Civil Rights

Over the course of American history, the House has regularly debated issues concerning citizenship, civil and voting rights, equal protection, fair employment, housing, and racial discrimination. Laws passed after the Civil War and then in the second half of the twentieth century sought to combat inequality and injustice and guarantee equal opportunity. 

Marching on Constitution Avenue/tiles/non-collection/n/nhd_mow.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Marching on Constitution Avenue

19th Century

"We Are In Earnest For Our Rights": Representative Joseph H. Rainey and the Struggle for Reconstruction [PDF]
A downloadable PDF publication about Joseph Rainey, the first African-American Representative, his legislative activity in the House, and his challenges to the calcified traditions of American politics and society.

The Civil Rights Bill of 1866
A historical highlight regarding the House’s override of President Andrew Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866.

Harper’s Weekly celebrated the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1875 with a tribute entitled “To Thine Own Self Be True.”/tiles/non-collection/n/nhd_civilrights-1875.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Harper’s Weekly celebrated the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1875 with a tribute entitled “To Thine Own Self Be True.”
House Passage of the 14th Amendment
A historical highlight about the House passing the 14th Amendment—establishing citizenship for anyone “born or naturalized in the United States"—in 1866.

Enforcement of the 14th Amendment
This 1902 petition sent by the Colored Republican Club of Chicago demanded equal representation in Congress in accordance with the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

South Carolina Representative Robert Elliott’s Rousing Oratory
A historical highlight spotlighting Representative Robert Elliott’s speech in support of Senator Charles Sumner’s civil rights bill in 1874.

“Civil Rights Act of 1875”
A contextual essay from Black Americans in Congress focusing on the debate surrounding the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Memorial for the Civil Rights Act of 1875
This petition, written by “a committee appointed at a mass meeting of the colored citizens of the city of Atlanta, Ga.,” urged the House and Senate to pass a civil rights bill being considered by Congress in 1874.

20th Century

“The Civil Rights Movement and The Second Reconstruction, 1945–1968”
A contextual essay in Black Americans in Congress about Congress’s civil rights legislative activity in the second half of the 20th century.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957
A historical highlight covering House passage of the first significant measure to address African-American civil rights since 1875.

March on Washington Pamphlet
This pamphlet was distributed in advance of the 1963 March on Washington and provided logistical and ideological information to marchers.

The House and Civil Rights
An exhibition offering essays and documents about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Discharge Petition for the Civil Rights Act of 1964
In December 1963, Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler used this discharge petition to attempt to force H.R. 7152, known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to the House Floor for consideration.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964
A historical highlight detailing the enactment of the Civil Rights Act into law and specifically spotlighting Georgia Representative Charles Weltner’s remarks on the House Floor.

Unmasking the Civil Rights Bill Pamphlet
This pamphlet, on the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, presented the dissenting view of several members of the Judiciary Committee.

Call Book for Civil Rights Act of 1964
This call book shows the voting results in the House for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bill enforced equal access to public accommodations and desegregation of public schools and facilities and prohibited discrimination in hiring and employment.

Engrossing Copy of Civil Rights Act of 1964
During House debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rules Committee Chairman Howard W. Smith introduced an amendment to the equal employment section of this bill.

In February of 1965, following the arrest of Martin Luther King, Jr., a multiracial, bipartisan Congressional delegation traveled to Selma, Alabama to observe voter registration efforts and investigate the situation at the “Camp Selma” prison compound./tiles/non-collection/n/nhd_selma-del.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
In February of 1965, following the arrest of Martin Luther King, Jr., a multiracial, bipartisan Congressional delegation traveled to Selma, Alabama to observe voter registration efforts and investigate the situation at the “Camp Selma” prison compound.
Documentary: Selma and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
A documentary that examines the House’s swift legislative response to “Bloody Sunday,” when peaceful protesters were brutally attacked by state troopers in Selma, Alabama.

An Extraordinary Joint Session of Congress to Support the Voting Rights Bill
A historical highlight concerning President Lyndon B. Johnson’s address to Congress in support of voting rights.

Majority Whip Hale Boggs’ Support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
A historical highlight contextualizing Louisiana Representative Hale Boggs’ speech on the House Floor in support of the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965
A historical highlight providing background on the bill that suspended voter qualification devices, such as literacy tests and poll taxes.

Letter Opposing Voting Rights
In this 1965 letter, Charles Geiser criticizes Representative Emanuel Celler’s support of H.R. 6400, a measure designed to uphold the right to vote regardless of race or color. The legislation also abolished the literacy test requirement that had been imposed by many jurisdictions as a way to deny African Americans the right to vote.

Letter Responding to the Violence in Selma
Mrs. E. Jackson of Brooklyn, New York, wrote this desperate letter one day after Alabama police officers violently attacked protesters marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama.

Letter Supporting Voting Rights Act
In March 1965, Mrs. Bertram Jeffrey of Brooklyn, New York, sent this letter supporting voting rights legislation to Representative Emanuel Celler.

Voting Rights Act of 1965
H.R. 6400, known as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was crafted to protect voting rights and ensure unimpeded access to the polls.

John Lewis Testifies on the Need to Extend the Voting Rights Act
A historical highlight detailing future Georgia Representative John Lewis’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights in support of reviewing the Voting Rights Act in 1975.

The Fight for Fair Housing in the House—Part I: A “Long, Tortuous and Difficult Road”
A blog outlining the fight for fair housing in the House.

Edition for Educators – Voting Rights and the House
A blog offering an outline of available voting rights resources.