIn the congressional elections of 1994, Republicans take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
One-hundred per cent of the students in the public school systems of East St. Louis, Illinois and Compton California are minorities. Ninety-six percent of public school students in Washington, D.C. and Camden, New Jersey are minorities, along with 94% in Hartford, Connecticut and New Orleans, 93% in Los Angeles, Oakland, Atlanta, and Paterson, New Jersey, and 83% in the New York City public school system.
The median income of black households is $22,393; the median income of Latino households is $22,860; and the median income of white households is $35,766. Whereas 26.4% of black families and 27% of Latino families fall below the poverty line, only 8.5% of white families do.
In Missouri v. Jenkins, 515 U.S. 70 (1995) (Jenkins II), the Supreme Court overturns an ambitious plan for magnet schools in Kansas City designed to attract suburban white students back into the inner city. This Court argues that this goal is unjustified and unnecessary to remedy past segregation. The Court states that the primary goal of desegregation cases should be to return schools to local control. It also rejects the argument that increased spending on education could be justified in order to remedy reduced achievement by students in inner city schools. Justice Thomas concurs, arguing that the mere fact that a school has no white students does not mean that a constitutional violation has occurred. Only deliberate segregation by law violates the Constitution. He criticizes the assumption that black students suffer any psychological harm from being segregated from whites, contending that it rests upon questionable social science research and an assumption of black inferiority.
In Adarand Constructors v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200 (1995), the Supreme Court overturns Metro Broadcasting. It holds that strict scrutiny must be applied to all racial classifications by the federal government � both “benign” and “invidious.”
In Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900 (1995), the Supreme Court extends Shaw v. Reno, holding that if race is the predominant factor in legislative redistricting, strict scrutiny applies.
The Denver plan that gave rise to Keyes, the first non-Southern desegregation case, is dissolved.
Congress passes a sweeping welfare reform act, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. It repeals the Aid to Families With Dependent Children welfare program and creates a new program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a block grant system under which the states receive lump-sum payments to fund their own welfare programs.
In Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals holds that the University of Texas Law School’s affirmative action program violates equal protection. It argues that Justice Powell’s opinion in Bakke is no longer controlling precedent and that the University May not legally take race into account at all in admissions. In response to the Court decision, the Texas State legislature passes a bill providing that the top 10% of each high school graduating class will automatically be admitted to the the Texas public university system.
On the 14th, George Wallace dies in Birmingham, Alabama, at the age of 79.
California voters pass the California Civil Rights Initiative, or Proposition 209, prohibiting state affirmative action programs. In response to a dramatic decline in minority student enrollment in the California schools, the legislature adopts a 4% solution plan according to which the top 4% of every high school graduating class will be admitted to the California public university system beginning in 2001.
A district court in North Carolina dissolves the 30 year old desegregation order in the landmark Swann case, announcing that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district has remedied its past discrimination and that the schools must be returned to local control.
Florida abolishes affirmative action in public schools and public contracting.
The Tulsa Race Riot Commission recommends to the Oklahoma state legislature that reparations be paid to the survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921.
The South Carolina Senate passes a compromise bill that would remove the Confederate battle flag from above the state capitol and place it next to a confederate war memorial. The flag is finally lowered from the capitol dome on July 1st.