The term “Civil Rights” refer to the basic rights of a person that guarantees equal social opportunities, equal employment, and equal protection under the law, such as the right to equality, the right to use public facilities, the right to government services that is inclusive of public education, healthcare, and the right to a fair trial.
When the term, “Discrimination” is mentioned, it is the reference made to the denial or infringement of the civil rights of individuals due to their membership in a specific circle, group, or class.
For the prevention of such acts of discrimination against a person on the basis of their race, sex, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national identity, there has been the initiation of numerous statutes by various jurisdictions.
Focused on enforcing a statute that put a vehement restraint on discrimination on the account of race, colour, national origin, sex, disability, and religion, in the sectors such as education, employment, credit, housing, public accommodations, voting, and state-authorized programs, etc, the Civil Rights Division in the United States, is designed for protecting the individuals’ rights of citizens in the aforesaid nation.
Apart from the prohibition of the aforementioned, the Rights Law, is also a remedial statute, as it provides assistance to any individual enclosed in a public institution where the prevailing conditions and circumstances deprive them of their statutory right. The enforcement of such civil rights is also executed by the tribal and local governments.
1. The Difference Between Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, and Human Rights
1.1 Civil Rights
Civil Rights are those provisions, not having their reference made in the Bill of Rights but that deal with the notion of having equality and extending legal protection to individuals. These are the rights that an individual possesses by being a lawfully acknowledged member of a certain political state.
Be it on the basis of time, social culture, or the type of government and the ruling parties, the formation of these rights tweaks every now and then and adheres to trends that vehemently condone and look down upon specific kinds of discriminatory tactics.
Examples of the aforesaid would be the Right to Vote and Protection from Discrimination.
1.2 Civil Liberties
Civil Liberties refer to an individual’s personal freedoms which are secured from government interference or intrusion as mentioned in the list of the Bill of Rights.
An example of the aforesaid would be the Right to Free Speech as put forth in the First Amendment.
1.3 Human Rights
Human Rights emphasized those rights that an individual obtains by being alive. From governing how an individual should live in a society, to identify the relationship shared between the person and the state, the Rights Law defines the standards that recognize and protect the dignity of all human beings.
In a nutshell, it is a right derived from God or nature. Examples of the aforesaid would be the Right to Life, the Right to Education, Protection from Torture, the Freedom of Expression, and The Right to A Free Trial.
2. The History of Civil Rights
To understand the concept of civil rights, it is essential to dive back in time and comprehend how the Rights Law came into existence.
2.1 1861 to 1900- The Reconstruction Era
Served as one of the most monumental periods in the prior days of the United States, this historic relevance of the country was based on only one single idea and that was of the essence to understand in which possible way, could the numerous newly freed African Americans be integrated into social, political, and labour systems for equal opportunities.
2.1.1 Reconstruction Amendments
The Reconstruction Era led to various developments, namely, The Thirteenth, The Fourteenth and The Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution which in turn resulted in the growth and expansion of the Civil rights that marked history in the States.
- The Thirteenth Amendment termed involuntary servitude as illegal and void by law.
- The Fourteenth Amendment marked it as non-enforceable under the law, for a state to pass laws “which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States, deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, and/or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”.
- The Fifteenth Amendment draws restriction for the U.S. or any state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on the individual’s race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.”
2.1.2 Reconstruction Laws
During the Reconstruction Era, Congress enforced various codified statutes which many are still functioning today and provide protection to individuals from discrimination on the basis of various kinds and prevention from having them deprived of their civil rights.
Section 1981 of Title 42 that states having an Equal Right Under the Law serves to protect individuals from discrimination based on race for engaging in activities such as enforcing contracts, participating in lawsuits, and giving evidence.
Various other statutes that belong to the Reconstruction Era, the sole purpose of which was to extend protection to individuals against discrimination on the basis of race, include Civil Action for Deprivation of Rights; Conspiracies to Interfere With Civil Rights; Conspiracy Against Rights of Citizens; Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law; The Jurisdictional Statue for Civil Rights Cases and Peonage Abolished.
2.2 The American Civil Rights Movement
The Reconstruction Era did give rise to various methods for reducing discrimination through The Thirteenth, The Fourteenth and The Fifteenth Amendments, however, the scope for eradicating the same, went on for about more than 50 years, primarily for the African-Americans.
Diving specifically, even though slavery was eradicated and the former slaves were granted basic civil and political rights through the passage of the amendments, African Americans were still disregarded of their existence in terms of being excluded from public life, which gradually led them to become second-class citizens in their own country.
To bring the African- Americans on the grid of acceptance and provide them with equal rights, the exclusion had to be taken out by its roots for which numerous numbers of social movements in terms of protests, though non-violent as a type, but with a violent nature, broke out.
From dedicated marches, rock solid boycotts, to civil disobedience of the extensive kind that included stringent sit-ins as well as voter education and several voting drives, the movement took place in African American religious locations such as churches and educational institutions like colleges of the South, though geographically were local in scope, it had, however majorly impacted in a nutshell.
Essential to focus, that such a social movement for equal employment and equal opportunity for the former suppressed slaves, not only trumpeted the idea of the rights law in full fledge across the world but marked history in the growth of civil rights in the United States.
Leaving a huge impact on the development of the aforesaid, the nonviolent protest which is the civil rights movement that broke out in the 1950s, demolished the concept of categorization of public services, facilities, and usage on the basis of race in the south, scratching from its roots, the idea of discrimination extended via the aforementioned.
Not only was it termed as one of the iconic and legendary breakthroughs for attaining parity in terms of employment, opportunity, and rights in general since the Era of Reconstruction that lasted in the 1800s but paved the way for further balancing and carving the concept of equality between the individuals of the States.
Though truly, empowering, enlightening, and strengthening, the civil rights movement was termed as a difficult time for African Americans as not only were they in a constant tussle with an ingrained ideology of discrimination but also finding ways to eradicate the same, was highly tasking. With determination, no resistance can bar anyone from achieving their goal, the same applied to all the persistent and sincere protesters, regardless of their race.
The aim, the civil rights enthusiasts and activists achieved were the creation of legal statutes that sought the end the categorization of races, demolished Black voter suppression, and eradicated the discrimination pertaining to employment and housing arenas.
As it gradually picked pace, the scope of the movement expanded and extended from the four corners of civil rights. The protests that marked a victory for the initiation of major civil rights legislation in the 1960s, were no more restricted to the aforementioned rights law, but now sought freedom and liberation under the broader umbrella that is, to eradicate the racial discrimination, all-in-all the sectors pertaining to politics, economy and culture.
2.3 Contribution of Martin Luther King
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.… We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., the US activist had a knack for leadership since the inception of his birth. A torchbearer of nonviolence from his time in college, post his doctorate, as he made his way back to the South, became a pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Shortly after, an extremely terrorizing situation broke out where a lady, riding the Montgomery bus, refused to give up her seat for a white passenger, who was none other than, the renowned, Rosa Parks.
Followed by this incident, in 1955, the African Americans residing in Montgomery, curated a victorious boycott of the bus which lasted more than a year, where the contribution of Martin Luther King, served not only highly pivotal but termed him as the leader of the protest.
From getting arrested to becoming a renowned public activist, King’s determination, clarity, and sincere outlook on bettering the nation, made him one of the top figures for bringing change.
Step by step, from becoming the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the contribution of which led to the eradication of policies pertaining to racial oppression in the arena of public transportation to forming the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with the other African American leaders in the South, the goal of which is to urge non-violent movements as inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, to demolish the Jim Crows laws that trumpeted discriminatory policies and promote civil rights for African Americans.
Talking about Martin Luther King and failing to mention the most powerful “I Have a Dream” speech, would be a shame. In 1963, King and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with NAACP and several other activists, organized a peaceful march in Washington for the grant of equal employment opportunities as well as the demolishment of discriminatory policies against African Americans, which gathered an assembly of 250,000 individuals.
The 17-minute-long speech not only aided in the eradication of racial oppression but also awarded King the 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace.
As the civil rights movement was running parallelly in 1965, Martin Luther King was severely criticized for yielding to state troopers during an ongoing march in Selma, Alabama as well as for failing to secure an equal opportunity for African Americans under the Chicago housing segregation policies.
The fact that King knew, that a peaceful protest will attract sympathy from the general public through the medium of media, led to the creation of an iconic history. As he thought, a nationwide outrage was witnessed when the civil rights activists inclusive of Martin Luther King during the Selma to Montgomery march faced brutal attacks suspended by the white authorities which were telecasted on cable networks.
“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, the famous words of the legendary speech of King that is still imprinted in the heart of civil rights history, very categorically, put forth that not just with regards of attaining equal employment opportunity but to be treated fairly in all areas open to public use, the African Americans will be granted this right, immediately and effectively.
Compiling all the protests, complemented with sincerity, dedication, and the mere want of equality, with Martin Luther King serving as a hero, the Civil rights movement, less than 6 months post the Selma to Montgomery march, achieved their much-desired goal, when statutes such as Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, were brought into existence.
3. The Civil Rights Act of 1964
Post the Era of Reconstruction, one of the most prevalent and powerful civil rights legislation is the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The journey of the creation of this statute began when President John Kennedy, in June 1963, asked Congress to provide him with a briefly detailed civil rights bill, which had to emit the essence of vehement resistance to desegregation, and eradication of racial oppression as well as emphasize on the causes that led to the murder of Medgar Evers.
Post the unfortunate assassination of President John Kennedy, in November, President Lyndon Johnson who took office, pressed strongly with the support of Roy Wilkins and Clarence Mitchell, to secure the bill’s initiation as an act in the following year.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which came into existence post the efforts of the President, put a radical ban on discrimination that suspended based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin. The act emphasized majorly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, race, colour, or religion in granting employment opportunities, promotion in offices or any other authoritative positions and firing pertaining to the same sector.
From the Act restricting any kind of discriminatory policies pertaining to public accommodations and state-authorized and funded programs to empowering the enforcement of voting rights as well as initiating the desegregation of schools, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been set as the nation’s benchmark of civil rights legislation, and it continues to be so in the United States of America.
In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court put forth that the existence of Jim Crow laws had been pulled out from its roots when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enforced. The court in the aforesaid matter held “that racial segregation purported to be “separate but equal” was constitutional.” The Civil Rights Act was eventually elaborated and expanded by Congress to strengthen the enforcement of these fundamental civil rights.
The Supreme Court, being one of the most powerful components of the Judiciary, plays a very essential part in understanding and construing the extent to which civil rights expand, as a single Supreme Court judgement can change the entire outlook of a specific right throughout the nation.
The federal courts have contributed vehemently to the school desegregation programs, not to forget other programs that were brought to life for the eradication of state or local discrimination.
Important Provisions Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964
i. Title II
The said title refers to prohibiting any kind of discrimination based on race, colour, religion, or national origin that is extended against any individual in any public accommodation.
Restaurants, hotels, and arenas of exhibition or entertainment such as a gazebo with live music, a sports stadium, and a movie theatre etc, all of the aforesaid come under the ambit of Public Accommodation.
ii. Title III
Banning discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, or national origin in public facilities, such as parks, libraries, auditoriums, and prisons, is the entire essence of Title III.
The aforesaid title as well authorizes the Attorney General to file a civil suit upon receipt of a written, which is acknowledged and signed by the complaint if the Attorney General believes that the complaint is meritorious and certifies that the complainants are unable to file and be a part of the appropriate legal proceedings for relief.
iii. Title IV
Any discriminatory policies based on race, colour, religion, or national origin that are witnessed by individuals in the arena of education that is schools and other knowledge-invoking institutions, shall be regulated by Title IV.
The Educational Opportunities Section works to ensure that all persons regardless of their religion, race, or colour are given equal educational opportunities.
iv. Title VI
In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races, colour, and national origins, contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial, colour or national origin discrimination.”
Hence, Title VI works around the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, colour, and national origin in programs, activities and events that are funded by the state or government.
v. Title VII
As a need to survive, being financially independent is highly essential, hence being given equal employment opportunities is a must. Thus, Title VII bans any kind of discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, and national origin in the arena of employment, job or service.
vi. Title VIII
Added with certain specified restrictions, the aforesaid title restricts discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex, or familial status that is families with children under age 18, national origin, or handicap in the sale, rental, advertising, or financing of housing, in any dealing that exist under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.
The Civil Rights Law in the United States of America, as the name suggests refers to the equality that each citizen of the nation should possess.
From equal employment opportunities to eradicating discrimination in all arenas pertaining to education, housing practices, public domains or accommodations, the Civil Rights Act, of 1964 has presented itself as a knight in shining armour.
The contributions of great leaders, especially Martin Luther King, have impacted the passage of the Act majorly and are the sole reason for the equality that prevails strongly in America today.