In an 1883 decision known as the “The Civil Rights Cases” the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and declared the federal government could not prevent discrimination on the basis of race. This ruling paved the way for the codification of Jim Crow laws which would provide a legal framework to reverse the hard-earned gains African- Americans had made during Reconstruction. The content in this database was curated from the Library Company of Philadelphia’s acclaimed collection Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922.
Spanning eighteen of the most formative years in African-American history, Reconstruction marked an end to slavery and a beginning to the enfranchisement of African Americans. Full citizenship, voting rights, land ownership, employment opportunities, and political participation were only some of the significant gains enjoyed, in theory, by African Americans during this period. Although these rights were granted by amendments to the U.S. Constitution and federal legislation they were not, in practice, universally protected at local levels.
The shameful, sadistic murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black youth who whistled at a white woman in a Mississippi grocery store in 1955, was a powerful catalyst for the civil rights movement. Till's killers were apprehended, but quickly acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury, later providing grisly details of the murder in a story to journalists. Three months after Till's body was found, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.