Background to Civil Rights

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Key learning goals
To be able to explain: the impact of racial segregation and discrimination in the USA in the 1950s;


Key terms

  • Jim Crow – refers to the segregation laws imposed by states in the Deep South
  • Deep South – Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana
  • Other states in the south where segregation was legally enforced:
    (Texas, Arkansas, Tenessee, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia
  • Segregation
  • Discrimination
  • Literacy tests
  • Poll tax
  • Implications of voting restrictions on justice
  • de jure discrimination
  • de facto discrimination
  • Precedent
  • Plessy versus Ferguson, 1896 – Separate but Equal
  • National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP)

Key Events

  • 1861-65 American Civil War
  • 1865 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishes slavery;
  • 1868 14th Amendment to the Constitution granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to all persons born or naturalized in the United States
  • 1870 15th Amendment removed restrictions on voting rights based on race, colour or previous condition of servitude.
  • 1896 Plessy versus Ferguson ruled that segregation was constitutional so long as it was ‘separate but equal’
  • 1914-18 Great Migration North
  • 1929-1941 Great Depression
  • 1941-5 World War II
  • 1941 Under threat from a ‘March on Washington’ organised by A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and A.J. Muste, American government passed Executive Orders first to de-segregate war industries (Fair Employment Act)
  • 1948 – another threatened March on Washington led to the abolition of segregation in the military.
  • Segregation and discriminationReadings
    • K. Taylor, A divided Union: Civil Rights in the USA, 1945-74, pp. 20-23.
    • Follow the progress of the struggles through the National Archives


      • Write down your own definition of Segregation and discrimination. Give three different examples of each.
      • According to James Eastland (Source B) what were the benefits of racial segregation? How popular do you think his views would have been?
      • Why did the three branches of the US government do so little to give African Americans more civil rights?
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