Slavery was this country’s original sin, infecting the Constitution at its conception. It took more than 75 years after the Constitution was adopted and a bloody civil war before civil rights amendments were added to the Bill of Rights. And it would take another hundred years after that before laws were passed outlawing racial discrimination in employment, housing, public education and accommodations, and voting. Despite enormous progress, however, the promise of fair and equal treatment for people of color remains frustratingly elusive.
In some regions of the country, our schools are as segregated and profoundly unequal as they were when the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional in its Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. The war on crime and drugs has disproportionately targeted people of color for arrest, prosecution and long, mandatory prison sentences so that today, one-third of all black men in their twenties are either behind bars, on probation or parole. Voting districts created to provide fair representation have been undermined by lawmakers and by the courts, and felony disenfranchisement laws have robbed hundreds of thousands of minorities of their right to vote. Segregation and discrimination in housing opportunity still exists, and a backlash against affirmative action in employment and education threatens to slam the door of opportunity in the faces of those who are most deserving. Anti-immigrant laws have stripped away basic civil rights for many of the nation’s ethnic minorities.
We have come a long way since Jim Crow ruled the South, but deeply entrenched discrimination, subjugation, subordination, and racial violence are still with us and affect not only African-Americans, but Latinos, Asian Americans, American Indians, and Arab Americans as well. The ACLU’s historic commitment to racial equality remains a centerpiece of its work in the courts and the legislatures, and in the arenas of public policy and public education.