Posted by: newperspectives85 | January 6, 2012

The changing landscape of civil rights in the U.S

American Government Summer 2011

Citing both legal precedents and legislative acts, survey the changing landscape of civil rights in the United States specifically in reference to the expansion of civil rights to persons of color.

In the twentieth century, several legal precedents and legislative acts have affected the landscape of civil rights for persons of color. Segregation was a major problem throughout the twentieth century in areas such as the law and education. In addition, people of color could not vote, but legislative acts made that possible. By the 1970s, civil rights began to look more into local event such as busing. The early twentieth century was when things started to change regarding laws of segregation thanks to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, white primary laws kept blacks from people from voting and needed to have separate facilities from whites, which were often in bad shape. However, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was established to fight segregation. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began to represent black defendants throughout the South and used the federal judiciary to challenge the legal structure of segregation” (p.160). The NAACP acted as an advocate for African Americans, and used the Supreme Court to address the problems experienced in the Jim Crow era. An important victory for the NAACP came in the 1944 case of Smith v. Allwright. It was the first case that attempted to eliminate white primary laws. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) argue “the Court ruled that because race was the explicit criterion for discrimination, such laws violated the Fifteenth Amendment” (p.160). The Fifteenth Amendment dealt with voting rights for African Americans. The Fifteenth Amendment (1870) states that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (Amendment 15, Section 1). This meant that voting was a right for African Americans and it was unconstitutional for the white primary laws to withhold that right. In addition to this, the Jim Crow laws would also be attacked. Jim Crow laws were meant to keep African Americans from exercising their liberties after the end of slavery and Reconstruction. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, one court decision would allow segregation for several decades and it was Plessy v. Ferguson. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “since Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, the federal judiciary had upheld segregation, but the ‘separate but equal doctrine proved to be an easy target” (p.160). Not only would segregation go on for decades but the idea of “separate but equal.” The problem was that this term was hypocritical. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) argue that “nowhere in the South did the separate facilities for African Americans equal those for whites” (p.160). Examples included whites having nice restrooms to go to, good education systems, but blacks had poor bathroom systems, and the education was terrible because teachers saw them as inferior, and books were either outdated or neglected to mention the history of African Americans. Education systems over sixty years ago struggled with segregation. With the 1950 case of Sweatt v. Painter, the NAACP attacked the most obvious instance of segregation. They argued about the inequality of “separate but equal” in terms of education. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “since many states did not provide black graduate and professional schools and black residents were shut out of both public and private white facilities, the NAACP had a relatively easy time convincing the Court of the inequality of separating the races in education” (p.160). Black graduate and professional schools are not available in most states, so the concern was about where were black college students going to go if they were not allowed in public or private facilities. To separate the races in education was to make one feel inferior. Whites had better things than blacks. Black facilities were more likely to not provide the best experience for a college student in the 1950s. The University of Texas tried to introduce segregation in the college environment, which was declared unconstitutional. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “in Sweatt v. Painter, the Court unanimously agreed that the University of Texas could not stave off desegregation at its law school by instantly creating a black only facility” (p.160). These cases would only be a warm up for what was to come in the next couple of decades between the 1950s and 1970s. One of the major cases that would have lasting effects was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
The 1950s proved to be major for civil rights legislation. Two events would determine the issues for the next couple of decades: Brown v Board of Education of Topeka and the Civil Rights Act of 1957. These two events would result in significant gains for the Civil rights for persons of color. Imagine being unable to go to the school closest to where you lived. That was the case with Oliver Brown’s daughter. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “Oliver Brown, an assistant pastor from Topeka, Kansas, violated local segregation laws when he tried to enroll his daughter, Linda, in a white neighborhood public school” (p.160). In the 1950s, despite living close to a school, they could not even go to it because of segregation laws, but had to go somewhere else. With this incident, Brown went to trial, and in the ruling, Chief Warren had to say this about education. Kerrnell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “Chief Justice Earl Warren argued that education is the foundation of good citizenship and thus constitutes ‘a right which must be made available to all on equal terms” (p.160-161). Without the education of blacks being equal, Warren felt that they would be cheated out of a fundamental right—to gain knowledge. Without that education, it would make them feel inferior, because they will be ignorant of things. They would be brainwashed with false notions brought on by teachers who could care less about them. Because of that, it could and did leave them with emotional scars over not knowing for themselves things they want to know, but could not because others did not want them to know the truth. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “stipulating that racial segregation ‘generated a feeling of inferiority as to black children’s status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone,’ Warren concluded, ‘separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (p.161). An education was too much to allow segregation to go on. To have facilities with prejudiced teachers and books neglecting to relate to African Americans, it could leave them feeling out of place in the community and inferior. After a while, that feeling can seep deep down in someone and the effects of segregation may be undone—bitterness towards the world and prejudice. Warren’s ruling would change history forever regarding segregation. The Brown case empowered others to bring cases involving segregation in public schools. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “the next year the Court empowered lower federal courts to hear segregation cases and to oversee the desegregation of public schools with ‘all deliberate speed’… Hundreds of school desegregation cases were filed in the federal courts in the decade after Brown” (p.161). Brown was “the beginning of the end” for segregation in public schools but segregation did not give up that easily.
Despite Brown’s ruling, there was a wall of resistance against desegregation. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “efforts to implement Brown encountered all the problems associated with enforcing judicial rulings, and was met by massive resistance across the South” (p.161). Change was not immediately accepted as it was vigorously resisted by the South. Segregation was still in the hearts of many. The federal government enforced authority to desegregate schools, but the South acted as though they were in the times of the Articles of Confederation. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) point out that “acting as if the nation were still governed by the Articles of Confederation, some state legislatures boldly asserted that public education laid beyond the national government’s jurisdiction and that they would ignore the Court’s ‘illegal’ decision” (p.161). In the Articles of Confederation, small states loved to be in control, and not let federal government do anything. This was the way the South was acting in the 1950s. They would not acknowledge the authority of the federal government to desegregate schools. They called the court’s decision “illegal” only because they did not want to comply. The massive resistance continued into the 1960s. Despite failed attempts at stopping desegregation, it refused to give up.
Examples of states that struggled with segregation were Virginia and Arkansas. In an attempt to escape desegregation, Virginia schools closed down. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “in Virginia, public schools were closed and ‘private’ ones, created with state financing, opened in the vain hope that the new schools would be exempt from the Brown ruling” (p.162). The Brown ruling was too strong to allow Virginia to escape. Trying to create private schools would not stop the efforts. Despite knowing that their tactics were not working, people continued to refuse desegregation orders. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) argue that “when these and other legal tricks were exhausted, state officials simply defied black parents and federal marshals sent to implement a desegregation ruling” (p.162). It was the same way in Arkansas in 1957 when Little Rock opened the school and enrolled nine blacks. Due to the continued defiance of rules, President Eisenhower called in the military to enforce integration. The Supreme Court also got involved in the Arkansas event. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “the Supreme Court itself intervened in 1957, ordering the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, to enroll black students in all-white Central High School. When Arkansas governor Orval Faubus and school officials failed to comply, President Dwight Eisenhower sent in U.S. troops to escort black students to their new school” (162). Central High School would be one of the most notable all-white schools to enroll African Americans. It took the Supreme Court and the President sending troops to make sure African Americans get to the school. Massive resistance was as strong as the effort to desegregate. Another tactic used by school districts was tokenism. This was effective in slowing down desegregation as it fooled the court system by feigning compliance. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) states:
“In tokenism, a school district would admit a handful of black students and then rush to federal court claiming compliance. The result would be another round of litigation during which further desegregation would be suspended. Civil rights lawyers may have won many cases during this era, but their clients had little success in gaining access to ‘whites only’ schools. In 1962, eight years after Brown, less than one-half of 1 percent of black students in the South were actually attending desegregated schools” (p.162).
Once a school district had a few blacks in, they would claim that they have done what they were suppose to and get the courts to go about their business. This was an attempt to get them to stop coming and refuse admission to blacks as they have before. Integration was not successful once this happened. Eight years after Brown, there appeared to be no progress because of the very small percentage of black students attending desegregated schools. However, by 1964, a stronger piece of legislation came along and ended segregation in schools forcefully.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act gave school districts an incentive to ending segregation in the form of a punishment. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “one of the most effective provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act authorized the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to withhold federal grants from school districts that failed to integrate their schools” (p.169). Those who played the game of massive resistance could no longer do so without consequences. The result of this civil rights act was immediate. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “within a year of the act passed, more black children were admitted to formerly all-white schools than in the entire decade after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, and within ten years, over 90 percent of black children in the South were attending integrated schools” (p.169). The results were more immediate than the Brown v. Board of Education. What Brown did was open a new chapter in civil rights, a long one due to massive resistance. Not only was education an issue, but voting rights as well.
In addition to education, voting was a battle because blacks were denied the right to vote. Lyndon B. Johnson would help get the ball rolling for African Americans with the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) states that, “the 1957 Civil Rights Act was a modest law allowing African Americans, who felt their right to vote had been denied because of race, to sue their state in federal court” (p.162). African Americans who felt entitled to sue could, but they would face obstacles regarding their status. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “the prospect of expensive litigation and the provision that defendants would be entitled to jury trials proved such formidable barriers that the NAACP and similar civil rights organizations filed suits designed only to establish widespread voting discrimination” (p.162). If an African American went to trial, he or she would face a wall of opposition since the concern was about an expensive dispute and a defendant who has the advantage. The African American did not stand a chance at getting his right to vote. The 1957 Civil Rights Act was more about getting Johnson’s name out there than producing gains for African Americans. However there would be more voting laws put into place. The 1957 voting rights law was just the beginning. Eight years later, another major law would come to fruition.
Since the 1957 civil rights act, several more acts would become law. However, each law would have the same effect—not many blacks came to vote. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) argue that “every civil rights law enacted since 1957 addressed voting rights, but throughout much of the South black registration remained at low levels because blacks had to prove in court that they were discriminated against” (p.171). African Americans would fight a losing battle, hence, the low levels of registration. Due to the losing battles in court, leaders felt they needed to do something about the right to vote. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “Black leaders pressed the White House to authorize federal agencies to guarantee the right to vote by taking over voter registration or directly supervising local officials, just as the 1964 Civil Rights Act authorized government action against segregation in education and public accommodations” (p.171). Blacks wanted to take over voter registration so that more Blacks could vote, and change the way things were so there was no need to go to trial to fight losing battles. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy brought about a change which would affect African Americans’ right to vote. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “on June 11, 1963, President Kennedy proclaimed his full support for the aspirations of African Americans and announced a major revision of the civil rights bill before Congress…The courts would no longer determine violations and federal agencies, for the first time, could identify discrimination and impose remedies” (p.167-168). No more fighting losing battles in court thanks to Kennedy and a revision to the civil rights bill. Not only that, but agencies could help people deal with past discrimination and deal with them. Lyndon B. Johnson, who came up with the 1957 Civil Rights Act, would also help African Americans get on their feet through his program, the Great Society. Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) state that “African Americans would be well served by Johnson’s Great Society programs in employment, education and health care” (p.171). In addition to Johnson’s Great Society, he would also enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965 at the same time as violence took place in the South involving demonstrations. This act would get rid of procedures from the Jim Crow era and impact how people would vote in the future. Kernell, Jacobson and Kousser (2008) argue that “the Voting Rights Act, signed in 1965, was aggressive, in that the drafters knew everyone added the registration rolls would soon vote Democratic, and its main provision authorized the Department of Justice to suspend restrictive electoral tests in southern states that had a history of low black turnout” (p.171). Everyone who was added to the registration would vote Democratic because the Democrats were the ones who helped them. Electoral tests would become a thing of the past as it would keep blacks from voting. The 1965 Voting Rights Act would result in several things. Two notices were the registration increase and the increase in black officials. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “few laws have ever achieved their goals more dramatically or quickly as did the Voting Rights Act—registration soared, yielding dramatic effects and southern politicians paid more attention to their newly registered black constituents” (p.171). Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008) also point out that “from 1970 to 2002, the number of black elected officials at all levels of government grew from 1,469 to 9,470, and many of these men and women won office by appealing in part to white voters” (p.172). With more blacks registered, southern politicians wanted to hear their concerns and listen to them. In over a thirty year period, the number of black officials in government grew dramatically. Advances continued on throughout the 1970s and 1980s to more local practices and issues involving affirmative action.
In the 1970s, educational issues were more local in nature. Busing, for example, created uproar in areas. According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “when the courts, the Department of Justice, and the HEW decided jointly to force school districts to bus students to sometimes distant schools for the sake of integration, the measure produced waves of public protests…Busing has proven, with public opinion surveys in the 1970s and 1980s nearly consistent, to be the national policy most upsetting in America” (p.173). Busing was about integration, but people sometimes had to go to a school farther away than where they were going before. The school they were going to originally may had been a few blocks away, as opposed to after integration. The person may have liked where he or she was better than to go far away from their neighborhood and nearby school. To have to adjust all because of integration, is upsetting for the parents because they do not understand why go far away, and for the student, who cannot be around his or her friends as much. Busing was brought about due to investigations into discrimination in schools. The investigations were brought on by two forms of segregation (revise). According to Kernell, Jacobson, and Kousser (2008), “in fact, when these officials searched for evidence of discrimination in black versus white enrollment figures, they netted many schools outside the South were de facto segregation was in play…In these cases, the segregation was not mandated by law (de jure segregation), as it was in the South, but arose as a byproduct of former discriminatory housing laws that kept neighborhood schools segregated” (172-173). What this meant was, the South was segregated out of habit. It was a matter of tradition, a choice. De jure segregation would have been seen in the Jim Crow era where segregation was law.

Kernell, Samuel, Gary C. Jacobson, and Thad Kousser. (2008). The Logic of American Politics. Fourth Edition. Washington, D.C: CQ Press

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