Civil Rights: People Challenging the Rules

"Daughters of a Chief" painting by Edward S. Curtis of two Native American women on horses looking into the distance.

“Daughters of a Chief” from the National Archives collection; Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian.

The United States’ founding principles are liberty, equality, and justice. However, not all its citizens enjoy equal opportunities, the same treatment under the law, or all the liberties extended to others. Well into the twentieth century, many were routinely discriminated against because of sex, race, ethnicity or country of origin, religion, sexual orientation, or physical or mental abilities–deprivation of basic rights and opportunities and sometimes of citizenship itself.

[Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., half-length portrait, facing front]

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. photo by Dick DeMarisco, 1964, Library of Congress

The fight to secure equal rights for all continues today. While many changes must still be made, the past one hundred years, have brought significant gains for people long discriminated against. Yet, people still encounter prejudice, injustice, and negative stereotypes that lead to discrimination, marginalization, and even exclusion from civic life.

Some prejudice and injustice arises with people’s opinions, attitudes and behavior. Other injustice is promoted through rules, regulations, and laws. In addition to two types of discrimination against individuals or groups, there are two types of law involved in as well. Maintaining a basic understanding of these two types of law is essential to continued progress in the area of expanding civil rights as well as expansion of basic civil liberties.

Civil Rights: Questions to Consider

  1. What is the difference between civil liberties and civil rights?
  2. What is the difference between positive and natural law (unalienable rights)?
  3. How did the African American struggle for civil rights evolve?
  4. What challenges did women overcome in securing the right to vote?
  5. What obstacles do women and other groups of citizens still face?