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Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

TDIH: Thurgood Marshall Confirmed to the Supreme Court

“I believe he earned his appointment. He deserves the appointment. He’s the best qualified by training and by very valuable service to the country. I believe it’s the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man, and the right place.”–President Lyndon Johnson, on nominating Thurgood Marshall to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court

“There is very little truth in the old refrain that one cannot legislate equality. Laws not only provide concrete benefits; they can even change the hearts of men–some men anyway–for good or for evil.”Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall (on telephone), President Lyndon B. Johnson, 6/13/1967
by Yoichi R. Okamoto/White House Photograph Office
via National Archives [public domain]

Fifty years ago today, August 30, 1967, Thurgood Marshall’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was confirmed by the Senate, making him the first African American to serve as a Justice on the highest court in the land. Marshall had a lasting and significant impact on civil rights in the United States. He argued and won cases, and later wrote opinions from the bench that changed the nation’s laws on segregation and racial injustice.

Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908, the great-grandson of a slave. He attended the racially segregated public schools there graduating from high school in 1925, then went on to the historically black Lincoln University in Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, graduating with honors in 1930. He then applied to the all-white University of Maryland Law School but was denied admission because he was Black. This event went on to direct his future professional life. He was accepted at another historically black school–Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C., that same year. He received his law degree in 1933, graduating first in his class (magna cum laude).

Between 1934 and 1961, as an attorney for the NAACP, Marshall traveled throughout the United States, representing clients in many different disputes involving questions of racial justice. Marshall’s first major civil rights case came in 1936 when he successfully sued the University of Maryland for their unfair admissions policy. Murray v. Pearson was the first in a long line of cases designed to undermine the legal basis for racial segregation in the United States.

He argued thirty-two cases before the Supreme Court, more than anyone else in history, and won an astounding twenty-nine of them. His first victory at the high court was in 1940. Chambers v. Florida demonstrated that police brutality and coerced confessions were a violation of the 14th Amendment’s right to due process. Other notable cases were Smith v. Allwright (1944), which invalidated the so-called white primary (the practice of barring blacks from the Democratic party primary in a state where that party controlled state government), Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), which prohibited state courts from enforcing racially restrictive real estate covenants, and the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which invalidated state-enforced racial segregation in the public schools.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he wrote over 150 decisions. None of his 98 majority decisions were ever reversed by the Supreme Court.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson named him Solicitor General of the United States, another racial first. The Solicitor General represents the U.S. when it is sued by a corporation or an individual. He served until 1967, when Johnson nominated him to the Supreme Court, winning 14 of the 19 cases he argued.

In his 24 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Marshall was an outspoken liberal on a Court dominated by conservatives, often voting in the minority. He consistently voted to uphold gender and racial affirmative action policies. He also dissented in every case that the Court refused to overturn a death sentence, as well as opposing all efforts to limit abortion rights. He believed that the Constitution requires the government to provide certain benefits to everyone–including education, legal services and access to the courts–regardless of their ability to pay for them. He succeeded in fashioning new protections under the law for women, children, homeless persons, and prisoners.

On June 27, 1991, Marshall announced his intention to retire from the Court. President George H.W. Bush nominated 43-year-old Black conservative Clarence Thomas to replace him a week later. Marshall died of heart failure in Bethesda, Maryland on January 24, 1993, at the age of 84.

To learn more about Justice Marshall, navigate to these websites available on SIRS Knowledge Source:

Justice for All: The Legacy of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall Before the Court

Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary

Or direct your students to the SIRS Knowledge Source feature on the U.S. Supreme Court. Students can browse editorially-selected cases by Constitutional Articles & Amendments, or by Topic. This feature includes a list of Landmark Cases by category, profiles of the current Justices, as well as biographical information on all the Justices who have served on the Court throughout history, including Justice Marshall. A glossary, a graphic that explains how the Court is organized, supplementary references with links to related articles in the product, and a link to the official U.S. Supreme Court website are also provided. An additional link includes the text of the U.S. Constitution.

Don’t have SIRS Knowledge Source at your school or library? Free trials are available.

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Comparing Two Controversial Executive Orders

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana

Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution requires that before U.S. presidents can assume their duties they are required to take the oath of office, affirming in part that they “will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. This post will review and compare two controversial presidential executive orders that were issued in the interest of national security, and that many believe violate various provisions and protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Among these are the First Amendment rule barring the establishment of religion, the Fifth Amendment’s right to due process of law, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order #9066

On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A total of 2,403 were killed, including 2,335 military personnel and 68 civilians. The United States entered World War II by declaring war on Japan the following day. A wave of anti-Japanese sentiment across the country was accompanied by widespread fear of a Japanese attack, especially on the vulnerable West Coast. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to declare certain areas of the United States military zones in order to prevent espionage and sabotage.

Residents of Japanese Ancestry Awaiting the Bus at the
Wartime Civil Control Station, San Francisco, Apr. 1942
By Dorothea Lange, U.S. War Relocation Authority via Library of Congress [public domain]

Within weeks, all persons of Japanese ancestry–whether citizens or enemy aliens, young or old, rich or poor–were ordered to assembly centers near their homes. Soon they were sent to permanent relocation centers outside the restricted military zones defined by the order. Around 120,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were native-born citizens of the United States, were forced into remote and desolate internment camps with armed guards and barbed wire for the duration of the war. There were 10 different sites across the country, including Tule Lake, California; Minidoka, Idaho; Manzanar, California; Topaz, Utah; Jerome, Arkansas; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Poston, Arizona; Granada, Colorado; and Rohwer, Arkansas. Many lost their homes and businesses and were separated from loved ones for the duration of the war.

In 1942, 23-year-old Fred Korematsu, who was born in Oakland, California, to Japanese immigrants, refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that Congress, the President, and the military authorities did not have the power to issue the relocation orders and that he was being discriminated against based on his race. The government argued that the evacuation was necessary to protect the country. In Korematsu v. United States (1944), the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the need to protect the country in time of war was a greater priority than the individual rights of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans. One of the three dissenting opinions, written by the lone Republican-appointed Justice Owen Roberts, stated that “I think the indisputable facts exhibit a clear violation of Constitutional rights.”

Protest Against Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban
By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


2017: President Donald J. Trump ‘s Executive Order #13769

Skip to 75 years later. One week after taking office, on January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order #13769, ordering a halt on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries–Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Two days later, the president released a statement which read, “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion–this is about terror and keeping our country safe.” The order sparked immediate protests both across the country as well as internationally.

The next day, a federal judge in New York blocked part of the order. On March 6, Trump released a revised travel ban that excluded Iraq from the list of Muslim-majority countries whose citizens were temporarily blocked. A federal judge in Hawaii then issued a nationwide restraining order on the revised travel ban March 15, ruling that it still discriminated on the basis of nationality. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling on May 25. The Trump administration then appealed to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on the travel ban order in October 2017. Stay tuned.

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The Legacy of Loving v. Virginia

A recent statistic showed 1 in 6 marriages today is interracial.  This is certainly not a difficult number to grasp.  Imagine though that a mere 50 years ago in 16 Southern states interracial marriage was against the law — anti-miscegenation laws designed to preserve “racial integrity.”  While 50 years may seem like a long time ago in the rather short history of the United States, the country is only two generations removed from forbidding people from different races to marry.

Yesterday, June 12, was Loving Day.  It marked a significant day in our nation’s civil rights history albeit one that is not as well known as Brown v. Board of Education.  On that day in 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled unconstitutional laws prohibiting interracial marriage.  The impact of the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision is still felt today.

Loving v. Virginia Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter were married in 1958.  He was white, she black and Native American.  Their marriage was a violation of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, and just five weeks into their marriage they were arrested.  Neither Richard nor Mildred wanted to be a civil rights activist.  They wanted only to live and raise their family quietly in Virginia.  Watch the 2016 movie Loving to see an excellent dramatization of their story and struggle.

The Loving decision paved the way for marriage equality.  The landmark Supreme Court ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which opened the door to same-sex marriage, evokes memories of Loving.  Mildred Loving even spoke in favor of gay marriage before her death in 2008.  Another impact of Loving is a fivefold growth in interracial marriages since 1967 when only three percent of marriages were racially mixed.  Interracial couples still face discrimination and hostility, but there has been much progress since Richard and Mildred Loving took their stand.

Katie and Chris [Photo Courtesy of Katie Coulter]

Teachers:  How can you relate this to your students?  Marriage for most of them is years away.  But they are dating and in relationships now.  More than 11 million Americans are in interracial marriages and relationships today, like my niece Katie and her boyfriend Chris.  The Loving decision and its continuing impact should not be forgotten in the civil rights discussion.  eLibrary can help you in this discussion with relevant Research Topics (Civil Rights Movement, Gay Marriage, Race and Ethnicity, Racial Segregation, White Supremacy) and up-to-date newspaper articles surrounding the 50th anniversary of Loving.

The Stonewall Riots and the Birth of Gay Liberation

Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, New York City, 2011 [Credit: InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike Generic 2.0 license] [via Wikimedia Commons]

Peace, love, and condemnation

We generally consider the 1960s in the United States as an era of peace and love. But the homosexual communities during this decade were commonly condemned by mainstream society.

Homosexuality was still classified as a “mental disorder” by the American Psychiatric Association. Police raids were conducted in establishments known to be “gay-friendly.” Homosexual acts were illegal, and many people were arrested for engaging in them. Some were fined; others were sentenced to long prison terms–even lifetime sentences. There were not many places where a gay man or woman could be open about their sexuality. Countless lesbians and gays lived “in the closet,” an existence in which they could not express their true selves.

The year was 1969

Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, 2011 [Credit: InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike Generic 2.0 license], [via Wikimedia Commons]

Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 Stonewall riots, New York City [Credit: InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, CC BY-SA 3.0] [via Wikimedia Commons]

During the 1960s, New York City was home to the largest gay population in the country. The city was also considered to be one of the most aggressive against this alternative culture.

As the night of June 27 turned to June 28, in the year 1969, the New York City police conducted what they thought would be a routine raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Previous raids always resulted in arrests and not much opposition from the bar’s patrons.

Not on this night.

On this 1969 summer night, the gay liberation movement was born.

Out of the melee, pride emerges

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, gay patrons, regularly harassed by the New York City police, took a stand. Word of the demonstration spread and many joined the riot at the Stonewall Inn. Protests broke out throughout the city. They continued for days, despite police attempts to control the crowds. Shouts of “gay power” and singing of “We Shall Overcome” rang through the streets.

The Stonewall riots inspired local and national dialogue about gay civil rights. Very soon after the riots, a gay advocacy group in NYC was formed and a newspaper was launched. In commemoration of the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first gay pride parades were held in Greenwich Village, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Two years after the riots, nearly every major U.S. city had established a gay-rights organization. And in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

Nearly five decades later…

Forty-eight years after the Stonewall riots, the gay liberation movement has evolved to encompass the civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people. Incredible strides have been made in the LGBT movement:

In 2000, Vermont became the first U.S. state to legalize civil unions between same-sex couples; four years later, Massachusetts was the first to legalize gay marriage. A June 2015 Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage in all states, a huge victory for the LGBT movement.

What constituted a hate crime in the United States was expanded in 2009 to include crimes motivated by the victim’s gender, sexual orientation or identity or disability. 

In 2011, the Obama administration addressed the United Nations and announced that LGBT rights are “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time” and that the country would support international efforts promoting LGBT rights.

Transgender rights became a mainstream issue after the turn of the century and quickly picked up momentum. By 2013, two major federal rulings advanced equal opportunity employment for transgender people. The year 2013 also heralded further progress in the struggle for transgender rights: California enacted the first U.S. law protecting transgender students, and the American Psychiatric Association eliminated its diagnosis “gender identity disorder.”

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, otherwise known as LGBT Pride Month. It was established in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. It is a time of celebration, commemoration, and remembrance: a celebration of living freely, openly, and honestly; a commemoration of all that the LGBT community has contributed and what the LGBT rights movement has accomplished; and a remembrance of members of the LGBT community who lost their lives to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS.

Join SKS and its June Spotlight of the Month in honoring LGBT Pride Month. Learn about the history of the gay rights movement and follow its path as it is forged in the United States and many countries around the world.

“The Stonewall riot may have been the start of a civil rights movement, but it was not the beginning of our history.” ― Tom Cardamone, author, and activist

Barbara Johns & the Moton High School Strike

Barbara Johns & the Moton High School Strike Research Topic

Barbara Johns & the Moton High School Strike Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

We have all heard about legendary civil rights heroes such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Little Rock Nine, but few today remember Barbara Rose Johns and the role she played in school desegregation. Sixty-five years ago this April, she led a strike in Farmville, Virginia, that had repercussions in school districts across the United States. A little background: Barbara was born in New York City in 1935, but her family moved to Prince Edward County, Virginia, where her father ran a small farm. Her uncle was Vernon Johns, a prominent civil rights activist. In 1951 in Farmville, there were two high schools. Farmville High School was for the white students, and it had plenty of classroom space, a gymnasium, a modern auditorium, locker rooms and a cafeteria, among other niceties. Moton High School – specifically, Robert Russa Moton High School (named after the influential black educator who took over for Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute) – was not so nice.

Robert Russa Moton High School

Robert Russa Moton High School via National Archives [Public Domain]

Moton was in a state of disrepair. The toilets were old and cracked; the roof leaked so bad that some students kept umbrellas with them to keep the dripping water from getting on their papers; wood-burning stoves did not provide adequate heat in the winter months; text books and supplies were secondhand and scarce, but worst of all – the school was dreadfully overcrowded. More than 450 students were crammed into a space meant for 180. Some classes were held in makeshift classrooms, shacks made of wood frames and tar-coated paper walls that the students called “chicken coops,” while other students attended classes in buses in the parking lot. Like most students, Johns, a 16-year-old junior at the time, was extremely frustrated at the conditions at the school. She expressed her concerns to her teacher, Inez Davenport. Barbara said she wished something could be done about it. Davenport then said, “Why don’t you do something about it?” Barbara did not forget that question and later conceived the idea of a school strike. The strike was held on April 23, 1951. The next day, a student strike committee met with the school superintendent who listened to their concerns, but then threatened to expel them and fire the teachers if they did not return to classes. He did, however, promise them a new school but did not say when they would get it. This was all the students were hoping for. According to Johns, it never occurred to them that the strike would lead to a desegregation lawsuit. They just wanted improvements to the school, or, at most, a new school. Students contacted the NAACP in Richmond for help. Lawyers Oliver W. Hill and Spottswood Robinson were concerned about how serious the striking students were, but after meeting with them, they decided to take the case, but it would not be just about school improvements…it would be about desegregation.

Brown v Board of Education Research Topic

Brown v Board of Education Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

The case was called Dorothy E. Davis v County School Board of Prince Edward County. This lawsuit was rolled up into the larger Brown v. Board of Education case, which was decided in 1954. The Earl Warren Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and held that segregation was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This paved the way for the integration of schools across America. As for Barbara Johns, she finished high school in Montgomery, Alabama. She then attended college in Atlanta and then at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She married a minister, raised five children and was a librarian in the Philadelphia Public School system until her death in 1991.

Learn more about Barbara Rose Johns, desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement in eLibrary.

Resources:

African-American History Topic Search

African Americans Research Topic

Earl Warren: Justice for All (Book)

Education Topic Search

Education and Racial Integration Equal Protection (Exploring the Constitution Series) (Book)

Education in the U.S. Research Topic

Jim Crow Laws Research Topic

Journal of African-American History (Scholarly Journal)

Little Rock (Book)

U.S. Constitution Research Topic

Teaching ToolThe Girl from the Tar Paper School,” by Teri Kanefield, tells the story of Barbara Rose Johns and the Farmville, VA Strike.

 

How Fair Is Our Criminal Justice System?

Ferguson Protest in Palo Alto: Stanford Students Shut It Down

Ferguson Protest in Palo Alto: Stanford Students Shut It Down
Photo credit: snowcrash98 / Foter / CC BY-SA

The shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 ignited anger and frustration in that community. When a grand jury failed to indict the police officer involved in that shooting, violence erupted in Ferguson and protests followed in cities across the country. A little more than a week after the Missouri grand jury decision, a grand jury in New York failed to return an indictment against a police officer accused in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man. These incidents and others have ignited fierce debate across the nation about the fairness of our judicial system and concern about increasing police brutality.

Is our judicial system unfair to black citizens? Are the police too quick to use deadly force? High school and college students across the country are participating in protests over the recent grand jury outcomes. Students can find the latest articles on these topics in SIRS Issues Researcher. In addition, our Discrimination in Criminal Justice and Racial Profiling leading issues provide specific debate questions and pro/con arguments to support each side.

Discrimination in Criminal Justice

Discrimination in Criminal Justice Leading Issue in SIRS Issues Researcher

July 1964: 50 Years of the Civil Rights Act

July 2, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of a turning point in American civil rights history. It was on this day the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. Many consider this law the toughest civil rights statute since Reconstruction and perhaps the most significant piece of legislation of the entire twentieth century. The Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. It banned racial segregation in the workplace, schools and public facilities. It protected voter rights by barring unequal registration requirements for people of color, although it did not bar all voting discrimination.

While it was originally proposed by President Kennedy in 1963, he had reservations about passing civil rights legislation. Southern legislators who controlled the Senate were opposed to it, and President John Kennedy wanted to ensure his other legislative priorities would be given attention and passage. President Kennedy believed he would have a second term to enact civil rights legislation.  His assassination in November 1963 would be the catalyst for President Lyndon Johnson, a former senator from the South, to use his political skill in working with the Senate to achieve a law long overdue even risking his own political future.

President Lyndon Johnson shakes the hand of Dr. Martin Luther King at the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Beyond the surface of the Civil Rights Act, its impact was almost immediate and its legacy varied. Strides were quickly made in regard to desegregation in public accommodations and voting rights which helped spur the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  While there remained inequities among the races, division by race and class primarily, opportunities for African Americans, and in later years Latinos, Asians and Native Americans increased.  Rep. John Lewis, a notable veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, in recalling the days of discrimination and segregation, perhaps put the impact and legacy of the law best:  “Those signs are gone, the fear is gone.  America is a better nation and we are a better people because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

 

60 Years Ago: Brown v. Board of Education

Post-Brown Integrated Classroom

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  So begins the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.  For African Americans, we know this was not the case, especially regarding education.  In 1952-1953, the case of a group of Topeka, Kansas parents and their children came to the U.S. Supreme Court that would challenge inequalities in education.  Sixty years later, Brown v. Board of Education remains a turning point in the fight for civil rights in the United States.

In 1896, the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson ruled constitutional the “separate but equal” doctrine with regard to racial segregation and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Fifty-eight years passed with “separate but equal” being the law of the land to justify discrimination based on race not only in schools but also in housing, transportation and recreation.

Thurgood Marshall together with the NAACP took the Brown case, a combination of school desegregation lawsuits, and argued it before the Supreme Court.  On May 17,Brown Celebration 1954, the Court ruled “separate but equal” unconstitutional in a 9-0 decision.  Chief Justice Earl Warren writing the opinion of the Court stated, “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Brown changed civil rights history.  It paved the way for good – James Meredith, Ruby Bridges – and not so good – the Little Rock integration crisis, George Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse door.  Sixty years may sound like a long time, but the implications of Brown continue.  Take time to learn more about the Brown decision and integration of the American education system since 1954 by using eLibrary and its many resources.

This Day in History: U.S. Supreme Court Decides Dred Scott Case

Dred Scott

Dred Scott, a Virginia slave, was the plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Scott v. Sandford. Image credit: Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis [Public Domain]

On this day in history in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision on the Dred Scott case, the outcome of which helped set the chain of events leading to the Civil War. Dred Scott was a slave who had been taken by his owner from Missouri (a slave state) to Illinois (a free state) and also to Wisconsin Territory (where slavery was banned).  Scott brought suit against his master, claiming that he was a free man because of his residence on free soil. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that Scott was still a slave and that anyone descended from black Africans could not become a U.S. citizen. The Court also struck down the Missouri Compromise, a federal law, as unconstitutional by negating the doctrine of popular sovereignty when it ruled that Congress had no power to exclude slavery from any part of U.S. territories. View the primary source DRED SCOTT v. SANDFORD in ProQuest SIRS.

To learn more about the Dred Scott case and other stepping stones in American civil rights history, direct your students to ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher, where they can find a range of editorially-selected resources. A Civil Rights Timeline highlights the expanding scope of civil rights in the United States, from colonial times to the present. Students can delve deeper by examining Leading Issues in civil rights, including affirmative action, gay rights, and privacy rights for teenagers.

Is there a civil rights issue you’d like to see us cover in ProQuest SIRS? If so, send us your suggestions in the comment box below.

Discoverer In the News: Voting Rights Act

March for Black Suffrage

Demonstrators participating in a march for black suffrage.
by Bruce Davidson/Library of Congress, via ProQuest SIRS Discoverer [Public Domain]

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1870, gave African American men the right to vote. But some people in Southern states did not agree with the amendment, and so passed discriminatory laws that made it hard for African Americans to cast their votes. Some parts of the South enacted a poll tax or forced black people to take a literacy test. Sometimes white Southerners harassed or intimidated African Americans when they tried to register to vote.

Almost 100 years later, as a result of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act was passed. This 1965 civil law made voter discrimination illegal. So all of the local election rules that made it difficult for African Americans to register to vote or cast a vote were now against national law.

The Voting Rights Act has been upheld by Congress several times. However, in June 2013, the Supreme Court declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. Section 4 prohibits states with a history of voter discrimination from making new election rules without special permission. Some people agree with this decision, others do not.

What do you think of this controversial decision? Check out this month’s “Discoverer In the News” feature and decide for yourself. Quiz yourself on the Voting Rights Act and decipher the meaning of an editorial cartoon on this topic.