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On Exhibit: Voting Rights Act of 1965

Today’s post comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

The Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965 (signature page). (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965 (signature page). (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives Identifier 299909)

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a milestone in American history. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it on August 6, 1965, marking the culmination of decades of efforts toward African American equality.

The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, clearly stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

In response, many southern states issued voting tests to African Americans that all but guaranteed they would fail and be unable to vote. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine permitting racial segregation. While African Americans were legally citizens of the United States, they commonly had separate drinking fountains, stores, bus seats, and schools.

The civil rights movement grew immensely after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. The Board of Education ruling in 1954, which struck down the Plessy v. Ferguson decision and deemed the segregation of schools to be unconstitutional.

The leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., further propelled the movement.

A Baptist preacher in … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: Bloody Sunday

Between 1961 and 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) held a voting registration campaign in Selma, Alabama, a town known to suppress African American voting.

When their efforts were stymied by local enforcement officials, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by Martin Luther King, Jr., pushed Selma into the national spotlight.

On March 7, 1965, 600 civil rights protesters attempted a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, the state capital, to draw attention to the voting rights issue.

Led by Hosea Williams of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC, the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River on their way to Montgomery. There they encountered Alabama state troopers and local police officers who gave them a two-minute warning to stop and turn back. When the protesters refused, the officers tear-gassed and beat them. Over 50 people were hospitalized.

Photograph of the Two Minute Warning on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 16899041)

Photograph of the two-minute warning on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 16899041)

The events became known as “Bloody Sunday” and were televised worldwide.

A few weeks later a march from Selma to Montgomery was completed under federal protection.

Later than year, on August 6, 1965—partly due to the efforts of civil rights activists in Selma and around the nation—President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. This act attempted to remove barriers faced by African Americans in exercising their constitutional … [ Read all ]

Towards Freedom and Equality: The Americans With Disabilities Act

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, D.C.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, page 1. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, page 1. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

July marks the 25th anniversary of the historic moment when President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA prohibits employers, the government, and transportation, among other agencies and institutions, from discriminating against people with disabilities on the basis of their disabilities.

On July 26, 1990, a White House press release stated: “The American people have once again given clear expression to our most basic ideals of freedom and equality.”

Like other movements for freedom and equality, the disability community endured years of discrimination before the ADA established their equality under the law.

However, even before 1990, 1973 marked a turning point, when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act banned discrimination against people with disabilities in the allocation of Federal funds. Previous antidiscrimination laws regarding race, ethnicity, and gender influenced this new legislation.

This law helped to build solidarity among people with different disabilities, and from 1973 through 1990, the disability community battled against trends of general deregulation across the government.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Finally, on July 26, 1990, the ADA established “a clear and … [ Read all ]

Frances Perkins aided the von Trapp Family Singers

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the History Office at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 12, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 12, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In 1938 the von Trapp family singers were in danger.

Baron von Trapp, a heroic Austrian sea captain in World War I, declined a commission to serve in the naval forces of the Third Reich.

His eldest son, Rupert, likewise declined a request to serve as a doctor for the Nazis.

Finally, according to daughter Agathe von Trapp’s memoir, the singing family “refused in unison” an invitation to sing on the Munich radio in honor of Hitler’s birthday.

In 2005, Prologue magazine published an illuminating account of “The Real Story of the von Trapp Family,” which relied on immigration and citizenship records held in the National Archives at Boston.

Documents at the National Archives at College Park—in Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’s immigration correspondence—build upon this story. These documents suggest that Perkins was instrumental in the immigration case of the von Trapp Family Singers.

Memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration, March 15, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration, March 15, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In 1933, less than two months after the Nazis seized power in Germany, Perkins became Secretary of Labor. As Secretary, she oversaw the Immigration and Naturalization Service throughout the 1930s. Perkins’s immigration correspondence includes a … [ Read all ]

Pirates: An Early Test for the New Country

Today’s post comes from Tom Eisinger, senior archivist at the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC.

Richard O’Bryen's letter to Thomas Jefferson, first page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Richard O’Bryen’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, first page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

When Richard O’Bryen, captain of the Philadelphia ship Dauphin, penned his July 12, 1790, letter to Thomas Jefferson, he had been a captive of the Barbary pirates in Algeria for almost five years.

This letter, and others, helped bring attention to an unexpected problem the Federal Government inherited from the government under the Articles of Confederation: pirates.

The new nation was faced with the questions: What could be done about the Barbary pirates? And what could be done for the American prisoners held for ransom in Algeria?

In the late 18th century, the Barbary pirates were a well-known problem in Europe. These pirates—who came from Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunisia—captured vessels sailing in the Mediterranean Sea and held their crews for ransom.

To free a captured vessel, European nations were forced to pay the ransom. Some European nations signed treaties with the four Barbary nations and paid tribute for safe passage of their vessels.

The Barbary pirates were not an issue for the American colonies while they were under the protection of the British Empire or during the Revolutionary War while they were under the protection of France. However, … [ Read all ]