Racial Discrimination

Racial and ethnic discrimination have had a long history in the United States, beginning with the importation of African slaves in the seventeenth century. The U.S. Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment may have ended slavery, but they did not end racial discrimination. In fact, the U.S. legal system embraced for over 70 years a system of state-sponsored racial Segregation in schools, transportation, and public accommodations. In addition, blacks and other minorities were denied the vote. Ethnic discrimination has also been common, beginning with the first wave of Irish immigration in the 1830s. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, discrimination based on race and ethnicity developed with the first arrivals of each alien group. Thus, the Chinese, the Japanese, Italians, Jews, Hispanics, Vietnamese, Somalis, and other groups have encountered hostility and bias when they tried to find jobs or places to live. (Marshall, 2007)Since the 1960s, federal Civil Rights laws and Supreme Court decisions have sought to combat illegal discrimination based on race or ethnicity. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Radical Republicans in the Congress were determined to protect the civil rights of blacks. They enacted the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments partially out of concern that future congresses could easily revoke statutory solutions. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and gave Congress the power to eradicate all vestiges of involuntary servitude. The Fourteenth Amendment proved to be the most profound and far-reaching of all federal Reconstruction legislation. In its three main clauses, the amendment guaranteed citizens' protection from the actions of state and local officials, based on equal protection, due process, and the concept of privileges and immunities. . The Fifteenth Amendment declared that federal and state government could not deny or abridge the right to vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Even after the Civil War had ended and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments had outlawed slavery and guaranteed the civil rights of "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" (U.S. Const. amend. XIV), southern states and localities established the racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws—also known as the Black Codes—to keep African Americans from enjoying legal equality with whites. The Jim Crow Laws emerged in southern states after the U.S. Civil War ( Marshall, 2007). First enacted in the 1880s by lawmakers who were bitter about their loss to the North and the end of slavery, the statutes separated the races in all walks of life. The resulting legislative barrier to equal rights created a system that favored whites and repressed blacks, an institutionalized form of inequality that grew in subsequent decades with help from the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the laws came under attack over the next half century, real progress against them did not begin until the Court began to dismantle segregation in the 1950s. The remnants of the Jim Crow system were finally abolished in the 1960s through the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement ( Marshall, 2007). Radical Republicans used these constitutional amendments as the basis for many pieces of civil rights legislation. The Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, and 1871 are usually called the Reconstruction Civil Rights Acts ( Marshall, 2007). The provisions of these acts are both civil and criminal in nature, and several of these statutes have assumed great importance in modern civil rights litigation. The most important of these statutes, 42 U.S.C.A. SECTION 1983 provides that any person who under color of law subjects another individual to the deprivation of any federal right shall be liable to the injured party in an action at law or in Equity. A similar provision in the federal criminal code imposed penal sanctions against persons who willfully engage in such conduct (18 U.S.C.A. § 242). The federal...
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