Civil Rights Act of 1875

One of the major and last pieces of civil rights legislation passed during the era of Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 sought to ensure that all citizens, regardless of race, were protected against discriminatory acts in both public and private venues.

Passed during a lame-duck session of a Republican- controlled Congress, the act sought to ensure the freedom of access to the ‘‘full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges’’ of many public venues, including inns, hotels, railroad cars, theaters, and other ‘‘places of public amusement’’ regardless of race. The act was passed under the authority of both the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Lead by Republican U.S. Senator Charles Sumner, the act’s intent was the ensure that freedoms and rights were guaranteed to blacks and that private individuals could not discriminate based on race. If an individual violated the act, they were subject to fines of no less than $500 or thirty days in prison.

The act was rarely enforced, however, and in 1883, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional (the Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3). The Court’s majority held that Congress had overstepped its authority to regulate private behavior. It would be eighty-two years before Congress passed another act dealing with civil rights, following the imposition of state-sanctioned segregation and Jim Crow laws, most notably in the South.

J. MICHAEL BITZER

References and Further Reading

  • Foner, Eric. 2002. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. New York: HarperCollins.

Cases and Statutes Cited



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