Racial Discrimination BY: Daniel, Gabi, Kevin, Santi

Driving Question:

With regard to political participation and economic opportunity, evaluate the extent to which the federal government has been successful in addressing racial discrimination during the past century. Consider both legislative and judicial actions in your evaluation as well as social & political factors that have hindered progress.


The federal government has been successful in addressing racial discrimination over the past century with regard to political participation and economic opportunity by giving minorities, particularly African Americans, a multitude of opportunities for advancement. Despite the government's success, racial discrimination is inevitable in every society.

Racism in 20th Century

  • In the first part of the 20th century African Americans were heavily discriminated.
  • Segregation was the most prevalent from form discrimination, not allowing African Americans the full rights of an American Citizen.
  • The use of “separate but equal” was the basis of segregation and racial discrimination in the 20th century.
  • Blacks were required to use different facilities such as schools.
  • In 1954, the Civil Rights movement began and marked a monumental change in the treatment of minorities, chiefly African Americans.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1875 made it a crime to deny to anyone the "full and equal enjoyment" of railways and other transportation.
  • It also required equal treatment in hotels, theaters and other places of public amusement.

Government influence

  • The Constitution reserves certain powers to the states and lists certain powers as belonging to the national government.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution gave new powers to the federal government.
  • The amendment was ratified in 1868.
  • It was one of the most important changes in the law enacted in the Reconstruction period after the Civil War.

Social & political factors

  • African Americans moved from tremendous concentration in Southern agriculture to much greater diversity in residence and occupation
  • Over the period in which income can be measured, there are large increases in black incomes in both relative and absolute terms
  • Schooling differentials between blacks and whites fell sharply
  • The progress that we see grew out of periods of tremendous social upheaval, particularly during the world wars
  • African Americans were now able to be in office for government roles
  • Progress was punctuated by periods of rapid gain and periods of stagnation
  • Periods of gain attributed to actions on the part of black workers, broad economic forces, and specific anti-discrimination policy initiatives

Court cases

Shaw Vs. Reno
  • The U.S. Attorney General rejected a North Carolina congressional reapportionment plan because the plan created only one black-majority district.
  • Five North Carolina residents challenged the constitutionality of this unusually shaped district, alleging that its only purpose was to secure the election of additional black representatives.
  • After a three-judge District Court ruled that they failed to state a constitutional claim, the residents appealed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
  • After concluding that the residents' claim did give rise to an equal protection challenge, the Court remanded - adding that in the absence of contradictory evidence, the District Court would have to decide whether or not some compelling governmental interest justified North Carolina's plan.

Ruling: The Court held that although North Carolina's reapportionment plan was racially neutral on its face, the resulting district shape was bizarre enough to suggest that it constituted an effort to separate voters into different districts based on race, therefore unconstitutional.

North Carolina's congressional districts (1993–1998); the 12th district in pink.
Brown vs. board of education
  • The main issue in each was the constitutionality of state-sponsored segregation in public schools.
  • Marshall raised many legal issues on appeal, but the most common issue was that separate school systems for blacks and whites were inherently unequal, and thus violate the "equal protection clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • He also argued that segregated school systems had a tendency to make black children feel inferior to white children, and thus such a system should not be legally permissible.
  • The Supreme Court was very divided over the issues raised, but Chief Justice Earl Warren was able to bring all Justices to agree on a unanimous decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
  • On May 14, 1954, he delivered the opinion of the Court, stating that "We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. . ."

Ruling: The Supreme Court was very divided over the issues raised, but Chief Justice Earl Warren was able to bring all Justices to agree on a unanimous decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Heart of atlanta motel inc vs. united states
  • APPELLANT: Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. & Moreton Rolleston
  • DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965) ( or the time Earl Warren served as Chief Justice)
  • The owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel claimed that Congress had exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause by regulating a local private business. He also claimed that the law should be declared invalid under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
  • Legislative factors: Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 14, 1964, the U.S. Congress did not exceed the regulatory authority granted to it by the commerce clause of Article I of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Judicial factors: The court thereby declared that Title II was constitutional.
  • Political/social factors: Social and political institutions set the context for individual and group behavior. This lead to the owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel in Georgia, who had previously refused to accept black customers.
  • Factors hindering progress/resistance: The owner claimed that the title violated the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees of due process and just compensation for the taking of private property because it deprived him of the right to choose his customers and that it violated the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition of involuntary servitude because it compelled him to rent rooms to blacks.

Ruling: The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, where oral arguments were heard on Oct. 5, 1964. In a unanimous (9–0) ruling issued on December 14, the court affirmed the district court’s finding. In his opinion for the court, Justice Tom C. Clark argued that the motel’s transactions clearly affected interstate commerce and thus fell within the purview of congressional regulation, and he rejected the petitioner’s arguments that the title violated the Fifth and Thirteenth amendments as misguided in point of both history and law.

Gratz vs. bollinger
  • Challenged University of Michigan’s undergraduate affirmative action program.
  • Historically discriminated races resulted in automatic higher chances of getting accepted
  • Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher were denied
  • 6-3 decision that it was unconstitutional
  • Equal Protection Clause
  • The Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action in admitting students is constitutional if it treats race as one factor out of many
  • The Court decided that affirmative action should be used to create a diverse class and that it should be a “plus factor”
  • It was ruled that it is unconstitutional if race increases an applicant’s chance to get into a school.

Ruling: The Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action in admitting students is constitutional if it treats race as one factor out of many.

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