Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States

This guide offers a history of various movements by citizens in the United States to gain political and social freedom and equality. It highlights resources available through the library and also offers a list of current civil rights organizations.

The Obama Administration

On November 4, 2008, Barack Hussein Obama II became the 44th President of the United States of America. He also became the first black president. He has gone on to serve two terms. Under his watch, the country began to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, two women were appointed to the Supreme Court, gay marriage was declared by that same Court to be a fundamental right, Osama bin Laden was killed in a surgical raid conducted by U.S. Navy SEALs, the Affordable Care Act was passed, a nuclear deal was struck with Iran, and relations with Cuba moved forward.

On the other hand, racial tensions within the U.S. have mounted as more and more blacks, particularly black men or youth, are shot and killed by law enforcement. With cell phone videos capturing some of the incidents and social media being used to broadcast protestors' side of the story, many have been shocked into action, much like those a generation before who were shocked by the images they saw of marchers in Selma being hosed by police. Movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM) have arisen on the one side to protect the civil rights of blacks and those movements are countered by activists who argue that BLM is a terrorist movement or that police are the ones threatened.

The fact that the economy remains stagnant in certain areas of the country does not help ease the tensions between races or between citizens and immigrants, legal or otherwise. In states like Ohio and Michigan, where manufacturing was once robust but has now withered, people are angry and want change that can't be easily provided by any politician or businessman.

Notable Supreme Court Cases:

Library Resources:

Additional Resources:

Barack Obama

Ferguson, Mo.

Black Lives Matter