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The Civil Rights Act of 1866

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted citizenship and the same rights enjoyed by White citizens to all male citizens in the United States “without distinction of race or color or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.” This piece of legislation was groundbreaking; it was the very first law ever enacted that sought to protect Blacks from discrimination.

President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill the first time it was enacted by the US Congress, in 1865. President Johnson vetoed the bill again when Congress passed it for the second time in 1866 however, a majority vote of over two thirds, in both the Senate and Congress, overcame Johnson’s veto. The bill became effective on April 9, 1866.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, anti-Black sentiment was still very strong in some states, especially in the defeated South. The bill hoped to establish and enforce the status of freed slaves as equal to Whites.

This statute proved crucial, and has since impacted generations; as a result of this statute, all individuals born in the United States have been granted citizenship; regardless of their ethnic background.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted freed slaves the ability to fully participate in many legal activities that they had previously been denied; after the enactment, Blacks were able to:

– file lawsuits
– make and enforce contracts
– own property
– inherit property
– lease or sell property

The Civil Acts Rights of 1866, in itself, proved inadequate; it was unable to provide sufficient protection for Blacks, due mostly to the actions of white supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Although the law was well-intentioned, it was quickly rendered ineffective by its incompleteness. Blacks were still discriminated against, although many of these problems were subsequently addressed by the Enforcement Act of 1871. Discrimination in many forms still existed, for nearly a century, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned racial segregation in schools and workplaces, as well as many other forms of discrimination.

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was written with Blacks in mind, the law has since been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include all ethnic groups.