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Civil rights history from the year you were born

  • 1931: The Scottsboro Boys Trial

    Nine Black teenage boys were falsely accused of assaulting a white woman on a train in Scottsboro, Alabama, sparking an international outcry on the racial oppression, violence, and injustices against Black Americans. After a number of trials, eight out of the nine boys were convicted by an all-white, male jury. The event is credited to be the first hint of the civil rights movement.

    [Pictured: The Black boys accused in the Scottsboro Rape Case under the protection National Guard on March 20, 1931, in Scottsboro.]

  • 1932: The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis

    The U.S. Public Health Service ran this experiment to test untreated syphilis symptoms on 600 Black men who were mostly poor and illiterate sharecroppers. The men were promised free health care in return for their involvement, but instead went untreated for the disease causing many of the men to go blind, experience severe health problems, or die, which caused many in the Black community to distrust those in medicine. In 1997, President Bill Clinton issued an apology to the surviving participants.

    [Pictured: A doctor draws blood from a patient as part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1932.]

  • 1933: Roosevelt’s New Deal

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was a series of programs aimed at financial reform during the Great Depression. Though not the intended audience, the Black community was affected somewhat politically. Highly criticized for its economical influence furthering segregation, and for serving no actual progression against racial injustices, the programs allowed some exposure of political power to Black Americans.

    [Pictured: Applicants waiting for jobs in front of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration office, New Orleans, Louisiana in 1935.]

  • 1934: The Indian Reorganization Act

    Often called the “Indian New Deal” mimicking President Roosevelt’s programs from the previous year, the act aims to encourage Native Americans to retain their culture and traditions in self-determination. Previous acts stripped Native Americans of their tribes and cultural practices. This came 10 years after the United States granted citizenship to the native-born.

    [Pictured: John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, meets with South Dakota Blackfoot Indian chiefs in 1934 to discuss the Wheeler-Howard Act, later known as the Indian Reorganization Act.]

  • 1935: Birth of the National Council of Negro Women

    This nonprofit organization was founded by Mary McLeod Bethune with the goal “to advance opportunities and the quality of life for African American women, their families, and communities.” Among Bethune’s many accomplishments, she helped convert the Black vote from the Republican party to the Democratic party, fought to end discrimination and racial violence, and became the vice president of the NAACP.

    [Pictured: Mary McLeod Bethune photographed in 1938.]


  • 1936: Jesse Owens wins the Olympic games

    In 1936 Berlin, Adolf Hitler planned to prove his beliefs that the Aryan race was superior to any other race in the world. Jesse Owens defied Nazi propoganda against Black people when he became a four-time gold medalist, representing the United Stated in the 1936 Olympic Games for track and field.

    [Pictured: Jesse Owens at start of record breaking 200-meter race in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.]

  • 1937: The Redlining Problem

    Redlining is the systematic refusal of services to a specific area. The act is racially motivated and discriminatory as it pinpoints Black neighborhoods as “hazardous” on “residential security maps” for businesses and housing loans, and other economic welfare. Redlining was a major player in the racial wealth gap that exists to this day.

    [Pictured: Residential Security Map grading Richmond, Virginia, for the Federal Home Loan Board dated April 3, 1937.]

  • 1938: Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938

    The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 mandated minimum wage and overtime pay in efforts to exploit cheap labor. The act at that time, however, excluded agricultural and domestic workers, and this included many African American laborers who were sharecroppers.

    [Pictured: Construction Workers Union picketing for higher wages during the 1930s.]

  • 1939: NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is formed

    This civil rights organization became the legal aid to some of the most prominent U.S. Supreme Court cases involving Black people and racial justice in American history. The most notable case that it’s most known for supporting was Brown v. Board of Education. Today the foundation continues to focus on areas of Black progression in education, economics, politics, and criminal justice.

    [Pictured: Attorneys George E.C. Hayes, Washington D.C.; Thurgood Marshall, special counsel for the NAACP; and James Nabrit, Jr., professor and attorney at law at Howard University stand together on the steps of the Supreme Court after winning Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954.]

  • 1940: US closes the Angel Island Immigration Station

    Between the 19th century and the 20th century, immigrants from around the world came to America in search of a better life for themselves and generations after them. For about 30 years, Asian immigrants were detained at the Angel Island Immigration Station where they were interrogated under oppressive conditions. A fire destroyed the building in 1940.

    [Pictured: U.S. Immigration Station at Angel Island, showing wharf and main buildings.]


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