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Tag: Brown v. Board of Education

Records of Rights Vote: The 14th Amendment

Cast your vote now for the 14th Amendment to be displayed first in the new Rubenstein Gallery. Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, the Historian of the National Archives.

Why should the 14th Amendment be ranked first on any list of most important documents?

A constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship for all, Federal protection of due process, and the mandate for equal protection under the law—each could individually be considered among the most significant legislation in U.S. history. And all three are included in just the first section of the 14th Amendment.

Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, June 13, 1866 (National Archives Identifier 1408913)

Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, June 13, 1866 (National Archives Identifier 1408913)

The amendment originated after the Civil War when Congress tried passing legislation to secure civil rights for the recently freed slaves. President Andrew Johnson repeatedly vetoed these bills because he believed individual states had the right to determine the status of freedmen without interference from the Federal government.

In order to take the issue out of Johnson’s reach, Congress chose to address civil rights with a constitutional amendment. On June 13, 1866, Congress approved a five-part amendment to the Constitution and on July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment became law.

Section one of the amendment includes its most vital components.

First, the Citizenship Clause ensured that anyone born in the United States—regardless of … [ Read all ]

Sex…and the Civil Rights Bill

Copy of HR 7152 showing amendments adding "sex" to the 1964 Civil Rights bill.

Copy of HR 7152 showing amendments adding "sex" to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, RG 233)

Forty-seven years ago this past Saturday, Martin Luther King, Jr., touched a nation with his inspiring words. Just six months later in February of 1964, one small but powerful word was added to the House version of the divisive Civil Rights Act.

Representative Howard Smith of Virginia sponsored an amendment to the bill—he added the word “sex” to the list of categories such as race and religion that the employers couldn’t consider when hiring someone. He thought the addition was so ludicrous it would kill the bill on the floor.

Smith’s track record on civil rights was clear: he protested Brown v. Board of Education, and in 1957 when another civil rights bill (this one on voting) had come before his rules committee, he had said, “The Southern people have never accepted the colored race as a race of people who had equal intelligence . . . as the white people of the South.”

But in 1964—whatever his intent for including the word, whether to torpedo a bill he opposed or even to try to gain some benefit from a bill he knew would pass—the word “sex” stuck around in this civil rights bill.

The bill cleared the House and Senate and later, when a conference committee suggested removing the word, committee … [ Read all ]