The Civil Rights Movement: There’s No Equality without Enforced Rights

Release Date
February 9, 2017


Civil Liberties

On paper, blacks had equal constitutional rights by 1866. The Civil Rights Movement pushed to get those rights enforced. Prof. Fabio Rojas explains.

    1. Emmett Till Was Murdered 61 Years Ago, But Racism Lives On (blog post): The Emmett Till case is one of many in which the equal rights of African Americans were not enforced by the courts. 
    2. Why police brutality laws don’t seem to matter in America (blog post): Unfortunately, there are still many cases today of laws not being enforced in cases where crimes are committed against African Americans, such as in many police brutality cases. 
    3. Should the government step in to outlaw discrimination? (blog post): What should libertarians think about discrimination laws? Mark Hall offers a solution that balances preventing discrimination with religious freedom. 


Fabio Rojas: The other thing, which I think is very important to realize that’s a little bit different than civil rights, than in the way that many libertarians, or classical liberals think about civil rights, is that civil rights in that context, with Martin Luther King and his movement, was about enforcement of rights. Because, legally, people had equal rights as early as 1865 or 1866, when the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments of the Constitution were passed. Just to refresh, those are the Amendments that abolished slavery and gave people, black and white, every person in the United States, equal procedural protections under law.
According to that law, you could not have a court for black people and a court for white people. Everybody was subject to the same court. Everybody was subject to the same police. Everybody was subject to the same everything. In theory, blacks and whites were equal, but in practice, it was the complete opposite. Because, what people would do is they would pass legislation in the states, sometimes in the Federal Government, that would enforce segregation in housing, schools, all kinds of areas of life. It wasn’t enough to have a constitutional amendment saying you’re equal, you needed various institutions in society to actually say, “Yes, a black person has as much right to be a doctor, to open a business on your street, and Main Street, downtown, without harassment.” As with anyone else.
My great example of this is the sad case of lynching. As you may or may not know from American History, there was a horrible wave of lynchings, which are these mobs of people that would pick up blacks, and hang them, and do horrible, horrible things to them. On paper, that was completely illegal, but the southern states, especially the southern states, refused to enforce this. For the Civil Rights Movement, there was definitely an abstraction notion of freedom. Amongst King’s Branch, the Movement, there was a side of universal love, but what everybody agreed on was that the state was not enforcing your right to personal safety, your right to practice a profession, and your right to do these other things, which most people take for granted. That was the key issue for the Civil Rights Movement.