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On this date in 1866, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act over the veto of President Andrew Johnson.
The act declared that all persons born in the United States were now citizens, regardless of race, color, or previous condition. Citizens could make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.
Persons who denied these rights to former slaves were guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, faced a fine not exceeding $1,000, imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both. This legislation, a predecessor to the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, was never taken seriously by the U.S. government.
The activities of organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan undermined the workings of this act, and it failed to guarantee the civil rights of Blacks.