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. Petitioners refuted claims made by Georgia Representative Alexander Hamilton Stephens and the Georgia state legislature that African Americans in the state did not support the bill.
Legislation sponsored by Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate and Representative Benjamin Butler in the House sought to protect citizens from racial discrimination. The final version of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 stated that citizens “shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement,” but omitted equal access to public schools.
One of the earliest African Americans in Congress, Robert Elliott of South Carolina, eloquently defended the bill on the House Floor by calling it a “great measure of national justice.” The petitioners commended Elliott’s efforts, stating “[W]e most heartily congratulate and thank Mr. Elliott, for his able and pointed speech . . . in behalf of the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, and in vindicating the ability and patriotism of the colored citizens of this country.”