The Revolutionary American Thomas Paine held that “civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society.” From the beginning of our Republic, free people of African descent have seen themselves as citizens, members of society, and therefore due equal rights. From the nation’s origins, Americans believed that religion should not be a basis for abridging a citizen’s rights, but very few believed color should be treated similarly...The resulting struggles over civil rights have remade our nation for more than two centuries.
The history of civil rights in the United States is largely the story of free people of color and then African Americans to define and enumerate what rights pertain to citizens in civil society. It has been the history of enlisting political parties to recognize the need for our governments, state and federal, to codify and protect those rights. Through the years, people of African descent have formed organizations and movements to promote equal rights. The Colored Convention Movement, the Afro-American League, the Niagara Movement, the National Council of Negro Women, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference carried the banner of equality when allies were few. In the modern era, integrated organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, and the Congress of Racial Equality fought for and protected equal rights. The names of America’s greatest advocates of social justice—Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Fanny Lou Hamer — are associated with the struggle for civil rights.
For more information, check out these links below:
- Civil Rights at 50 (Equal Justice Society)
- U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Remarks on the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- National Archives: Civil Rights Act of 1964
- History.com: Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Major Features of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CongressLink)
- Encyclopedia References on Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Northwestern University Library)