On this day in American history — October 15, 1883 United States Supreme Court Strikes Down Civil Rights Act of 1875

In 1875, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which forbade racial discrimination in access to public accommodations and facilities. Over the ensuing years, a number of African Americans sued businesses that denied them access to segregated facilities. In 1883, the Supreme Court heard five of those cases, and, on October 15, 1883, struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 in an 8-1 decision known as the Civil Rights Cases.

In the Civil Rights Cases, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment, which was cited as the constitutional authorization for the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and mandates “equal protection of the laws,” does not apply to private entities. According to the Court, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applied only to actions taken by state governments or laws passed by state governments, and did not give Congress the power to regulate the actions of private entities. Writing for the majority less than twenty years after ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Justice Joseph Bradley questioned the necessity and appropriateness of laws aimed at protecting black people from discrimination:

“When a man has emerged from slavery, and, by the aid of beneficent legislation, has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen or a man are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Civil Rights Cases eliminated the only federal law that prohibited racial discrimination by individuals or private businesses, and left African Americans who were victims of private discrimination to seek legal recourse in unsympathetic state courts. Racial discrimination in housing, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and employment, became increasingly entrenched and persisted for generations. It would take more than eighty years for the federal government to outlaw discrimination with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American history, October 14, 1958 — District of Columbia Bar Association Votes to Accept Black Lawyers for First Time

Attorneys in the District of Columbia were not required to belong to a professional bar association in the 1950s, but the District maintained several voluntary bar associations that lawyers could choose to join. The Bar Association of the District of Columbia became known as the “white bar,” while the Washington Bar Association served as the “black bar.” Washington has a long history of racial separation and in the Jim Crow era, mandatory segregation laws remained in force. While black and white lawyers practiced in the same courtrooms, most other facilities in the District remained separated by race and the bar associations furthered that custom. Even Washington’s law library, located within a federal courthouse, refused to admit African American attorneys.

The Bar Association of the District of Columbia finally desegregated due in a large part to the efforts of Charles S. Rhyne, a white man who ran for president of the organization on a pledge to desegregate. Though he faced intensely hostile reactions from many of his colleagues, Rhyne eventually was able to amend the bar association’s constitution and remove the race-based membership criteria. Several years later, on October 14, 1958, the Bar Association of the District Columbia voted to integrate and begin accepting African American members. The “black” Washington Bar Association nevertheless opted to continue operation, open to all but with a focus on the needs and concerns of black lawyers in Washington. Both associations still exist today.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American history, October 11, 1995 — Three Brentwood, Pennsylvania, Police Officers Kill Unarmed Black Motorist During Traffic Stop

Jonny Gammage, cousin and business partner of Pittsburgh Steelers football player Ray Seals, was detained during a traffic stop while driving Mr. Seals’s Jaguar in the working-class suburb of Brentwood on the morning of October 12, 1995. According to testimony, Lt. Milton Mullholland pulled Mr. Gammage over for tapping his breaks and called Officer John Votjas for backup. The officers later claimed that Mr. Gammage, who was 5’6″ and 165 pounds, pointed an object at the officers – which turned out to be a cell phone – and struggled. Mullholland and Votjas, along with Officer Michael Albert, Sgt. Keith Henderson, and Officer Sean Patterson, ultimately pinned Mr. Gammage face-down on the pavement; he asphyxiated and died after several minutes.

On November 27, 1995, Mulholland, Votjas were charged with third degree murder, and Albert was charged with involuntary manslaughter. The charges against Mullholland and Votjas, were later reduced to involuntary manslaughter. Henderson and Patterson were not charged in the incident.

Officer Votjas was acquitted by an all-white jury and, a year later, promoted to sergeant; Judge Joseph McCloskey dismissed charges against Mulholland and Albert after two trials resulted in mistrials. In January 1996, Brentwood police chief Wayne Babish, who had called for a complete investigation into Mr. Gammage’s death, was fired by the Brentwood City Council for failing to support the charged officers.

Multiple public protests were held in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, calling for “Justice for Jonny” and federal intervention. However, in 1999 the Department of Justice declined to file civil rights charges, stating that there was not enough evidence that unreasonable force had been used.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

 

 

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This day in American history, October 11, 1944 — United States Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Korematsu v. United States

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States declared war on Japan. In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing military exclusion of any citizens from areas deemed critical to national defense and potentially vulnerable to espionage. Congress made disobeying the military orders a crime and forced more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry to accept internment or face arrest.

In May 1942, Fred Korematsu, a twenty-three-year-old Japanese American born in Oakland, California, was arrested and jailed for refusing to obey the relocation and internment order. After his arrest, Mr. Korematsu was approached by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and agreed to use his case to challenge the internment of Japanese Americans. After he was convicted in the trial court and his conviction affirmed on appeal, Mr. Korematsu and his lawyers appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

On October 11 and 12, 1944, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Korematsu v. United States. Mr. Korematsu challenged Executive Order 9066 as unconstitutional and argued that the enforcement of exclusion and detention orders violated Japanese Americans’ basic constitutional rights.

On December 18, 1944, in a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled in favor of the United States, holding that the need to protect the nation was a greater priority than the individual rights of Japanese Americans. The Court further held that, during times of war, the government is allowed to pass laws that may not be legal in times of peace. The ruling permitted the continued internment of Japanese Americans, including Fred Korematsu, until the end of the war.

In 1983, Congress created the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, and its resulting report concluded that the relocation and imprisonment of Japanese Americans had been unjustified. The commission recommended Congress apologize and provide compensation to survivors and their families. In 1988, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, which formally apologized for the injustices committed against Japanese Americans, provided reparations to survivors, and created a public education fund to encourage remembrance.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American history, September 19, 1881 — Booker T. Washington Holds First Classes at Tuskegee Institute

The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, now Tuskegee University, was authorized by Alabama House Bill 165 and founded on July 4, 1881. Under the state’s system of rigid segregation, the school was intended to be a state-funded educational institution for black students. The Alabama legislature appropriated $2000 for teacher salaries and established a board of commissioners to begin organizing the institution. As headmaster, the board chose Booker T. Washington, a 25-year-old African American graduate of the Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute.

When classes began on September 19, 1881, Washington was the only teacher and instructed the inaugural class of 30 students out of a one-room shanty near the Butler Chapel AME Zion Church. Born into slavery in Virginia, Washington was a strong promoter of education, economic advancement, and personal responsibility among African Americans. He stressed the virtues of patience, enterprise, and thrift, and believed aggressive protests for equal rights were counter-productive. Much of Washington’s philosophy was reflected in the early Tuskegee curriculum, which emphasized skilled trades and religious study.

Washington served as the head of Tuskegee Institute until his death in 1915. Under his leadership, the school’s enrollment swelled to more than 1500 students and accumulated an endowment of nearly $2 million. Washington successfully advocated for legislation to make Tuskegee independent of the State of Alabama and oversaw the construction of many campus buildings. Today, Tuskegee University continues to thrive as an historically black institution, now open to students of all backgrounds and boasting a student body of more than 3000. With property stretching across more than 5000 acres, Tuskegee University is the only college or university campus in the nation designated a National Historic Site.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American hisotry, September 16, 1928 — Okeechobee Hurricane Kills Thousands of Black Farm Workers in Florida

On September 16, 1928, a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour made landfall in Palm Beach County, Florida. The hurricane destroyed a levee that protected a number of small farming communities from the waters of Lake Okeechobee. Most of the residents of these low-lying communities were black migrant farm workers. When the levee was destroyed, water from Lake Okeechobee rushed into these communities, killing thousands.

After the hurricane, black survivors were forced to recover the bodies of those killed. The officials in charge of the recovery effort ordered that food would be provided only to those who worked and some who refused to work were shot. The bodies of white storm victims were buried in coffins in local cemeteries, but local officials refused to provide coffins or proper burials for black victims.

Instead, the bodies of many black victims were stacked in piles by the side of the roads doused in fuel oil, and burned. Authorities bulldozed the bodies of 674 black victims into a mass grave in West Palm Beach. The mass grave was not marked and the site was later sold for private industrial use; it later was used as a garbage dump, a slaughterhouse, and a sewage treatment plant. The city of West Palm Beach did not purchase the land until 2000. In 2008, on the 80th anniversary of the storm, a plaque and historical marker was erected at the mass grave site.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.
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On this day in American History, September 18, 1923 — Pennsylvania Mayor Orders Black and Mexican American Residents to Leave

Late in August 1923, Mayor Joseph Cauffiel of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, issued an executive order demanding that African American and Mexican American residents who had lived there for fewer than seven years leave town “for their own safety.” As justification, he stated that “we have been sitting on a bomb in this city… I feared an outbreak against the negroes unless I acted quickly… many of the newcomers were bad people, including ex-convicts.”

Following an inquiry by the state governor in response to pressure from the NAACP and the Mexican Embassy, Mayor Cauffiel backtracked on his statements, claiming that he had meant to make a mere “suggestion.” By that time, however, over 2,000 families had left Johnstown. No attempt was made to facilitate their return or compensate them for their losses. Such backlash against African-Americans in the north became more prominent in the years following the great migration, during which demographic shifts brought latent tensions to the forefront.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.
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