Civil rights

  • August 13, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Dr. Amos Brown, NAACP National Board Member

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    In the 1950s, the winter of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, I worked alongside many brave black youth who actively fought racism and segregation, long before the press from northern communities ever arrived. Their heroic efforts and stories of courage in the face of staunch resistance in the 1950s are untold and unacknowledged.

    I organized the first youth council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi in the fall of 1955, after being deeply impacted by the mutilated head of Emmett Till on the cover of Jet Magazine in August of that year. At only 15 years old, I asked my mother for permission to travel with Medgar Evers from Mississippi to San Francisco to attend the National Convention of the NAACP. At this convention, I was deeply inspired by the dream shared by a 26-year old Martin Luther King Jr.. This speech, given on the Wednesday night of the Convention, got my young peers and I fired up. We all agreed to return to our respective communities and become more involved.

    In 1958, under the NAACP, what was then called a sit-down was organized in Oklahoma Cityand led by Barbara Posey, a young woman who had served as the president of the youth council and engaged youth from elementary school through high school. This lunch counter sit-down was a success in its attempt to break down segregation. After this, there were a number of other successful youth led sit-downs around the country,  in cities such as Wichita and Louisville.

  • August 13, 2014
    Video Interview

    by Caroline Cox

    This year marked the 50th anniversaries of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Freedom Summer, but these victories have not erased many persistent racial inequalities in the United States. In a discussion about race, education, and the legacy of Brown v. Board decision at the 2014 ACS National Convention, Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at Harvard University, explained how the world has changed in the years after these civil rights landmarks.

    While Brown-Nagin argued that the United States has managed to achieve the promise of Brown in many respects, these successes are qualified. The decision slowly eliminated de jure segregation, but de facto segregation continues and even thrives in the post-Brown world. Brown-Nagin explained that public support is “shifting away from support for an affirmative movement of students across neighborhood lines, away from even having students of different races in the same school building.”

    The majority of people, according to Brown-Nagin, agree with the principle of racial equality. But this belief does not in and of itself mean that inequality no longer exists. This is not the inequality seen during the Warren Court, but rather are the result of “social conditions related to race” that are largely ignored because “people don’t understand them as related to racial animus.”

    The way to bring the ethos of Brown into a new era, Brown-Nagin argued, requires the formation of new coalitions and policies that can address inequality but are not necessarily race-conscious. Race does matter, but in a time when Parents Involved has made addressing racial inequality in schools more difficult, Brown-Nagin made clear that the real solution is “to be creative and innovative in the policies that we choose.”

    ACSblog hosted a symposium on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Freedom Summer, and a collection of blog posts on the legacy of Brown v. Board. Watch the brief interview with Tomiko Brown-Nagin below or here

  • August 6, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Nicholas Bagley argues at The Incidental Economist that the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit should rehear Halbig v. Burwell. If sustained, Halbig puts millions at risk of becoming uninsured, meeting the standard for en banc review as a case of “exceptional importance.”

    Niraj Chokshi reports for The Washington Post that Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. The cert petition asks for a review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit decision, last month, that affirmed a lower court’s determination that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

    In The Wall Street Journal, Michelle Hackman interviews Adam Cox, Faculty Advisor for the New York University School of Law ACS Student Chapter, on the steps President Obama could take to help undocumented immigrants.

    The Diane Rehm Show hosts a debate on President Obama’s use of executive orders. Jonathan Turley, Stanley Brand and Jeffrey Rosen weigh in.

    Jamelle Bouie of Slate explains the dangers of “broken window” policing and the civil rights implications of being tough on minor offenses. 

  • August 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor, West Virginia University College of Law

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Summer protest, it is well worth reflecting on the how the movement challenged us to not only establish formal legal equality, but also to address enduring poverty. The Civil Rights Movement sought to persuade America that all Americans are equal. The Freedom Summer riders (and the many, many more who pressed for civil rights) sought to expose the inequality and oppression in the segregated south of 1964.

    The passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, still impact us today.  These enactments represent significant progress towards the goal of fostering equality. Moreover, with the contemporary tide of referenda and judicial rulings on marriage equality, the Civil Rights Movement continues to evolve to protect many people who fifty years ago weren’t deemed deserving of civil rights.

    Though we think of Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Summer, and formal legal equality when we think about the Civil Rights Movement, we should also remember that the struggle is really, as historian Jacqueline Dowd Hall explained, a “long civil rights movement.”  Hall’s work locates the genesis of the twentieth century movement in the 1930s with the social transformations that occurred due to economic disruption of the Great Depression.  Moreover, the long arc of legal transformation to foster equality began with the Civil War and the Reconstruction Amendments.  The civil rights struggle began with confronting the subordination and poverty slavery created.

    In this sense, the long civil rights struggle had economic equality of opportunity at its core from the beginning. As Jeremy Leaming discussed on this blog, the question of racial equality in twenty-first century America is at a crossroads in light of retrenchment in civil and voting rights.  Yet racial inequality and poverty walk hand and hand and continue to affect the lived experiences of people of color.

    NPR host Michel Martin recently wrote an article in the National Journal, discussing the key obstacles that women of color continue to face in the twenty-first century.  In discussing this article on NPR’s All Things Considered (where she called her essay her own “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”) she explained how poverty creates an enduring problem for racial minorities:

    People of color particularly — but not exclusively blacks and Latinos — are connected to poverty and to disadvantage in ways that often our white colleagues don't understand. That causes you to have to think about things that they aren't thinking about. And that's the kind of thing that I really feel a need to call attention to.

    Martin’s words -- especially as they reflect her own experience navigating the intersection of race and class-- remind us that poverty daily affects the lives of people of color, no matter how affluent.  Indeed, it is a yet-to-be-fulfilled civil rights issue of the long civil rights movement.

  • July 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Franita Tolson, Betty T. Ferguson Professor of Voting Rights, Florida State University College of Law; Faculty Advisor, Florida State University College of Law ACS Student Chapter

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a landmark piece of legislation, responsible for eradicating much of the discrimination that racial minorities confronted in places of public accommodation such as hotels, restaurants and movie theatres; in seeking employment and applying for public benefits and in attending integrated public schools. Among its many accomplishments, the Act also laid the groundwork for nondiscriminatory access to the ballot. In particular, Title I of the Act provides that, “All citizens of the United States who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election by the people in any State, Territory, district, county, city, etc. … shall be entitled and allowed to vote at all such elections, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude ....” Despite a promising start, this provision quickly fell into relative obscurity because the Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed a little over a year after Title I, imposed more stringent restrictions on racial discrimination in voting.

    Recent cases illustrate that the time has come to revisit Title I of the Civil Rights Act.  In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act which, together with section 5, required certain jurisdictions to preclear all changes to their electoral laws with the federal government before the changes could go into effect. The preclearance regime was a type of federal receivership for jurisdictions, mostly in the south, that had pervasively discriminated against African Americans in order to ensure that any new laws would not undermine minority voting rights. In the year since Shelby County, the loss of the preclearance regime has forced advocates to be more aggressive in using creative legal arguments in voting rights litigation. For example, in Frank v. Walker, a federal district court judge invalidated Wisconsin’s voter identification law, the first successful challenge to these restrictions using section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits states from abridging the right to vote on the basis of race and applies nationwide.

    Like section 2, Title I of the Civil Rights Act stands as a possible litigation alternative to the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In addition to its general requirement of nondiscriminatory access to the ballot, section 2(A) of Title I provides that, “No person acting under color of law shall in determining whether any individual is qualified under State law or laws to vote in any election, apply any standard, practice, or procedure different from the standards, practices, or procedures applied under such law or laws to other individuals within the same county, parish, or similar political subdivision who have been found by State officials to be qualified to vote.” This provision prevents states from applying voter qualification standards differently to similarly situated individuals.