A state provides a blueprint for the future: A major civil rights moment in New Jersey

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January 17, 2022
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A state provides a blueprint for the future: A major civil rights moment in New Jersey

A land of contradictions from the outset, the United States was founded by slave owners who spoke passionately and eloquently about liberty, freedom, and justice for all. In the beginning, "all" was limited to men of European ancestry who were wealthy enough to own land. The Constitution's protections did not apply to most of the people living in America for most of America's history—at least not in full.

Women—about 50% of the population—were not included in the country's concept of "all," likewise millions of slaves—and for a long time, their offspring. Native Americans, the descendants of the original inhabitants of the United States, were commonly excluded from the promise of America, as were many immigrants, ethnic groups, and religious minorities.

Despite all the work that remains to be done, all of those groups and many others now enjoy freedoms that had to be won—won through the courts, through the court of public opinion, through mass demonstrations, through legislation, through boycotts, and in many cases, through martyrdom.

Fighting to expand the definition of "all" requires powerless people to challenge the power structures that benefit from keeping certain people locked in their status as second-class citizens. They often do it at great risk to their jobs, their reputations, their homes, and in many cases, their lives. Even so, brave advocates and activists fought the good fight in every state in America. Each state has a unique story to tell about the epic struggles for civil rights that were waged there, as well as those that continue to be waged. The following is a tiny sliver of their collective efforts.

Using a variety of sources, Stacker identified a defining moment for civil rights in all 50 states. They stand out for different reasons and led to changes that lifted different groups, but they all prove how much can be achieved—and how much still remains to be accomplished.

Keep reading to find out your state's contribution to civil rights.

New Jersey: A state provides a blueprint for the future

In many ways, the modern civil rights movement can be traced to New Jersey, where a generation before, the Garden State's influential Black professional community won early gains more significant than those won by activists in any other state in America. Their efforts led to the New Jersey Civil Rights Act of 1949, which became a model for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Click here to see an event from every state or continue reading for other events near New Jersey.

Delaware: A road to Brown v. Board is paved

The Brown v. Board of Education decision that banned race-based segregation in schools was actually the culmination of five separate lawsuits, all of which were filed to challenge the "separate but equal" doctrine that propped up Jim Crow. One of them, Gebhart v. Belton, played out in Wilmington, Delaware, where African Americans faced discrimination and segregation modeled after the Deep South.

New York: A community pushes back at Stonewall

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City's Greenwich Village, harassing and arresting patrons as they so often did in the city's gay bars—homosexuality, after all, was listed as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association until 1973. That night, however, the patrons rebelled, fought back when the police became violent, and found a deep sense of unity in the moment. It is known as the catalyst of the modern Pride movement and the start of a long quest for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

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