Civics For Change: Racial Justice

Racism in the United States has many forms and appearances, from systemic racism baked into our nation’s laws and institutions to overt racism and the resurgence of white supremacist groups. One of the groups, the KKK, is responsible for the deaths of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, three young men who sought racial justice in voting during 1964’s Freedom Summer

The fight for racial justice and equity has evolved throughout the centuries, with the work from generations past in jeopardy and far from complete. We are still fighting for a just, inclusive, and representative democracy today. Our Andrew Goodman Ambassadors are helping to do just that by working to get out the vote. The timeline below includes only some highlights of Black history and current events to learn, review, and reflect upon: 

1619: White oppressors forcibly brought 20 enslaved Africans to the English colony in Virginia on the White Lion ship, the first ship with enslaved people brought by the English. A third of the humans aboard did not survive the horrific conditions of the Middle Passage. The Mayflower arrived shortly after in 1620 with the first Pilgrims, who used the labor of enslaved people to establish the European colonies across the continent throughout the remainder of the seventeenth century and beyond.

1750: White oppressors forcibly brought ~100,000 enslaved Africans to what is now the United States in the 1740s and 1750s, more than double the rate of those brought in the two decades before. 

1861: The Union and Confederacy fought the Civil War over the question of slavery’s place and future in the nation.

1863: President Abraham Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all four million enslaved people. However, the Confederacy was still in control of the region where most enslaved people lived, resulting in a lack of immediate change.


  • The Union defeated the Confederate troops, and the 13th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 
  • June 19, 1865: the day in which the word of freedom had finally reached those enslaved from the East Coast to Texas. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated by remembering the history, and just as importantly, experiencing Black joy. 
  • This same year, the KKK was founded in Tennessee. 

1868: The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to Black men.

1870: The 15th Amendment granted the right to vote to Black men.

1896: Plessy v. Ferguson established the separate but equal doctrine, ruling that racial integration and social equality were not required by the U.S. Constitution. This ruling set the scene for decades of racial discrimination under U.S. law to come.

1896-1968: Jim Crow laws spread across the U.S., segregating public spaces like requiring separate waiting rooms in bus and train stations, as well as water fountains, restrooms, building entrances, elevators, cemeteries, even amusement-park cashier windows. The end of this era is marked by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which eliminated racial discrimination in renting and selling homes. 

1917: The practice of redlining began. It became commonplace for banks to outline sections of maps in red and refuse loans to Black families looking to live outside the pre-drawn neighborhoods with inferior infrastructure and resources. 

1920: The 19th Amendment granted the right to vote to women.  While Black men and women both now had the right to vote, Jim Crow laws, like poll taxes and literacy tests, and a culture of retaliation and violence prevented Black men and women from exercising their right to vote, particularly in the South. 


  • Fourteen year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi after two white men accused him of whistling at one of their wives. They violently murdered Emmett Till, whose body was found in the Tallahatchie River. Till’s mother Mamie Bradley, struck with grief, decided to hold an open casket funeral to show the senselessly mutilated body of her boy. Over 50,000 people visited the open casket in Chicago. Photos were distributed in newspapers, causing national outrage. The photo of Emmett Till was one of the main turning points marking the start of the Civil Rights Movement. 
  • The year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott started when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person. 

1961: The Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) organized Freedom Rides, interracial student groups looking to integrate bus systems and terminals, lunch counters, and other public spaces as they traveled further South. 

1963: During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to the peaceful crowd of 250,000 strong at the National Mall. Despite this being a display of non-violent direct action, President Kennedy sent in the National Guard just months before he was assassinated. 


  • Three young men, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, made their way to rural Mississippi to work in a Freedom School, sites for Black Americans to learn to read, write, and vote. They were arrested by the police, then murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Forty-four long days passed until their bodies were found. This tragedy struck a public chord in the nation, leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965’s eventual passage. 
  • The Civil Rights Act was passed prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.


  • John Lewis, only 25 years old at the time, led over 600 civil rights activists across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama for racial justice and equal voting rights. On what became known as Bloody Sunday, they were met by state troopers and were brutally attacked. Footage of the violence collectively shocked the nation and galvanized the fight against racial injustice. 
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965, the crowning legislative achievement of the Civil Rights Movement, outlawed race-based discrimination in voting. The law put an end to voter suppression strategies like poll taxes and literacy tests that had been in place for decades. 

1973: The War on Drugs begins with “tough on crime” laws like mandatory minimum sentences, implemented in New York City. 

2008: Barack Obama is elected as the United States’ first Black President. 

2009: The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over 1.6 million people behind bars. 

2015: The Washington Post has tracked 8,520 fatal police shootings since 2015: “Although half of the people shot and killed by police are White, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for roughly 14 percent of the U.S. population and are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans.”

2020: The COVID-19 pandemic redefines our collective definition of “business as usual.” Police murdered George Floyd, resulting in widespread racial reckoning and calls to end police brutality. The United States continues to be dependent upon exploitative prison labor. For example, inmates in New York State were producing hand sanitizer in the face of a national shortage. Due to its alcohol content, hand sanitizer is considered contraband, leaving inmates unable to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among themselves. Thousands of inmates died from the virus.

 2021: In response to the historic turnout of young voters of color in the 2020 Election, there was a rise in anti-voter bills and laws, like this voter suppression law in Georgia. 

2022: The Emmett Till Antilynching Act is signed into law, making lynching a federal hate crime.

2023: The NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Florida due to increasing open hostility toward Black Americans due in part to Gov. Desantis’ war on teaching about race, diversity and inclusion, and Black History in all levels of education.  

Spanning over 400 years of history, this timeline is far from complete. For further learning, start with watching 13th on Netflix (or watch for free on YouTube) to see how the criminalization of Black bodies, voting rights, and the labor force are interconnected. For more bite-sized pieces, check out the Instagram account @BlackHistoryForWhitePeople. To take action in the fight to eliminate forced prison labor, contact your representatives to support the Abolition Amendment that would end the exception clause, where forced labor has been a legal punishment for a crime as written in the 13th Amendment. The Andrew Goodman Foundation remains committed to helping young people build a just, sustainable future free from hatred, exploitation, and legislation harmful to Black Americans. 


Mia Matthews is the Program and Communications Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. In her position, she works with student leaders and in communications and storytelling surrounding their work. She is currently relocating to Boston, Massachusetts.