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What was the most important moment for American civil rights?

When we think of civil rights, most of us think about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, when our nation made huge forward leaps in racial equality. However, the most important moment for civil rights in American happened long before the 1960s.

We need to look back further to the creation of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which represent the most pivotal expansions of civil rights in America. The Thirteenth Amendment -- ratified by the states in 1865 -- officially abolished slavery in the United States. What happened after the Thirteenth Amendment is what led to the Fourteenth Amendment.

After the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, many states created "black codes" to limit the freedoms of ex-slaves. The Fourteenth Amendment -- ratified by the states in 1866 and 1867 -- eliminated black codes by saying that states could not create or enforce laws that abridged the immunities and privileges of U.S. citizens, nor could states deny any person the right to due process of law or equal protection of the laws. In the years following the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress enacted more civil rights laws to prevent discrimination based on race and other forms of discrimination.

Approximately 100 years later came the Civil Rights Movement, which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act offered further and more complete federal protections from discrimination based on "race, color, religion, or national origin."

Today, victims of discrimination in New York will have the ability to seek protection under both state and federal laws. They may also be able to seek financial compensation if they can prove in court that the discrimination caused them damages.

Source: Cornell University, "Civil rights: An overview," accessed Dec. 30, 2016

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