Trace of Virginia’s Civil Rights Struggle from the Colonial era to Today

The struggle for civil rights in Virginia can be traced through time since the American Indians. When the European settlers encountered the American Indians in the 15th century, colonial warfare erupted. This struggle by the American Indians against the European settlers almost resulted in the extinction of the Powhatan tribe. Later around 1619, Virginia saw the arrival of the first black slaves in Jamestown. It was not until the 1660’s that the Slave Codes were enacted. These codes particularly banned interracial marriages. Black enslaved people were also not allowed to claim ownership of any property or even bear arms; they were also not allowed to travel without permission. The enslaved status of a mother was passed on as an inheritance to her children.

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In 1669, the colony of Virginia made a vote to banish any white person who went into marriage with a Black, Native American, or mulatto. Virginia also declared that it was not unlawful to kill an ‘unruly’ enslaved black person. Black people continued with the struggle for their rights, and in 1758 they established The African Baptist Church, the first Black church in North America, on William Byrd plantation. By 1782, the Emancipation Act was accepted, and it increased Virginia’s number of emancipated African Americans by the thousands. Between 1820 and 1860, the Underground Railroad was established to assist enslaved people to escape to their freedom. A memorable revolt against slaveholders was staged in 1831, led by Nat Turner, an enslaved preacher. The struggle for civil rights was further curtailed by the Fugitive Slave Act, which honoured and rewarded individuals who would capture the escaping slaves. However, the emancipation proclamation of 1863 stated that the slaves in rebellious states had to be declared free. The Bureau of Refugees, Freemen and Abandoned Lands were established in 1865. It was intended to assist formerly enslaved people and poor whites. From 1874 to 1975, Virginia focused on laws that gave the mandate for “Separate but equal” status for people of colour.

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The 1950s, 1960’s, 1970s saw one phase of civil rights movements in the more prolonged struggle for black freedom. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established, and in Virginia, it filed more lawsuits than in any other state. However, the fight towards integration was slowed and experienced challenges. For instance, Virginia’s state-coordinated program of Massive Resistance, where the local white authorities were boosted to obstruct the implementation of court decisions. Virginia, however, boasted of the most substantial group of civil rights and NAACP fighters. As a result, most of the highly significant legal landmarks of the civil rights movement had their origins in Virginia. For Instance, in 1946, Irene Morgan filed the suit that led to desegregated interstate bus travel. Another prominent Virginia case led to the prohibition against segregation even in bus stations, restrooms, and waiting rooms shared by interstate buses.

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One of the five school desegregation lawsuits that were encompassed in the 1954 lawsuit Brown v. Board of Education. This case stemmed from a student demonstration led by Barbara Johns, a teenager at Moton High School, Farmville. Another significant case that influenced the decision to desegregate schools was Green v. School Board of New Kent County in 1968. Southern Juries were also subjected to desegregation due to Johnson v. Virginia in 1963. Laws banning interracial marriages were overturned in over 17 states due to The Loving Case ruled by the Supreme Court. The civil rights movement nevertheless had its setbacks and did not achieve all its objectives. The social system of legally sanctioned segregation and second-class citizenship endured. However, they gave way to a new era of race relations governed by a more equitable set of laws. In the twentieth century, the civil rights movement played a significant role in changing Virginia, just like the war for independence did in the eighteenth century, and the civil war did in the nineteenth century.   

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Ever since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, significant changes have been witnessed in retrospect to the civil rights struggle. In 1965, schools were still segregated; however, today, blacks, whites, Asians, Indians as well as other nationalities now socialize freely. Courtesy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination based on race, colour, sex, religion was barred. Segregation in institutions, public accommodations, and workplaces was also prohibited; the unequal application of the registration requirements was also ended. The impact of this legislation was so powerful that it was even considered as a template for further societal transformation.

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According to Oliver Hill, professor of psychology at Virginia State University, the Act’s passing was representative of a crucial direction the U.S society was taking since the civil war. However, although the law was changed to accommodate the change in view about discrimination, the hearts and minds of some people still haven’t changed. Currently, there are issues about discrimination that are yet to be abolished. For instance, women and minorities still experience challenges in picking up state contracts. The criminal justice system has been found to disproportionately provide harsh treatment to minorities; this has been evidenced by the high number of African-Americans in jail.

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The impact of the passage of the act cannot be underestimated. The idea of one staying unemployed because of their race or sex has changed since 1963. The ranks of female judges, lawyers, firefighters and police officers were very limited. Today, the number of women makes up almost a third of all lawyers and about 20% of all law enforcement officers. Although discrimination may endure, at least now, there are weapons to fight it. The 1964 Act has had one of the broadest impacts on people’s lives. It was responsible for boosting the 1972′ Title IX, which prohibited sex discrimination in public education and government-assisted programs and led to the boom in women’s athletics.  It was also amended with the 1978 Pregnancy discrimination Act. The path towards the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was also founded on the civil rights act.

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America’s founding ideals and its enhanced moral authority on the world stage can be tied to the foundations of the civil rights struggle. For example, when one looks at Hanover County in Virginia, the population of black people, there is less than 10%, but its highly regarded school district is led by an African American. Chesterfield County has had more than one African-American superintendent. New problems have come up mirroring the journey of civil rights struggles in America. For example, the opposition to gay rights, abortion rights, and Medicaid expansion to the uninsured. There is a continuing disparity in the gap between the payment for men and women. Black unemployment has reached twice that of whites. Although the civil rights act has been very crucial, it has been unable to provide a solution for every problem.

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In conclusion, the civil rights struggle in Virginia has achieved many significant landmarks. Many of the most crucial civil rights movements in the US originated in Virginian. Today, a more just set of laws related to civil rights have replaced the ones that existed in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries leading to a new era in race relations. However, inequality is still prevalent not only in Virginia but the entire United States. Therefore, there is still much that can be done to truly achieve equality in Virginia and the rest of the US.

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