Civil rights laws

The civil rights campaigns during the late 1950s and early 1960s had a significant effect on US society.

New Federal laws were introduced which extended the rights of many African Americans.

Civil Rights Act 1957


The Civil Rights Act was a response to the civil rights movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the events at Little Rock.

What did the Act change?

A national civil rights commission was convened and the Federal Justice Department would support African Americans if they went to court.

Was it successful?

The act showed that the Federal Government would not allow the southern states to do as they wished.

Some civil rights campaigners were disappointed with the Act - not a single black voter had been added to the register in the south.

Civil Rights Act 1964


Protests in the early 1960s increased the pressure on President Kennedy to introduce a new Civil Right Bill.

The Sit-ins, Freedom Rides and the events in Birmingham had convinced many members of the public that change was needed. President Kennedy was more open to change than previous presidents.

What did the Act change?

Discrimination on the basis of race in any or all public places in the USA was banned.

It was now unlawful for a business employing over 25 people to discriminate on the basis of ‘race, national origin, religion or sex’.

The Justice Department was allowed to take any state government to court that discriminated against black people.

Was it successful?

Many politicians now felt that the law had gone as far as it could to support African Americans.

On the other hand, civil rights campaigners felt that much more needed to be done, especially in terms of housing and voting rights.

Voting Rights Act 1965


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did little to help African Americans register to vote.

To register to vote, many black people had to complete long and complicated forms and interviews. Even a small error could be enough to prevent them from voting.

In the video below US President Johnson introduces the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

What did the Act change?

Literacy tests and many other obstacles to stop African Americans being able to register to vote were banned.

The US Attorney General could send federal examiners to register African Americans in areas where it was deemed this was not being done properly.