Post–Civil Rights era in African-American history

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The Post–Civil Rights era in African-American history is defined as the time period in the United States of America since Congressional passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, major federal legislation that ended legal segregation, gained federal oversight and enforcement of voter registration and electoral practices in states or areas with a history of discriminatory practices, and ended discrimination in renting or buying housing.

Politically and economically, blacks have made substantial strides in the post–civil rights era. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, attracting more blacks into politics and unprecedented support and leverage for blacks in politics. In 2008 United States Senator Barack Obama (D) from Illinois was elected as the first President of the United States of African descent; Obama's mother was European American and his father Kenyan.

In the same period, African Americans have suffered disproportionate unemployment rates following industrial and corporate restructuring, with a rate of poverty in the 21st century that is equal to that in 1968. A variety of social and judicial discrimination have resulted in African Americans having the highest rates of incarceration of any minority group, especially in the southern states of the former Confederacy.


On January 19, 1970, the nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the US Supreme Court was defeated by the US Senate. On May 27, 1970, the film Watermelon Man was released, directed by Melvin Van Peebles and starring Godfrey Cambridge. The first blaxploitation films were released.

On April 20, 1971, the Supreme Court, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, upheld busing of students to achieve integration. In December 1971, Jesse Jackson organized Operation PUSH.

In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first major-party African-American candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In 1976, Black History Month was founded by Professor Carter Woodson's Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. The novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley was published in 1976, becoming a bestseller and popular success; it generated great levels of interest in African-American genealogy and history.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Andrew Young to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations in 1977, the first African American to serve in the position. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke bars racial quota systems in college admissions in 1978, but affirms the constitutionality of affirmative action programs giving equal access to minorities.


In 1982, Michael Jackson released Thriller, which became the best-selling album of all time.

In 1983, Guion Bluford became the first African American to go into space in NASA's program. President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1983 to create a federal holiday to honor Martin Luther King, who was assassinated in 1968 and considered a martyr to civil rights. Established by legislation in 1983, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first celebrated as a national holiday on January 20, 1986. Alice Walker received the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Color Purple in 1983. In September 1983, Vanessa L. Williams became the first African American to win the title of Miss America as Miss America 1984.

The Mayor of Washington DC, Marion Barry, smoking crack on a police surveillance tape, 1990

The crack cocaine epidemic had a significant impact on Black America.[1] As early as 1981, reports of crack were appearing in Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, and Houston.[2] In 1984, the distribution and use of crack exploded.[2] In 1984, in some major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, and Detroit, one dosage unit of crack could be obtained for as little as $2.50 (equivalent to $5.69 in 2016).[2]

Between 1984 and 1989, the homicide rate for black males aged 14 to 17 more than doubled, and the homicide rate for black males aged 18 to 24 increased nearly as much. During this period, the black community also experienced a 20%–100% increase in fetal death rates, low birth-weight babies, weapons arrests, and the number of children in foster care.[1]

The beginning of the crack epidemic coincided with the rise of hip hop music in the Black community in the mid-1980s, heavily influencing the evolution of hardcore hip hop and gangsta rap as crack and hip hop became the two leading fundamentals of urban street culture.[3]

The Cosby Show begins in 1984; featuring an upper-middle-class family with comedian Bill Cosby as a physician and head of the family, it is regarded[by whom?] as one of the defining television shows of the decade.

Ron Brown was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1989, becoming the first African American to lead a major United States political party. Colin Powell became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989.


A crowd at the Million Man March, Washington DC, May 1995.

Douglas Wilder became the first elected African-American governor in 1990 in Virginia. Four white police officers were videotaped beating African-American Rodney King in Los Angeles, on March 3, 1991. African-American Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the US Supreme Court in 1991.

The 1992 Los Angeles riots erupted after the officers accused of beating Rodney King were acquitted. In 1992 Mae Carol Jemison became the first African-American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Carol Moseley Braun (D) from California became the first African-American woman to be elected to the United States Senate on November 3, 1992.

Director Spike Lee's film Malcolm X was released in 1992, a serious biography of the leader of the Nation of Islam. Cornel West's text, Race Matters, was published in 1994.

The Million Man March was held on October 16, 1995, in Washington, D.C., co-initiated by Louis Farrakhan and James Bevel. The Million Woman March was held on October 25, 1997, in Philadelphia.


Colin Powell was appointed as the first African American to be Secretary of State on January 20, 2001. Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger upheld the University of Michigan Law School's admission policy on June 23, 2003. However, in the simultaneously heard Gratz v. Bollinger, the university is required to change a policy.

The Millions More Movement held a march in Washington D.C on October 15, 2005. Rosa Parks died at the age of 92 on October 25, 2005; she was a noted civil rights activist who had helped initiate the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. As an honor, her body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. before her funeral.

On June 28, 2007, the US Supreme Court in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, decided along with Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, ruled that school districts could not assign students to particular public schools solely for the purpose of achieving racial integration; it declined to recognize racial balancing as a compelling state interest.

On June 3, 2008, Barack Obama received enough delegates by the end of state primaries to be the presumptive Democratic Party of the United States nominee.[4] On August 28, 2008, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, in a stadium filled with supporters, Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Obama was elected 44th President of the United States of America on November 4, 2008, opening his victory speech with, "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."[5]

On January 20, 2009, Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, the first African American to become president. Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, an African American, was elected as Chairman of the Republican National Committee on January 30, 2009.

The U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative six-stamp set portraying twelve civil rights pioneers in 2010. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 9, 2009.

On July 19, 2010, Shirley Sherrod was pressured to resign from the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of controversial publicity; the department apologized to her for her being inaccurately portrayed as racist toward white Americans.

Political representation[edit]

In 1989, Douglas Wilder became the first African American to be elected governor in U.S. history. In 1992 Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois became the first black woman to elected to the U.S. Senate. In 2000 there were 8,936 black officeholders in the United States, showing a net increase of 7,467 since 1970. In 2001 there were 484 black mayors.

The 38 African-American members of Congress formed the Congressional Black Caucus, which serves as a political bloc for issues relating to African Americans. The appointment of blacks to high federal offices—including General Colin Powell, Chairman of the U.S. Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1989–1993, United States Secretary of State, 2001–2005; Condoleezza Rice, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, 2001–2004, Secretary of State in, 2005–2009; Ron Brown, United States Secretary of Commerce, 1993–1996, Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States, 2009–present; and Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas—also demonstrates the increasing visibility of blacks in the political arena.

In 2009 Michael S. Steele was elected the first African-American chairman of the national Republican Party.[6]

2008 presidential election of Barack Obama[edit]

In 2008 presidential elections, Illinois senator Barack Obama became the first black presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, making him the first African-American presidential candidate from a major political party. He was elected as the 44th President of the United States on November 4, 2008, and inaugurated on January 20, 2009.

At least 95 percent of African-American voters voted for Obama. Obama won big among young and minority voters, bringing a number of new states in the Democratic electoral column.[7][8] Obama became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to win a popular-vote majority. He also received overwhelming support from whites, a majority of Asians, and Americans of Hispanic origin.[9] Obama lost the overall white vote, but he won a larger proportion of white votes than any previous non-incumbent Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter.[10]

Economic situation[edit]

At some levels, African Americans have made real economic progress, moving into a variety of middle-class and professional positions. Nearly 25% of black Americans in the early 21st century live below the poverty line, approximately the same percentage as in 1968, but there are many more African Americans higher up the economic ladder. The child poverty rate has increased and unemployment is disproportionately high in comparison to other ethnic groups.[11] These sobering facts have been are masked in the public opinion by the sometimes spectacular achievements of successful individuals. African Americans are underrepresented in the rapidly expanding and lucrative fields related to computer programming and technology, where innovations have led to some people making huge new fortunes.[citation needed]

Economic progress for blacks' reaching the extremes of wealth has been slow. According to Forbes "richest" lists, Oprah Winfrey was the richest African American of the 20th century and has been the world's only black billionaire in 2004, 2005, and 2006.[12] Not only was Winfrey the world's only black billionaire but she has been the only black on the Forbes 400 list nearly every year since 1995. BET founder Bob Johnson briefly joined her on the list from 2001 to 2003 before his ex-wife acquired part of his fortune; although he returned to the list in 2006, he did not make it in 2007. Blacks currently comprise 0.25% of America's economic elite; they make up 13% of the total U.S. population.[13]

Social issues[edit]

Since the gains of the 1950s–1970s, African American communities have been suffering from extremely high incarceration rates of their young males, due to a variety of factors, including the drug war, imposition of sentencing guidelines, cutbacks in government assistance, restructuring of industry and loss of working-class jobs leading to high poverty rates, and government neglect, a breakdown in traditional family units, and unfavorable social policies. African Americans have the highest imprisonment rate of any major ethnic group in the world.[citation needed]

The southern states of the former Confederacy, which historically had maintained slavery longer than in the remainder of the country and imposed post-Reconstruction oppression, have the highest rates of incarceration and application of the death penalty.[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Fryer, Roland (April 2006). "Measuring Crack Cocaine and Its Impact" (PDF). Harvard University Society of Fellows: 3, 66. Retrieved December 10, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "DEA History Book, 1876–1990" (drug usage & enforcement), US Department of Justice, 1991, webpage: DoJ-DEA-History-1985-1990.
  3. ^ "Hip Hop and the Crack Epidemic". November 21, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Obama: I will be the Democratic nominee". Retrieved January 4, 2016. 
  5. ^ Newsweek
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Exit polls: Obama wins big among young, minority voters". CNN. November 4, 2008. Retrieved June 22, 2010. 
  8. ^ Kuhn, David Paul (November 5, 2008). "Exit polls: How Obama won". Politico. Retrieved June 22, 2010. 
  9. ^ Why Asian Americans Voted For Obama.
  10. ^ Timothy Noah (10 November 2008). "What we didn't overcome on Election Day.". Slate Magazine. Retrieved January 4, 2016. 
  11. ^ "Tomgram: Michelle Alexander, The Age of Obama as a Racial Nightmare - TomDispatch". Retrieved January 4, 2016. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ "One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008", Pew Research Center
  15. ^ "One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections", Pew Research Center, released March 2, 2009