Desegregation of the Armed Forces
Sixty-five years ago today, President Harry S. Truman issued his Executive Order that desegregated the armed forces and called for equality of treatment and opportunity for all.
Twenty years after the issuance of the Order, in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson sent this note to former President Truman, honoring that anniversary and Truman’s historic action.
-from the Truman Library
The Americans with Disabilities Act - Today in History
On July 26, 1990, President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President Bush had made the bill a key element of his domestic agenda that year. The ADA proved to be one of the most far-reaching civil rights bills in the nation’s history, affecting more than 40 million citizens.
During its development, the ADA was a popular idea, but there were great challenges in turning it into workable legislation. Although the ADA was equally embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike, bipartisan support did not ensure easy passage of a complicated bill capable of touching tens of millions of lives.
As these documents demonstrate it took leaders and politicians willing and able to “reach across the aisle” to find workable solutions; though as the documents also show, political strategists were well aware of the electoral costs of failure. Read More
"…affirming the right of girls to play Little League baseball."
Located in President Gerald R. Ford’s legislation case files is a recommendation to approve the bill H.R. 8864 and amend the Federal charter of Little League Baseball, allowing girls to play.
In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act, the original Executive Order 9066 as well as the 1988 law are on display for a limited time in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.
“Here we admit a wrong. Here we affirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.” —President Ronald Reagan, remarks on signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988
On February 19, 1942, ten weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which permitted military commanders to “prescribe military areas … from which any or all persons may be excluded.” While the order did not mention any group by name, it profoundly affected the lives of Japanese Americans.
In March and April, Gen. John L. DeWitt issued a series of “Exclusion Orders” directed at “all persons of Japanese ancestry” in the Western Defense Command.
These orders led to the forced evacuation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese American permanent residents and Japanese American citizens at 10 major camps and dozens of smaller sites. Held behind barbed wire and watched by armed guards, many Japanese Americans lost their homes and possessions. Congress passed laws enforcing the order with almost no debate, and the Supreme Court affirmed these actions.
Forty-six years later, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The law, which was preceded by a detailed historical study by a congressional commission, judged the incarceration “a grave injustice” that was “motivated largely by racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” It offered an apology and $20,000 in restitution to each survivor.
Image: Persons of Japanese ancestry arrive at the Santa Anita Assembly Center from San Pedro. Evacuees lived at this center at the former Santa Anita race track before being moved inland to relocation centers. Clem Albers, Arcadia, CA, April 5, 1942. (Photo No. 210-G-3B-414)
LBJ Signs the Civil Rights Act
On this day in 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex in public accommodations such as hotels, theaters, parks, restaurants, and other public places.
The act also authorized the withdrawal of Federal funds from programs that practice discrimination. It discouraged job discrimination through the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Additionally, it authorized the Attorney General to bring lawsuits against schools practicing segregation, and made the Commission on Civil Rights a permanent organization.
Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act with Martin Luther King, Jr. and others behind him. East Room, White House. 7/2/64.
-from the LBJ Library
On this day in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to sit on the Supreme Court.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, the future civil rights leader originally intended to study at nearby the University of Maryland School of Law, however, it remained segregated.
Instead, Marshall attended Howard University School of Law. Shortly after graduating, Marshall successfully challenged the segregated University of Maryland in Murray v. Pearson. Read More
Marshall remained on the Court until 1991.
Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson meeting with Thurgood Marshall shortly before announcing Marshall’s nomination to the Supreme Court, June 13, 1967.
June 4, 1965. LBJ speaks at Howard University.
“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.
Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.
This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”
Full text here.
Brown vs. Board of Education
On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision overturning “separate but equal” as unconstitutional, stating that segregation in public schools was a violation of the 14th amendment.
Four years earlier, members of the Topeka, Kansas, Chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine governing public education through a class action suit when they were denied the opportunity to enroll their children in the white-only schools.
When the Topeka case made its way to the United States Supreme Court it was combined with other NAACP cases from Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. The combined cases became known as Oliver L. Brown et. al. vs. The Board of Education of Topeka (KS).
You can see the original Complaint against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Court Order, and correspondences between President Eisenhower about Brown vs. Board of Education from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Papers as President here.
Pictured: Supreme Court Opinion of Brown vs. Board of Education, pages 1-3. 5/31/55.
-from the Eisenhower Library
Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. This decision would not only integrate baseball, but would help the country work to achieve equal rights for all. Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., once commented to baseball pitcher Don Newcombe, “Don, you and Jackie will never know how easy you made my job, through what you went through on the baseball field.”
Before becoming famous, Lt. Jack R. Robinson was court-martialed at Camp Hood, Texas, because he refused to move to the back of the bus after being told to do so by a bus driver and disobeying an order from a superior officer. Robinson was acquitted of all charges and received an honorable discharge, but this was not the only experience he would have in fighting discrimination.
After retiring from baseball, Robinson turned much of his attention to civil rights issues. He wrote to several Presidents about the cause, and even attended the March on Washington.
Many of these milestone events from Robinson’s life are documented in primary sources from the National Archives.
Today in History — Marian Anderson Concert at the Lincoln Memorial
On April 9,1939, 75,000 people attended Marian Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Hundreds of thousands more heard the concert over the radio.
The operatic first half of the program concluded with Ave Maria. After a short intermission, she then sang a selection of spirituals familiar to the African American members of her audience. And with tears in her eyes, Marian Anderson closed the concert with an encore, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.
The DAR’s refusal to grant Marian Anderson the use of Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt’s resignation from the DAR in protest, and the resulting concert at the Lincoln Memorial combined into a watershed moment in civil rights history, bringing national attention to the country’s color barrier as no other event had previously done.
Mrs. Roosevelt and Marian Anderson remained friends for the rest of Mrs. Roosevelt’s life. Marian Anderson continued to sing in venues around the world, including singing the National Anthem at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. She died in 1993 at the age of 96.
Photo: 75,000 People Gather to Hear Singer Marian Anderson in Potomac Park, 4/9/39.
-from the FDR Library