Author: Susan Breitzer

an adjunct assistant professor of history at Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She completed her PhD from the University of Iowa in 2007
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Constitutional Convention, Virginia (1901–1902)

The Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902 produced the Virginia Constitution of 1902 and is an important example of post-Reconstruction efforts to restore white supremacy in the American South by disenfranchising large numbers of blacks and working-class whites. Remaining in effect until July 1, 1971, the constitution did much to shape Virginia politics in the twentieth century—a politics dominated by a conservative Democratic Party that fiercely resisted the New Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society, the civil rights movement, and, with special fervor, federally mandated public school desegregation. Yet the significance of the 1901–1902 convention extends beyond Virginia in that it demonstrates the irony of how Progressive Era reforms nationwide often resulted in state legislation that was far from progressive.

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Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of national legislation, not only for the civil rights movement but for the emerging women’s movement of the 1960s. It officially outlawed discrimination in public accommodations and employment and established the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to enforce those provisions. In contrast to earlier civil rights measures, it included a ban on employment discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as race, color, and religion, making it the most comprehensive civil rights bill in American history and giving the revived women’s movement new legal—and moral—weight. Yet, in an ironic twist, the legislation banned gender discrimination only because of the efforts of Howard W. Smith, U.S. representative from Virginia, a leader of the Conservative Coalition in Congress, and an opponent of civil rights. His tireless attempts to defeat the bill—including adding “sex” as grounds for illegal discrimination, which he believed would guarantee the bill’s failure—resulted in a more expansive bill passing.

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