How Civil War Lead to Civil Rights
- The Civil War (1861 – 1865)
- Reconstruction (1863 – 1877)
- The Civil Rights Movement (1954 – 1968)
The United States of America – in 1861 – became a divided country, at war within itself. The South seceded from the Union, and southern states formed The Confederate States of America. Over the issue of slavery, primarily, the North and the South fought a bloody war on American soil that lasted 4 years. After the war, the 13th Amendment was passed, in which had officially ended slavery. At this point in time, society began to scramble in order to figure what to do regarding the black person’s place in society as freemen. This was called the Reconstruction Era, where African Americans first started gaining rights in the eyes of the law. The Reconstruction Era became an epiphany in America that shed light on how Black people would integrate into society, as citizens, upon ending slavery.
Sometime after the 15th Century, slavery became notably more prominent in the Americas due to the transatlantic slave trade. Bound by chains and forced into submission, Africans were ripped from their homeland and sold to the Americas. This is what began the practice of race-based slavery as opposed to indentured servitude. Slaves were seen as the closest thing to a free labor force, and many slaves worked on plantations where they would pick cotton, grow tobacco, maize, and potatoes among much else. America was built on a foundation of suffering, largely in part due to slavery and the persecution of people belonging to the African bloodline – whose culture was diminished and eradicated. Now, the end of slavery, however, changed the course of American history in ways unimaginable to the founding fathers.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected, it caused an uproar within the South and lit the fire in which sparked the Civil War. States began to vote as whether they would be a free state or slave state in the Union, however- there were numerous reasons that states wanted to leave the Union. Some felt as though the federal government had far too much power. Slavery was seen as immoral in the North but a necessity in the South. The Confederacy was formed, and fought to keep slavery. Today, many argue over the Confederate Battle Flag. However, there is little to argue over, as it is confirmed, without dispute, to be a symbol of racism. “As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.” – William Thompson (Creator of the Confederate Flag). In 1863, Lincoln created the Emancipation Proclamation – exactly as the title suggests, a proclamation of emancipating (freeing) the slaves. This was not legally binding, however, it fueled the motivation of slaves to fight back and flee to the North. The Union Army would accept black soldiers, which gave a huge boost in manpower against the South. During his second inaugural address in 1865, Lincoln clarifies that slavery was the cause of the war, despite being several reasons, he had confirmed slavery to be the main cause and the issue then became about slavery and only about slavery. After a long and bloody toil, General Robert E. Lee had surrendered, and the war had finally come to an end.
The 13th Amendment was the official document that abolished slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was a statement but had no legal value, whilst the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution put it into law. It reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Now that slavery was no more, the country had to cope with the fact that ex-slaves were going to somehow integrate into society. This era in time was known as Reconstruction. How American society would change now that the Civil War was over. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and Vice President Andrew Johnson, a former slaveowner, attainted the presidency.
In Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), the courts ruled that free slaves could not sue in court because they were not US citizens. “[The framers thought blacks have] no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully reduced to slavery for his benefit.” -Chief Justice Taney. After Lincoln’s death, Congress began to enforce the 13th in order to protect the rights of African Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was vetoed by Johnson, and in turn, Congress would override his veto- a first in the country. The 14th Amendment would make all slaves citizens, and the 15th gave them the right to vote. During the time between the two, however, in the southern states, the “Black Codes” were enacted. This was to keep African Americans in a low class setting, for example, by trying to end black voting. The 15th amendment then declared that the state could not disallow voting based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” While the 14th Amendment states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” The 13th ended slavery, the 14th made slaves into citizens, and the 15th ensured that all citizens were eligible to vote.
“The Compromise of 1876 effectively ended the Reconstruction era. Southern Democrats’ promises to protect civil and political rights of blacks were not kept, and the end of federal interference in southern affairs led to widespread disenfranchisement of blacks voters. From the late 1870s onward, southern legislatures passed a series of laws requiring the separation of whites from “persons of color” on public transportation, in schools, parks, restaurants, theaters and other locations. Known as the “Jim Crow laws,” these segregationist statutes governed life in the South through the middle of the next century, ending only after the hard-won successes of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.” (History.com)
“[…]Southern states enacted a new form of Black Codes, called “Jim Crow” laws. These laws made it illegal for blacks and whites to share public facilities.” (Via the Constitutional Rights Foundation) In 1896, the Supreme Court Case Plessy v. Ferguson was held, which determined that segregation in itself was deemed constitutional. “Justice Brown conceded that the 14th Amendment intended to establish absolute equality for the races before the law, but held that separate treatment did not imply the inferiority of African Americans. […] In short, segregation did not in itself constitute unlawful discrimination.” (Oyez.org). In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which allowed all government jobs, including national defense, to be open to ALL Americans. Despite serving in WWII, black soldiers faced “were met with prejudice and scorn upon returning home. This was a stark contrast to why America had entered the war to begin with—to defend freedom and democracy in the world.” In 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 to end discrimination in the military.
The year 1954 became otherwise known as the start of the Civil Rights Movement. Prominent figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks belonged to this period in time. In the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board, the “Separate but Equal” doctrine was questioned. “Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the unanimous Court. The Supreme Court held that “separate but equal” facilities are inherently unequal and violate the protections of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court reasoned that the segregation of public education based on race instilled a sense of inferiority that had a hugely detrimental effect on the education and personal growth of African American children. Warren based much of his opinion on information from social science studies rather than court precedent. The decision also used language that was relatively accessible to non-lawyers because Warren felt it was necessary for all Americans to understand its logic.”(Oyez.org) Therefore, “Separate but equal educational facilities for racial minorities is inherently unequal. violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus. “Even though all Americans had gained the right to vote, many southern states made it difficult for blacks. They often required them to take voter literacy tests that were confusing, misleading and nearly impossible to pass. […] On September 9, 1957, President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law, the first major civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. It allowed federal prosecution of anyone who tried to prevent someone from voting. It also created a commission to investigate voter fraud.” (History.com) On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the “March on Washington.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, guaranteed equal employment for all regardless of race. “On April 4, 1968, civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on his hotel room’s balcony. Emotionally-charged looting and riots followed, putting even more pressure on the Johnson administration to push through additional civil rights laws. […] The Fair Housing Act became law on April 11, 1968, just days after King’s assassination. It prevented housing discrimination based on race, sex, national origin and religion. It was also the last legislation enacted during the civil rights era.”
Today, the Civil Rights Movement is still relevant in our lives. We are experiencing a time of political activism on account of race, gender, and sexual orientation. For example: Black Lives Matter, fighting against police brutality or #MeToo, spreading awareness of sexual harassment and assault that goes unnoticed or unresolved. Then there is the White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi movements, and the intense racial divide after the 2016 Presidential Election. Political turmoil changes with the times, but the American people do not rest. They continue to fight despite the odds being stacked against them. They fight against one another, and they fight for one another. Regardless of the hardships, they continue to persevere, time, and time again.