Civil Rights Act of 1875: A Reexamination

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9781878508287: Civil Rights Act of 1875: A Reexamination
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The Civil Rights Act of 1875 passed Congress in the waning days of Reconstruction on March 1, 1875. The statute, intended to benefit the recently freed African-American population, banned racial discrimination in public accommodations- hotels, public conveyances and places of public amusement. Restaurants were not included, except for those located within hotels or inns. The original proposal had also included public school desegregation, but that section was stricken at the last moment. Then the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883 declared the entire 1875 law unconstitutional. Not until 1964 would racial equality in public accommodations once again become law. For those readers not baptized in this particular historical church, it may be useful to remember that in the 1860s and 1870s the Republican Party was the progressive force, the Democrats the more conservative one. Republicans were more willing to use governmental power to advance causes such as civil rights and civil service reform; Democrats were the party of laissez-faire. There is always a temptation to claim too much for one's research. That said, the authors think that their work changes a direction in the historiography of Reconstruction. The authors, based on an array of primary materials, challenges the current core interpretation of that most significant period in American history. The prevailing word on the historiographical street, the conventional interpretation of Reconstruction, holds that Reconstruction was a failure, because the Republicans provided insufficient guarantees for the freed people. That viewpoint holds that Republicans who claimed to believe in justice for a people oppressed for centuries, and who believed in liberty and equality-and who had the votes-nonetheless abandoned their ideology and left the newly freed former slaves to the tender mercies of the white South.

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Richard A. Gerber; Alan Friedlander
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Richard A. Gerber, Alan Friedlander
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