The civil rights movement in the United States was a long, primarily
nonviolent series of events to bring full
civil rights and equality under the law to all Americans. The movement has had a lasting impact on United States society, in its tactics, the increased social and legal acceptance of civil rights, and in its exposure of the prevalence and cost of racism.
Alone, the civil rights movement sometimes refers to the political actions and reform movements between 1954 and 1968 to end legal
racial segregation in the United States, especially in the
This article focuses on an earlier phase of the movement. Two
United States Supreme Court decisions—
Plessy v. Ferguson,
537 (1896), which upheld "separate but equal" racial segregation as
constitutional doctrine, and
Brown v. Board of Education,
483 (1954) which overturned Plessy—serve as milestones. This was an era of new beginnings, in which some movements, such as
Universal Negro Improvement Association, were very successful but left little lasting legacy, while others, such as the
NAACP's painstaking legal assault on state-sponsored segregation, achieved modest results in its early years but made steady progress on voter rights and gradually built to a key victory in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
Civil War, the US expanded the legal rights of African Americans.
Congress passed, and enough states ratified, an amendment ending slavery in 1865—the
13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment only outlawed slavery; it provided neither citizenship nor equal rights. In 1868, the
14th Amendment was ratified by the states, granting African Americans citizenship. All persons born in the US were extended equal protection under the laws of the Constitution. The
15th Amendment (ratified in 1870) stated that race could not be used as a condition to deprive men of the ability to vote. During
Reconstruction (1865–1877), Northern troops occupied the South. Together with the
Freedmen's Bureau, they tried to administer and enforce the new constitutional amendments. Many black leaders were elected to local and state offices, and many others organized community groups, especially to support education.
Reconstruction ended following the
Compromise of 1877 between Northern and Southern white elites.
 In exchange for deciding the contentious Presidential election in favor of
Rutherford B. Hayes, supported by Northern states, over his opponent,
Samuel J. Tilden, the compromise called for the withdrawal of Northern troops from the South. This followed violence and fraud in southern elections from 1868 to 1876, which had reduced black voter turnout and enabled Southern white Democrats to regain power in state legislatures across the South. The compromise and withdrawal of Federal troops meant that white Democrats had more freedom to impose and enforce discriminatory practices. Many African Americans responded to the withdrawal of federal troops by leaving the South in what is known as the
Kansas Exodus of 1879.
Radical Republicans, who spearheaded Reconstruction, had attempted to eliminate both governmental and private discrimination by legislation. That effort was largely ended by the
Supreme Court's decision in the
Civil Rights Cases,
3 (1883), in which the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give Congress power to outlaw racial discrimination by private individuals or businesses.