Black History Month is a time not only to celebrate Black achievement, but also to remember the extraordinary Black people and events that have shaped this nation’s history. If there is one thing we’ve learned from social and political conflict over the years, it is that civil rights are at the core of our democracy.
In simple terms, civil rights are basic freedoms and entitlements that our Constitution guarantees. They are inextricably linked to what we expect as U.S. citizens ― employment, education, justice, and suffrage, for example.
It is the promise of civil rights that inspires us as a nation to continue striving for equal opportunity even in the face of adversity and uncertainty.
Struggle for Racial Equality
From the late nineteenth century to the 1960s, Black lives and struggles were at the center of the fight for racial equality and justice in our nation.
Along with racial segregation, Black people faced disenfranchisement under Jim Crow. They also faced discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, transportation, and education.
Furthermore, Black people could depend neither on law enforcement nor the judicial system for protection or support.
Civil Rights Movement
These struggles spurred social reform during the Civil Rights Movement, which was rooted in the constitutional amendments enacted during the Reconstruction era:
- The 13th Amendment abolished slavery.
- The 14th Amendment gave birthright citizenship and expanded federal protection of citizenship rights, including equal protection of the laws.
- The 15th Amendment guaranteed all citizens the right to vote regardless of race, color or previous servitude.
At the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, Congress enacted landmark legislation to protect the civil rights of all citizens, end discrimination, and protect the right to vote.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits discrimination in employment and education based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex (and later, gender identity, pregnancy, and sexual orientation).
- Title VII also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce federal laws prohibiting unlawful employment discrimination in public and private workplaces.
- Subsequent federal laws prohibit employment discrimination based on age, disability, and genetic information.
While these transformational laws did not eliminate employment discrimination, they were and remain vital tools in our government’s continuing progress toward equal opportunity.
GSA’s Office of Civil Rights
During the 1970s and 1980s, GSA’s equal employment opportunity (EEO) and civil rights program was housed within the Office of the Administrator. In 1995, that program became an independent organization known as the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, and it was retitled as the Office of Civil Rights in 1998.
Here at GSA, the Office of Civil Rights:
- Administers the agency’s civil rights and EEO program;
- Strives to ensure the agency’s compliance with laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination in employment, as well as programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance; and
- Systematically identifies institutional, attitudinal, and physical barriers that may limit employment and advancement opportunities for GSA employees.
As we continue to celebrate Black history and achievement, let us draw inspiration and strength from the indelible memory and sacrifice of those who fought for the civil rights of all people.
As Americans and public servants, we are collectively responsible for protecting civil rights and speaking out against discrimination.
Let’s all do our part to create a discrimination-free, equitable workplace at GSA.