Equal Rights

Do Americans really believe that “all men are created equal?”

After the 15th Amendment banned voter discrimination, Southern states still barred most African Americans from the polls. Women campaigned until 1920 for their right to participate in elections—they continue to fight for equal pay. Various groups have battled against ethnic and religious discrimination in the military, schools, and public accommodations.

  • “Jim Crow” laws (laws mandating racial segregation)
  • Violence against Asian immigrants
  • Discriminatory voting laws
  • School desegregation

Chapter one

Equality Deferred
Equality Deferred 1850–1877
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For a short period after the Civil War, African Americans experienced true political power. Many exercised their newly won right to vote, electing the first black state, local, and Federal officials. But within 10 years, Southern white supremacists ended Reconstruction-era reforms through a combination of terrorism, intimidation, and state and local legislation.

Lincoln’s Successor 1865–1869

President Lincoln selected Andrew Johnson, a proslavery but staunchly pro-Union Southern Democrat, for Vice President to promote national unity. But when Johnson became President, his racism, stubbornness, and poor leadership polarized the nation and contributed to the ultimate failure of Reconstruction.

Chapter two

Boom and Bust
Boom and Bust 1878–1929
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During the rapid industrialization of the United States, rising wages combined with the falling costs of mass-produced goods created wealth for many Americans. Millions emigrated from Europe and Asia to work on railroads and farms and in mines and factories. But tensions among laborers during times of economic crisis resulted in violence and discrimination against immigrants and African Americans.

Social Darwinism 1880–1889

Social Darwinism was a popular Victorian-era ideology applying Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution to the workings of society. Social Darwinists believed that the wealthy and powerful were biologically superior; therefore Government should protect the natural order of a free market and refrain from helping the needy.

Chapter three

The New Deal and World War II
The New Deal and World War II 1930–1949
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The New Deal programs were administered in ways that generally prevented African Americans and some immigrant groups from benefiting from them. As the country mobilized for World War II, issues of race received widespread public attention. Some whites and blacks saw hypocrisy in calling Americans to fight against Hitler’s doctrine of white supremacy while racism went unchecked at home.

World War II 1939–1945

The mobilization of Americans to fight for democracy in Europe and the Pacific forced a reckoning with the realities of segregation and discrimination at home. In addition, many women entered the military or took jobs contributing to the war effort, heightening their expectations about gender equality.

Chapter four

Rights Revolution
Rights Revolution 1950–1969
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In the 1950s and ’60s, a growing number of Americans agitated for the rights that Reconstruction had failed to deliver. Through a series of often nonviolent protests, African Americans, Latinos, women, and other groups were able to realize some of the promises made by the 14th and 15th Amendments. Many of these hard-won victories had to be backed up by Federal military intervention.

Television 1955–1968

Television sets, a novelty at the beginning of the decade, were found in 92 percent of households in 1955. Television news coverage of violent attacks on peaceful protestors helped swell the ranks of civil rights organizations and increase public support for the movement.

The Sexual Revolution 1960–1980

The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s challenged public opinion about appropriate sexual activity. Youth culture, radical feminism, and gay liberation called for greater sexual freedom. Those movements changed how Americans viewed sex and broadened acceptable sexual behavior.

Chapter five

New Groups, New Hopes
New Groups, New Hopes 1970–1999
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In the late 20th century, Americans continued to fight against discrimination in the workplace, schools, and other sectors of public life. Some groups seeking equality had a long history of struggle, while others had recently begun to demand their rights. As always, changing attitudes and societal values affected the outcome of the quest to realize the ideals of “liberty and justice for all.”

What about contemporary Issues?

Most of the records in "Records of Rights" were created before 1980 because the National Archives generally receives permanent records when they are 30 years old or older. Prior to that, they are maintained by the federal agency that created them.