For a decade after the Civil War, the federal government sought to make good its promises and protect the rights of the liberated as American citizens. Most critically, in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Congress created U.S. Citizenship and, in the Civil Rights Act of 1875, Congress guaranteed all American Citizens access to all public accommodations. Then, stretching from 1877 to the end of the century following the close of the Civil War, the federal government did nothing to assure that those rights were respected. Eventually, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court started to admit that this was a problem, a clear failure to abide by our Constitution. But the Supreme Court (in Brown II) also made clear that it wouldn’t do anything about it. So things stood, until a bad man in high office made it his business to get the federal government again on the side of right, equality, and law. That man was Lyndon Baines Johnson. And while this story could be told in fascinating, exhaustive detail, these are its broad outlines.
This piece originally ran as part of a Constituting America program on American history.