Tag Archive for 'discrimination'

On This Day: The Atlanta Race Riot

On September 22, 1906—106 years ago today—Atlanta, Georgia, dissolved into horrifying and unrestrained violence which after a few days would leave dozens of African Americans dead and many more wounded.

Although Atlanta had developed a reputation for relative racial harmony, extensive population growth over the previous two decades led to competition and tension between whites and African Americans. White supremacists instituted Jim Crow laws to keep the races segregated both in public accommodations and in residential neighborhoods.

As publicity abounded in the months leading up to the 1906 gubernatorial election, racial tensions flared between those advocating African American disfranchisement and those pushing for equality. White supremacists used the media as a vehicle of racial hatred, spreading lies about African Americans—especially rumors about African American violence against whites.

Thus it perhaps was not surprising that after rumors raged of four alleged sexual assaults by African American men on white women, white mobs hit the streets on the night of September 22, beating hundreds of African Americans and destroying their businesses.

State militia and police officers were called in, but were not immediately effective at quelling the violence. African Americans were forced to defend their homes and businesses, and many innocent African American individuals were killed.

On September 24, when police officers learned of a meeting of African Americans in a town just outside Atlanta, they raided the meeting, claiming fear of a counterattack. A shootout resulted in the death of one police officer; heavily armed militia arrested hundreds of African Americans.

Fearing the destruction of the city’s formerly positive reputation, local officials and public figures called for an end to the riot, beginning a dialogue with African American elites.

Estimates show that as many as 10,000 whites rioted against African Americans, leaving at least 25 African Americans dead—but most likely many more than that. The biracial meetings that developed as a result of the riot served as a model for white-African American relations.

Discussed in middle and high schools, the riot stands today—more than a century later—as a bitter reminder of the racial hostility and violence African Americans faced for decades.

To learn more, check out this summary from the New Georgia Encyclopedia, this page from PBS, and this article from NPR.

This article from the Atlanta Constitution demonstrates the blame white supremacists placed on African Americans. This New York Times article discusses the aftermath of the riot, stating that militia disarmed African Americans (most of whom, presumably, were armed simply to protect themselves and their families from white mob violence).

To learn more, check out David Godshalk’s Veiled Visions: The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot and the Reshaping of American Race Relations (UNC Press 2005), Gregory Mixon’s The Atlanta Riot: Race, Class, and Violence in a New South City (University Press of Florida 2005), and Rebecca Burns’ Rage in the Gate City: The Story of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot (University of Georgia Press 2009).

To learn more about Atlanta’s race relations, check out Ronald Bayor’s Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta (UNC Press 1996).

Walter White, who would serve as NAACP secretary for more than two decades, witnessed the riot as a 13-year-old child. He described the riot in his autobiography, A Man Called White. To learn more about White, check out Kenneth Janken’s Walter White: Mr. NAACP (UNC Press 2006).

49 Years Ago: Executive Order 11118 and Birmingham’s Integration

On September 10, 1963—49 years ago today—the Birmingham City Schools were integrated after President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 11118, ordering federal assistance in removing “unlawful obstructions of justice in the State of Alabama.”

Nine years after the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education struck down segregation in public schools, many areas of the South still resisted integration, forcing the federal government to take action. In Birmingham, federal intervention proved particularly necessary.

Birmingham was no stranger to the civil rights movement. Four months earlier, the Birmingham Campaign had ended in victory after local officials agreed to desegregate downtown stores and release jailed demonstrators. Schoolchildren had taken an active part in the movement, marching in the Children’s Crusade.

But despite the success of the Birmingham Campaign in integrating certain facilities, the city schools were still segregated. The Fifth Circuit Court in mid-1963, deciding that the Board of Education had operated a race-based segregated school system, ordered the School Board to submit a desegregation plan by August 19, 1963—a plan which came to be known as the “Freedom of Choice Plan.” Under the plan, approved immediately by a district court judge, students were supposed to choose which school to attend.

The new plan did not end the desegregation controversy. Violence broke out in the tense atmosphere as white supremacists agitated against integration. Alabama Governor George Wallace, an ardent segregationist, vowed to block integration and swiftly shut down several schools that had been slated for integration, citing the threat of violence.

After Wallace attempted to use the Alabama National Guard to block integration, President Kennedy federalized more than 200 of these Guardsmen, finally putting a stop to Wallace’s maneuvers and allowing African American students to enter previously all-white city schools.

Despite threats and demonstrations, the first day of integrated education went fairly smoothly; the Associated Press on September 11 reported no serious incidents of in-school violence that day. National Guardsmen stood by to break up any potential violence. That said, it was a tense atmosphere, with segregationists demonstrating with signs and confederate flags.

To read the full text of the Executive Order, check out this page from the American Presidency Project.

For more on Birmingham’s significance in the civil rights struggle, check out Glenn Eskew’s But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (UNC Press 1997) and Horace Huntley and John W. McKerley’s edited oral history volume Foot Soldiers for Democracy: The Men, Women, and Children of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement (University of Illinois Press 2009).

To learn more about George Wallace, check out Dan Carter’s The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism and the Transformation of American Politics (Louisiana State University Press 2000).

Three months before the Birmingham City Schools were integrated, George Wallace had also tried to block the desegregation of another school: the University of Alabama. To learn more, read this post from the LCRM blog and check out E. Culpepper Clark’s The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s Last Stand at the University of Alabama (Oxford University Press 1995).

On This Day: The Civil Rights Act of 1957

On September 9, 1957—55 years ago today—President Eisenhower signed into law the first piece of federal civil rights legislation since the 19th century era of Reconstruction.

It had been a long time coming. Civil rights activists had long been struggling for equality in every element of life from schooling to voting rights. Six months earlier, civil rights leaders had organized a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom to urge the federal government to fulfill promises laid out in the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Now, with discrimination and segregation issues at the forefront of the American discourse, President Eisenhower took a stand.

Originally proposed by Attorney General Herbert Brownell, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was designed to protect voting rights, but also established the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Federal prosecutors were also empowered to use court injunctions against those who attempted to interfere with citizens’ voting rights.

In an effort to block the legislation, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond—a man famous for his discriminatory stands against integration and equality—set a record for the longest one-person filibuster in American history. Ultimately, though, the bill passed, and went to the President for approval.

It was a quiet signing, lacking the fanfare of other law enactments—after all, Americans were already tense as they watched a hotly contested integration process in Southern schools. (Two weeks later, President Eisenhower would send federal troops to protect African American students during the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.)

The Act was only the first in a series of laws designed to protect Americans’ civil rights, and indeed was by itself not very effective in increasing equality and providing African Americans with voting rights. However, it represented a significant step toward equality, paving the way for stronger legislation to come, including the Civil Rights Act of 1960, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To view documents related to the Act, check out this page from the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

To read the full text of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, check out this page from Teaching American History, a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University.

For archival resources, check out this page from the Civil Rights Digital Library.

For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, click here. To learn more about federal civil rights legislation, check out Robert Mann’s When Freedom Would Triumph: The Civil Rights Struggle in Congress, 1954-1968 (Louisiana State University Press 2007).

By the time the law was enacted, it had been 82 years since the last piece of federal civil rights legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Check out this blog post about the 1875 legislation.

To learn more, check out The 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and Its Continuing Importance (BiblioGov).

For more on President Eisenhower and the struggle for equality, check out David Nichols’ A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution (Simon & Schuster 2008).

To learn about President Eisenhower’s relation with the media and the American public, check out Craig Allen’s Eisenhower and the Mass Media: Peace, Prosperity, and Prime-time TV (UNC Press 1993), available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions Collection.

Remembering Ossian Sweet

On September 8, 1925—87 years ago today—African American Ossian Sweet and his family moved into a house in a previously all-white neighborhood in Detroit. Within one day, the Sweets’ lives would be changed forever.

A doctor who studied at Howard University and in Vienna and Paris, Ossian Sweet spent a year saving money for a home. In 1925, he put a down payment on a house on Garland Street, in a neighborhood which at that time housed no African Americans.

Members of the community were determined to keep African Americans out of the neighborhood. Knowing he would face hostility and possibly violence, Sweet purchased guns and asked friends and relatives to stay with him for a few days after he moved in on September 8.

Although police officers were called in to keep watch over the neighborhood, mobs began throwing rocks and bottles at the house on September 9. Around 10 p.m., shots were fired from the house, killing one member of the mob and injuring a second. All eleven people in the house were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Clarence Darrow took on the defendants’ case by request of the NAACP, arguing self-defense in front of an all-white, all-male jury. In his closing argument, Darrow stated, “Gentlemen, here is a jury of 12 white men, and you are holding in your hands the lives and destinies of just about the same number of black people. It is not fair, but you are doing it, and you have got to see that it is fair.”

Ultimately, the case ended in a hung jury. Sweet’s brother, Henry, was retried and acquitted, and thus ended the legal battle.

Despite Sweet’s success in blocking murder charges, he was unable to return to his house for several years—and by the time he returned, he had already lost his wife and young daughter to tuberculosis. After renting it to a white couple, he finally moved back in in 1930, remaining until 1946. In 1960, Sweet committed suicide.

Studied in classrooms to this day, the Sweet trial represented a landmark in the fight against the discrimination African Americans faced both in their daily lives and in court. In his 1932 autobiography The Story of My Life, Darrow later wrote, “The verdict meant simply that the doctrine that a man’s house is his castle applied to the black man as well as to the white man. If not the first time that a white jury had vindicated this principle, it was the first that ever came to my notice.”

Today, the house is commemorated with a State of Michigan historic marker.

To learn more, check out this detailed website from the University of Missouri at Kansas City’s School of Law, which includes the text of Darrow’s closing argument, several illustrations, a chronology, and more.

To learn about this and other important cases argued by Clarence Darrow, check out Donald McRae’s The Great Trials of Clarence Darrow: The Landmark Cases of Leopold and Loeb, John T. Scopes, and Ossian Sweet (Harper Perennial 2010).

To learn more about the lives of African Americans in Detroit during the 1920s, check out Beth Tompkins Bates’ The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford (forthcoming from UNC Press, September 24, 2012).

Remembering Fannie Lou Hamer and Voter Registration

On August 31, 1962—50 years ago today—Fannie Lou Hamer led seventeen people to a courthouse in Indianola, Mississippi, to attempt to register to vote. It was the beginning of a long struggle.

For decades, white supremacists had blocked African American voter registration by enacting various discriminatory rules and regulations—particularly unreasonable tests that most applicants would inevitably fail. Despite voter registration drives, only a tiny segment of the African American population was registered.

When Hamer and the others arrived at the courthouse on August 31 to register, they were met by men with rifles determined to prevent their registration. Ultimately, not one member of the group was able to register that day. And Hamer lost her job because her employer objected to her attempted registration.

Unwilling to give up, Hamer attended a SNCC leadership training conference, and then continued her registration attempts until officials finally allowed her to register in December 1962. But Hamer wasn’t just seeking registration for herself; she wanted true voting equality for all.

Hostility and violence always loomed over fights for civil rights. In June 1963, on her way back from a SCLC citizenship training program, Hamer was arrested after being refused service in a restaurant. She and her 15-year-old traveling companion were beaten by two other African American prisoners under orders from the police. Although five were charged in the beating, an all-white jury later acquitted the police.

Undeterred, Hamer continued the struggle, walking in James Meredith’s march against fear and in 1968 sitting as a delegate at the Democratic Party’s nominating convention. Her later activism included not only voting rights but also anti-poverty campaigns and desegregation protests.

A testament to her influence and contributions, Hamer’s funeral was attended by hundreds of people, including Andrew Young, who gave the eulogy. A member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, she was also honored as the namesake of several institutions, including parks and educational facilities.

Hamer, like so many other civil rights activists and ordinary citizens, risked hostility and violence to make major contributions to the civil rights movement. In 1964, poll taxes—another common disfranchisement tool—were banned through the passage of the 24th Amendment; in 1965, the Voting Rights Act outlawed the disfranchisement practices that kept Hamer and many other African Americans from registering to vote.

To learn more about voting rights, take a look at this lengthy contextual report published by the National Park Service.

To learn more about Hamer, check out this page from Mississippi History Now, an online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society, and this page from Howard University. The Encyclopedia Britannica article can be found here.

For more on Hamer’s life and work, check out Kay Mills’ This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (University Press of Kentucky 1993) and Chana Kai Lee’s For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (University Press of Illinois 2000). Hamer herself wrote an autobiography in 1967: To Praise Our Bridges: An Autobiography.

For a study of the opposing activities of Fannie Lou Hamer and segregationist politician James Eastland, check out Chris Myers Asch’s The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer (UNC Press 2011).

To listen to Hamer’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, in which she recalls the August 31 registration effort and the events which followed, click here. To read the text, and to access a summary, check out this page from American Public Media.

To learn more about the freedom struggle in Sunflower County—the location of the August 31 voter registration attempt—check out J. Todd Moye’s Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1945-1986 (UNC Press 2004).

To learn about voting rights in Mississippi, check out Frank Parker’s Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi after 1965 (UNC Press 1990).

Disfranchisement began long before Hamer was born. To learn more about the systematic exclusion of African Americans from elections, check out Michael Perman’s Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (UNC Press 2001).

On This Day: The Detroit Riot of 1967

On July 23, 1967—45 years ago today—Detroit, Michigan, erupted into bloody violence. The Detroit Riot of 1967, one of the most violent race riots in American history, would continue for five days and would ultimately leave more than 40 individuals dead.

Racial tensions were already high in Detroit; although white residents had benefited from expanded economic opportunities and increased quality of life, conditions for African Americans remained poor, and police abuse was common. Detroit was no stranger to racial violence; 24 years earlier another riot had left 34 individuals dead.

On the night of July 23, police officers raided a drinking club where a large group of African Americans were celebrating the homecoming of two Vietnam veterans. After police arrested 82 people, a small group of onlookers who had been kicked out of the club broke the windows of a nearby clothing store. Looting and fires quickly spread across the city; within 48 hours the National Guard had been mobilized, and soon after, U.S. Army troops joined them.

It took five days and 17,000 law enforcement officers and federal troops to quell the violence. Ultimately, more than 40 people, mostly African Americans, died during the riot—many at the hands of police and National Guardsmen. Hundreds more were injured, and property damage was valued at $50 million.

The Detroit Riot was characterized by the same shocking and indiscriminate violence as the Newark Riot, which had ended less than a week before the Detroit Riot began. As in Newark, most of those killed were shot by police and National Guardsmen. And, also as in Newark, residents were killed in their own homes—a four-year-old girl was killed by National Guard gunfire when her father lit a cigarette near the window and a 23-year-old man was shot while sitting in his own yard.

As the violence was settling down in Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the 11-member Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of that summer’s riots and provide recommendations for the future. Seven months later, the Commission released its report, stating that the riots resulted from frustration over the lack of economic opportunity. Citing governmental failure to provide housing, education, and social services, the Commission became known for its warning that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

To learn more, and to view video footage, photographs, and newspaper excerpts, check out this page from PBS. Rutgers University also provides a thorough summary, as well as biographies of the victims and videotaped interviews with witnesses.

Sidney Fine’s Violence in the Model City: The Cavanagh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit Riot of 1967 (Michigan State University Press) provides a detailed study of this event.

Toward the end of the riot, three teenage men (ages 17, 18, and 19) were killed by police in a hotel. To learn more, check out John Hersey’s The Algiers Motel Incident (Johns Hopkins University Press).

To learn more about race relations in Detroit, check out Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton University Press).

For a study of urban poverty from the 1960s onwards, check out John Boger and Judith Wegner’s edited volume Race, Poverty, and American Cities (UNC Press, 1996).

On This Day: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

On July 2, 1964—48 years ago today—President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, greatly expanding the rights and protections of all Americans, regardless of race or gender.

The Act originated in President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 proposal that Congress develop civil rights legislation with an aim toward guaranteeing equal treatment for all Americans. Congress’s work, before and after Kennedy’s assassination, culminated in extensive bans on discrimination, building on the 1957 Civil Rights Act and the 1960 Civil Rights Act.

The most sweeping civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction era, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in public spaces, provided for the integration of public schools and facilities, and outlawed employment discrimination. It also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and addressed voter registration, foreshadowing the changes to come the following year after the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been used not only to eliminate segregation, but also to dismantle gender discrimination (for example, see Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls, Inc.) and other policies and actions that threaten equality. Civil rights legislation has continued to be affirmed and clarified in years since (see, for example, the Civil Rights Restoration Act).

To learn more about this piece of legislation, and to view the document, click here and here.

To hear an NPR story about the landmark legislation, click here.

To see video footage of President Johnson signing the bill, click here. To read the full text of his speech, click here.

For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, click here.

To learn more about the legislation and its effects, check out Legacies of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (University of Virginia Press, 2000, ed. Bernard Grofman).

To learn about the legislation’s passage, check out Robert Loevy’s edited volume, The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Passage of the Law That Ended Racial Segregation (SUNY Press, 1997).

Despite the significance of the Act, Johnson’s relationship to the civil rights movement remained complex. To learn more, check out David Carter’s The Music Has Gone Out of the Movement: Civil Rights and the Johnson Administration, 1965-1968 (UNC Press, 2009).

On This Day: Bethel Street Baptist Church

On June 29, 1958—54 years ago today—the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s Bethel Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, Alabama) fell victim to its second bombing in only a year and a half.

The church, which had been bombed in December 1956, served from 1956 to 1961 as headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). The ACMHR, a nonviolent direct action organization, is perhaps best known for its participation in the Freedom Rides of 1961; however, members spent many years previous protesting segregation and discrimination.

Around 1:30 a.m. on June 29th, a smoking can of dynamite was found against the building’s wall. Fortunately, an African American man named Will Hall—one of six volunteers who guarded the church each Saturday night after the 1956 bombing—was able to safely deposit the can on the side of the road before the explosion, sparing the building more serious damage. No one was injured, but the church and nearby residences did sustain some damage.

White supremacist J.B. Stoner was finally convicted of the bombing 22 years later, in 1980, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served only three and a half years in prison before being paroled. (Stoner, by the way, served as an appeals attorney for James Earl Ray, the man convicted of assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr.)

This wasn’t the last time the church would face fire; on December 14, 1962, the church once again fell victim to a bomb. Bombings threatened other churches within Alabama and across the South—most famously the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (also in Birmingham), which killed four young girls. At that time in the South, African Americans were never guaranteed safety—not even in a church.

Today, a historic marker summarizes the history of the church and Rev. Shuttlesworth.

To read news articles published at the time, click here and here.

For a report of the roughly 50 racially motivated bomb attacks in Birmingham from 1947 to 1965, click here.

To learn more about J.B. Stoner’s trials and conviction, click here.

To learn more about the ACMHR, click here.

To learn more about the ACMHR, the Bethel Street Baptist Church, and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, check out Birmingham’s Revolutionaries: The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (Mercer University Press, 2000, ed. Marjorie White and Andrew Manis).

To learn more about the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, check out Andrew Manis’ A Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth (University of Alabama Press, 1999).

For more on Birmingham’s significance in the civil rights struggle, check out Glenn Eskew’s But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (UNC Press, 1997).

First African American Marines Recognized—70 Years Later

The name “Tuskegee Airmen” typically brings a nod of recognition from people across the country and world. But far fewer are familiar with the Montford Point Marines, a group of African Americans who in the summer of 1942 integrated the U.S. Marine corps—the last wing of the United States armed forces to ban African Americans from its ranks. Trained on a segregated Marine base in Jacksonville, N.C., the Montford Point recruits had a much different experience from that of their closest neighbors, the white recruits of Camp Lejeune. It would be seven years before the training facilities were integrated.

Now, 70 years later, this group—which totaled over 20,000 between 1942 and 1949—will finally be recognized today when surviving members are presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The recognition is long overdue for a group which—despite facing discrimination and hostility at home—sent thousands of Marines off to war. Only about 500 of the original 20,000 are known to be alive today.

The summer of 2010 marked a turning point in the American recognition of the Montford Point Marines, when a Senate resolution named August 26th Montford Point Marines Day. Then, in 2011, the Marine Corps marked the group’s 69th Anniversary by inviting Montford Point veterans for a weekend in Washington, D.C., with a breakfast at Marine Barracks near the Pentagon, followed by tours, town hall discussions, and other activities.

Marine Commandant General James Amos urged lawmakers to award the Montford Point Marines the Congressional Gold Medal, resulting in a bipartisan effort sponsored by North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan and co-sponsored by dozens of other legislators. The House and Senate voted unanimously, and President Obama signed the bill into law. Today, at 3 p.m., surviving members of the Montford Point Marines will gather on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to receive the long overdue honor.

To learn more about this under-recognized but highly accomplished branch of the Marine Corps, check out Melton McLaurin’s book, The Marines of Montford Point: America’s First Black Marines, (UNC Press, 2007). Based on more than sixty interviews with Montford Point veterans, this work gives voice to a group whose achievements have for many years not received the recognition they deserve. Author Melton McLaurin also directed a related documentary, which aired on PBS.

Click here to view a video clip from a House session in which U.S. Rep. Steven Pearce rose in support of H.R. 2447, the bill to award the Medal. Click here to read the final version passed by the House and Senate.

To read a story, and watch video footage from the day of the Congressional vote, including interviews with Montford Point Marines, click here.

Click here to view a slideshow of pictures of the Montford Point Marines, taken in the 1940s and in 2012.

Click here to view photographs of the Montford point Marines, as well as oral history transcripts and photos of artifacts.

To learn more, check out this page from the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program.

On This Day: Olmstead v. L.C.

On June 22, 1999—only 13 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. tackled an important piece of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ruling that unjustified isolation of disabled individuals qualifies as discrimination based on disability.

Two Georgia women who suffered from mental retardation and mental illness were voluntarily admitted to the Georgia Regional Hospital during the 1990s. Both women were forced to remain institutionalized for additional time, despite their treatment professionals’ beliefs that they could be effectively served within the general community.

One woman brought suit, and the other intervened in the action with an identical claim. The case made its way through district court and the court of appeals before being heard by the United States Supreme Court.

The Court argued that institutionalization severely limits individuals’ abilities to interact and to make lives for themselves. The decision read, in part:

Recognition that unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination reflects two evident judgments. First, institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life. . . . Second, confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment. . . . Dissimilar treatment correspondingly exists in this key respect: In order to receive needed medical services, persons with mental disabilities must, because of those disabilities, relinquish participation in community life they could enjoy given reasonable accommodations, while persons without mental disabilities can receive the medical services they need without sacrifice.

In essence, the ruling required that states eliminate unnecessary isolation of disabled individuals and provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to suit each individual’s needs.

The Olmstead decision, as the first Supreme Court case to involve the “integration mandate” of the Americans with Disabilities Act, set an important precedent in ensuring that disabled individuals receive care in an integrated setting whenever possible. The two plaintiffs in the case ultimately flourished under supportive housing within the community, providing effective examples of the benefits disabled individuals often can receive from community-based living.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

For more information, check out this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and this detailed summary (complete with links) from the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. This summary from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is also very helpful.

To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, click here.

To learn more about current efforts to enforce the Olmstead decision, click here.

For more about discrimination against mentally disabled individuals, check out Michael Perlin’s The Hidden Prejudice: Mental Disability on Trial (American Psychological Association, 2000).

To learn more about disability policy, check out Jennifer Erkulwater’s Disability Rights and the American Social Safety Net (Cornell University Press, 2006).

William Hollister, J. Wilbert Edgerton, and Rebecca Hunter’s Alternative Services in Community Mental Health: Programs and Processes (1985)—available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection—outlines ways in which disabled individuals can be served within a community setting.