Teaching With Documents, Volume 1


Civil Rights Mini-Unit

During the 1960s and 1970s, a number of Federal and State programs were set up to provide educational opportunities for minorities and women. These included Head Start, special admissions programs to institutions of higher learning, and affirmative action plans. In 1974 Allan Bakke, a white male seeking admission to the University of California Medical School at Davis, challenged as discriminatory the university’s special admissions program. Subsequently, the California State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bakke. The Regents of the University of California challenged this decision before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court’s decision raises questions about the future of affirmative action programs specifically and about the rights of minorities generally. The issues surrounding this case make it a most relevant topic for discussion in the social studies.

This mini-unit provides you with a selection of historical documents that serves as background for studying the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The documents relate to the 14th Amendment: Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. the Board of Education, and the Bakke case. Accompanying the documents are suggested activities for use in the classroom. The first activity focuses on each document individually, while the second uses all the documents with a data retrieval chart. The mini-unit also contains a time line of major events relating to the history of civil rights in the United States; it will be helpful to you and your students as you work with the documents.

We recommend that you introduce your students to primary sources by examining a selected document for factual information. This examination will underscore the significance of such information in the development of conclusions and generalizations.

In the first activity, students select a single document and review a series of related questions. Two sets of questions are included with each document. The first set of questions requires students to review the document for factual information, thus reinforcing the importance of reading documents with care. Once students have read the document, a second set of questions provides the basis for a broader discussion of the individual documents in their historical context.

In the second activity, students should carefully review all the documents as background for a general discussion of broad issues that relate to all of the documents. The discussion will encourage students to develop their own conclusions and generalizations based on factual information. The data retrieval chart will guide students in extracting factual information from the documents. Once students understand the information, they can discuss at length one or several of the following general issues. These issues are only examples. You may wish to develop your own general topics for discussion.

Time Line

This is a selective list of events leading to the present legal and judicial positions on civil rights in the United States. It is intended to be used as background for the documents in this mini-unit, and not as a definitive list.

equal protection of the laws
public accommodation
grandfather clause
executive order
U.S. Court of Appeals

Date: 1865

Focus: The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands

Action: This Bureau was established in the War Department to help freed slaves adjust to living as free persons and to overcome the disabilities of slavery. It worked also to assist displaced whites and to administer land confiscated from the Confederacy.

Impact: The Bureau represented the Federal Government’s first major attempt at social welfare. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Bureau’s work was its system of public education.

Date: 1866

Focus: 14th Amendment

Action: This amendment was designed principally to provide citizenship rights to former slaves.

Impact: It guaranteed that all citizens were to receive equal protection before the law.

Date: 1866

Focus: Civil Rights Act of 1866

Action: This act provided that persons born in the United States and not subject to foreign powers were citizens of the United States.

Impact: It gave the Federal Government legal authority to deal with violators of the civil liberties of individuals.

Date: 1870

Focus: 15th Amendment

Action: This amendment was largely designed to give full voting rights to black males. It also reinforced the citizenship guarantees of the 14th Amendment.

Impact: More than 700,000 former slaves registered to vote.

Date: 1872

Focus: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands

Action: The Bureau was abolished.

Impact: Blacks found themselves without Federal protection and provisions in former Confederate States unwilling to continue the work begun by the Bureau.

Date: 1873

Focus: United States Supreme Court, Slaughter House Cases. The State of Louisiana granted one corporation a 25-year exclusive franchise to conduct all butchering business in three of the state’s parishes. The monopoly prompted a lawsuit by rival slaughterhouses, which claimed that 1,000 butchers had been denied the right to earn a living.

Action: The Court held that there were two categories of citizens—national and state—and that the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment protected only those rights derived from national citizenship.

Impact: This ruling in effect weakened the 14th Amendment because it gave State governments authority over the protection of citizenship rights.

Date: 1875

Focus: Civil Rights Act of 1875

Action: This act prohibited discrimination in places of public accommodation, excluding churches, cemeteries, and public schools.

Impact: It represented the Federal Government’s last attempt to secure civil rights for blacks before Reconstruction ended in 1877.

Date: 1883

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Civil Rights Cases

Action: The Court ruled in five separate cases that the 14th Amendment prohibited States, not individuals, from violating civil rights.

Impact: These rulings reversed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and undermined the effect of the 14th and 15th Amendments.

Date: 1890

Focus: Second Morrill Act (the First Morrill Act, 1862, provided Federal support for higher education in the form of land-grant colleges). These colleges usually concentrated on agricultural and mechanical subjects.

Action: One of the stipulations of the Second Morrill Act provided that annual grants be withheld from States that segregated blacks without providing separate agricultural or mechanical colleges for them.

Impact: Seventeen colleges for blacks were established. These were mainly non-degree-granting agricultural, mechanical, and industrial schools.

Date: 1896

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Plessy v. Ferguson

Action: The Court upheld a Louisiana law requiring segregated railroad facilities, maintaining that as long as accommodations were equal, blacks were not deprived of equal protection granted under the 14th Amendment.

Impact: This ruling established the doctrine of separate but equal.

Date: 1908

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Berea College v. Kentucky

Action: The Court upheld a Kentucky law that banned private schools from admitting black and white students to the same campus.

Impact: This case was interpreted to mean that States could outlaw bi-racial contacts.

Date: 1915

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Guinn and Beal v. United States

Action: The Court declared the Oklahoma "grandfather clause" unconstitutional because it violated the 15th Amendment by disenfranchising blacks.

Impact: The 15th Amendment was used to overturn a State law.

Date: 1938

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada

Action: The Court ruled that Missouri must provide legal education for Lloyd Gaines, a black, within its boundaries.

Impact: The ruling required States to make equal provisions for blacks or admit them to State-supported universities for whites.

Date: 1941

Focus: Executive Order 8802

Action: The Order established the Committee on Fair Employment Practices to investigate complaints of discrimination against companies with Government defense contracts.

Impact: The Order paved the way for blacks to be freely hired in defense plants.

Date: 1946

Focus: Executive Order 9808

Action: The Order created the Presidential Committee on Civil Rights. The Committee issued a major report, To Secure These Rights, which condemned racial segregation and the denial of civil rights to blacks.

Impact: The report was seen as a landmark statement of the Federal Government’s intentions in the field of civil rights.

Date: 1948

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma

Action: The Court ruled that denial of the applicant’s admission to the university violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Impact: The NAACP played a major role in the case. This case represented its first real victory in the campaign against segregated facilities.

Date: 1948

Focus: Executive Order 9981

Action: "There shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the Armed Services without regard to race…."

Impact: The Order represented the first step toward elimination of segregation in one of the country’s largest institutions, the Armed Forces. Executive Orders 9808 and 9981 recognized and began the attack on discriminatory practices.

Date: 1950

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Sweatt v. Painter (Texas)

Action: The Court held that the black law school at the University of Texas did not provide "a truly equal education in law." It concluded that Sweatt’s exclusion from the white law school at the university violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Impact: The decision gave support to the admission of blacks to previously all-white graduate or professional schools.

Date: 1954

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas

Action: This case was consolidated with the District of Columbia case of Bolling v. Sharpe, the Delaware case of Gebhart v. Belton, and the Virginia case of Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. The Court decided unanimously in all these cases that school segregation violated the Constitution.

Impact: In May 1955 the Court issued its school desegregation enforcement order to admit, "with all deliberate speed," the parties involved to public schools on a racially non-discriminatory basis. The ruling was widely understood to mean that the concept of separate but equal established in Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned.

Date: 1956

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Gayle v. Browder

Action: The Court referred to the Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas case to strike down segregated bus facilities in Montgomery, Alabama.

Impact: In this case, the Court officially declared that segregation, particularly in public facilities, was unconstitutional.

Date: 1957

Focus: Civil Rights Act

Action: This act prohibited interference in the exercise of voting rights; simplified the system for Federal Government involvement in voting rights violations; and established a national Commission on Civil Rights.

Impact: The act increased Federal involvement in ensuring voting rights.

Date: 1958

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Cooper v. Aaron (Little Rock, Arkansas)

Action: The Court upheld the U.S. Court of Appeals reversal of a stay against integration, saying that "the constitutional rights of children regardless of race can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive officials nor nullified by them by evasive schemes for segregation."

Impact: This action resulted from racial turmoil that erupted in Little Rock, Arkansas, when an attempt at desegregating the schools was made.

Date: 1961

Focus: Executive Order 10925

Action: The Order established the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.

Impact: The Committee had responsibility for ending discrimination by Government contractors as well as by the Federal Government itself.

Date: 1963

Focus: March on Washington

Action: Over 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to protest inequality and to ask for a remedy.

Impact: The march demonstrated wide support for the enactment of civil rights legislation.

Date: 1964

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Va.

Action: The Court ruled that State aid to white children attending all-white private schools was unconstitutional.

Impact: Such attempts were viewed as blatant efforts to circumvent desegregation. School boards were mandated to develop "workable desegregation plans."

Date: 1964

Focus: Civil Rights Act of 1964

Action: This is the most comprehensive civil rights measure passed by Congress to date. It prohibited discrimination in public accommodations; banned the use of literacy tests as a requirement for voting, unless written tests were given to everyone; provided for Federal assistance in desegregating school systems; and banned discrimination in Federally assisted programs. The Act also provided for equal employment opportunity by declaring discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin an unlawful employment practice. This section was to be implemented over a three-year period, It was for this purpose that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created, with enforcement to be carried out by the Attorney General.

Impact: The Act abolished legal segregation and guaranteed a more favorable climate for later civil rights legislation dealing with such issues as housing discrimination and voting rights.

Date: 1964

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States and Katzenbach v. McClung

Action: In these two cases involving a motel and restaurant, the proprietors based their rights to refuse accommodation to blacks on the grounds that their businesses were intrastate, not interstate. The Court ruled that each of the establishments was involved in interstate business and therefore subject to the conditions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Impact: The interpretation of interstate commerce was expanded to include restaurants, motels, and other privately owned facilities that served the public.

Date: 1965

Focus: Executive Order 11246

Action: This Order was amended by Executive Orders 11375 of October 1967, and 11478 of August 1969. It established the Government’s nondiscrimination compliance program. The Order is implemented by Office of Federal Contract Compliance regulations which exist in two parts: (a) obligations of contractors and subcontractors not to discriminate, and (b) contractors’ obligations to develop an affirmative action program.

Impact: The Order gives the Federal Government a device for deterring discrimination in employment practices in private institutions.

Date: 1965

Focus: Voting Rights Act of 1965

Action: This act abolished all remaining deterrents to exercising the franchise and authorized Federal supervision of voter registration where necessary.

Impact: This act closed loopholes in the 1964 measure.

Date: 1968

Focus: Civil Rights Act of 1968

Action: This Civil Rights Act, passed one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., focused on eradicating discrimination in housing and on protecting the right of blacks to vote.

Impact: The act provided additional force to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Date: 1968

Focus: U.S. Supreme Court, Jones v. Mayer Co.

Action: This ruling based on the 1866 Civil Rights Act barred all racial discrimination in the sale or rental of property.

Impact: This ruling closed the loophole in the open housing section of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which excluded owner-sold single housing and units of four or fewer owner-occupied apartments.

Date: 1972

Focus: Equal Employment Opportunity Act

Action: Public and private education institutions, State and local governments, and employees and unions with eight or more workers were covered by Federal legislation barring discrimination and were brought under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Impact: The Commission was given authority to have its decisions enforced in the courts, but Congress did not provide the Commission with "cease and desist" power.

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Chicago: "Civil Rights Mini-Unit," Teaching With Documents, Volume 1 in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. United States. National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies (Washington, D.C.: National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1989), 38–43. Original Sources, accessed December 9, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=URZAR3MX4F5EKPL.

MLA: . "Civil Rights Mini-Unit." Teaching With Documents, Volume 1, in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, edited by United States. National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, Vol. 1, Washington, D.C., National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1989, pp. 38–43. Original Sources. 9 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=URZAR3MX4F5EKPL.

Harvard: , 'Civil Rights Mini-Unit' in Teaching With Documents, Volume 1. cited in 1989, Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. , National Archives Trust Fund Board, Washington, D.C., pp.38–43. Original Sources, retrieved 9 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=URZAR3MX4F5EKPL.