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Landmark Civil Rights Legislation

Charles Sumner

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Congress passed landmark civil rights legislation. The Civil War and Reconstruction eras brought abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and extended civil and legal protections to former slaves and their descendants with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. In 1875 Congress approved a civil rights bill, championed by Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, ending segregation in some public and private facilities, and protecting voting rights for newly emancipated people. Though the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional in 1883, Sumner’s Civil Rights Act of 1875 remains a legislative milestone. Eighty-two years would pass before Congress approved another civil rights bill. On June 19, 1964, after a prolonged debate and filibuster, the Senate approved the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. One year later, Congress approved the Voting Rights Act.