Civil rights history from the year you were born
Every year a story plays out in American history that highlights the fight for civil rights in the United States. In the beginning of the 20th century, very few laws were put into place that protected the rights and freedoms of marginalized groups across the country. The historical events that took place from the Progressive Era to now all play a significant role in the free will, or lack thereof, seen and expressed today. While different groups have come a long way, and their success stories are not to be devalued, there are still issues such as racism, sexism, ableism, and other harsh criticisms that linger from the start of American history, proving there’s still a long way to go.
Civil rights are the political and social freedoms a person has in regard to their own livelihood. The term “civil rights movement” is widely associated with the progression of Black liberation during the 1950s to early 1970s. However, many groups in America fought for the freedom to have equal treatment then and for generations to come. Many people who lived through these tumultuous times, such as racial violence, terrorism, prejudices, and systematic oppression in the early to mid-20th century are still alive to tell their stories, while history continues to play out yet today.
History tells the story of these prominent figures, moments, and legacies that still heavily impact us. Stacker went back 100 years to compile a list of these historic moments from the women’s suffrage movement, to the fight against disability discrimination, LGBTQ rights, marginalized communities, and the civil rights movement. This list was put together from a number of online resources, crowdsourcing materials, and documentaries.
Take a look at every civil rights moment in history since the day you were born and their long-lasting impact on today’s society.
You may also like: Major newspaper headlines from the year you were born
1921: The Black Wall Street massacre
Coined “Black Wall Street,” this booming Black community in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was one of the most self-sustaining, financially prosperous communities in the early 20th century. At the end of May in 1921, white lynch mobs, some weaponized by city officials, bombed and brutalized the Black residents and businesses in the town, destroying the community with severe violence toward Black men, women, and children. The incident is described by historians as “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.”
[Pictured: The streets of Tulsa with smoke rising in the background photographed on June 1, 1921.]
1922: The Cable Act
The Cable Act granted women the right to keep their American citizenship status if they married a foreign man. Before this, if a woman married a non-U.S. citizen, she had to take the nationality of her husband, thus morphing her identity into his. Though a stepping stone, there were still strict regulations surrounding the act and women’s right to keep their citizenship.
[Pictured: Immigrants being sworn in as naturalized U.S. citizens in 1928.]
1923: The Equal Rights Amendment is proposed
Though the Equal Rights Amendment was not made valid by the U.S. Senate until 1972, the National Women’s Political Party, an organization that fought for women’s suffrage, brought the amendment to light in 1923. The amendment seeks equal rights between men and women and prohibits discrimination based on sex.
[Pictured: Margaret Hinchey, Mrs. Murray, Josephine Casey, Marie V. Siegelpalton, and Myrtle Cain after leaving a petition with President Calvin Coolidge asking for immediate passage of the Equal Rights Amendment on Jan. 18, 1926, in Washington D.C.]
1924: The Society for Human Rights is established
Henry Gerber founded the The Society for Human Rights as the first gay rights organizaton in America. The group published the first gay civil rights publication called, “Friendship and Freedom.” Though the group withered away a year later due to legal “obscenity” charges against Gerber, the Henry Gerber House in Chicago, is now a National Historic Landmark.
[Pictured: The Henry Gerber House in Chicago, Illinois.]
1925: The Ku Klux Klan marches on Washington
This year was the height of the Ku Klux Klan’s popularity and white supremacists used fear, terrorist attacks, and racial violence to oppress Black people in America. More than 50,000 KKK members showed up to the march, dressed in their white robes and pointed hats, rallying against racial equality.
[Pictured: An aerial view of the Ku Klux Klan march in Washington D.C. on Aug. 8, 1925.]
1926: Negro History Week initiated
On Feb. 7, African American writer and historian Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week in celebration of Black activistism and African American history at that point. It is said that Woodson chose February to encompass both Abraham Linclon and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. The week would later be extended to Black History Month.
[Pictured: Carter G. Woodson.]
1927: Supreme Court allows forced sterilization on disabled people
Buck v. Bell focused on a woman named Carrie Buck, who was targeted by the state of Virginia to practice eugenic sterilization after she was deemed promiscuous and unable to make intelligent decisions. Those in favor of the ruling stated that Buck’s “traits” would be passed down to other generations. The court ruling led to more than 70,000 people being sterilized.
[Pictured: A map of state sterilization laws from notes in "Eugenical Sterilization" by H.H. Laughlin, abstracted by G.E. Worthington.]
1928: Octaviano Larrazolo becomes first Latino US senator
Octaviano Larrazolo became the first Mexican American to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1928. Larrazolo centered his career and campaign on the defense and progression of Hispanic civil rights, opening the door for other Hispanic Americans.
[Pictured: Octaviano A. Larrazolo.]
1929: League of United Latin American Citizens gets its start
The largest and oldest Hispanic membership organization in the country, The League of United Latin American Citizens, was created to implement the civil rights, education, and employment of Latin Americans. With more than 134,000 members, LULAC continues to grow with its programming, scholarships, and activism.
[Pictured: Colorado Lt. Gov. Gordon Allott presidents a proclamation designating Feb. 14–20 as LULAC Week in Colorado to the state chapter of LULAC members in 1954.]
1930: Race during the Great Depression
Tensions across America were high due to the Great Depression and the jump in unemployment rates due to the economic crash. Many Black Americans were out of work and even forced to be fired by white Americans as long as white people were out of work as well. Lynchings in the South surged in numbers, and political advocacy from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) fell on deaf ears.
[Pictured: Throngs of unemployed waiting line to gain entrance to the Municipal Lodging House in New York City for the Sunday dinner.]