Civil Rights Acts
(1866, 1875, 1957, 1964)
Legislation aimed at extending the legal and civil rights of the US Black population. The first Civil Rights Act of 1866 reversed the doctrine laid down by the Dred Scott decision of 1857 and bestowed citizenship on all persons born in the USA (except tribal Native Americans, not so treated until 1924). It also extended the principle of equal protection of the laws to all citizens. The provisions of the Act were reinforced by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, but later decisions of the Supreme Court and lack of will on the part of administrators rendered them largely ineffective. For almost a century thereafter there were few effective federal attempts to protect the Black population against discrimination, and in the South in particular Black people remained persecuted second-class citizens. It was only a series of legislative acts commencing with the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that finally gave federal agencies effective power to enforce the rights of Black Americans.