Until Justice Be Done
America's First Civil Rights Movement from the Revolution to Reconstruction
A groundbreaking history of the movement for equal rights that courageously battled racist laws and institutions, north and south, in the decades before the Civil War.
The half-century before the Civil War was beset with conflict over equality as well as freedom. Beginning in 1803, many free states, claiming the authority to maintain the domestic peace, enacted laws that discouraged free African Americans from settling their boundaries and restricted the rights to testify in court, move freely from place to place, work, vote, and attend public school. But over time, African American activists and their white allies, often facing mob violence, courageously built a movement to fight these racist laws. They countered the states' insistence on local control with the equal-rights promises they found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Long stymied by hostile white majorities and unfavorable court decisions, the movement's vision became increasingly mainstream in the 1850s, particularly among supporters of the new Republican party. When Congress began rebuilding the nation after the Civil War, Republicans installed this vision of racial equality in the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. These were the landmark achievements of the first civil rights movement.