Highlights from the Gates Collection of African American History and Culture

Civil Rights, Integration and Identity

The culmination of many regional movements, federal civil rights legislation enacted between 1954 and 1965 ended the legal sanction for racial segregation and restored the right to vote to African Americans.  This legislation opened new opportunities for African Americans in education, employment, and all aspects of public life, creating a new sense of possibility.  However, racial discrimination and disparity persisted.  The assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King in 1968 symbolized the work that remained to truly integrate American society.

Conceptions of racial inequality, and in particular a notion of the superiority of the white race, enshrined in law, had shaped American society for more than two centuries.  In the years following the civil rights movement, many Americans, both black and white, worked to recast the identity of African Americans in society.  Looking back from a new perspective, a growing group of historians reconsidered and retold American history:  documenting the profound injustice of slavery, finding pride in moments of struggle, and cataloging and celebrating the many and oft overlooked accomplishments and contributions of black Americans to society.  By writing the experiences of African Americans into the history of the United States, historians played an important role in making African American culture an inseparable part of the future narrative of American identity.

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