American history, and the development of American cultural identities, cannot adequately be explained without a thorough discussion of racial discrimination. The following is an overview some notorious, and notable, events.
The Naturalization Act of 1798 required that applicants for US citizenship live in America for five years prior to date of application and required fourteen years in the US before the application could be approved.
In 1823, the US Supreme Court decided in Johnson v. M'Intosh that Native Americans merely held the right of occupancy to their land, and could not convey title to any party other than the US. US President Andrew Jackson equated Native Americans to children and considered their relocation under the Indian Removal Act of 1830 as necessary for their well-being. One particular relocation effort, the 1838 Trail of Tears, resulted in the deaths of approximately 8,000 Cherokee Indians and African-Americans. In 1851, Congress passed the first Indian Appropriations Act, which created a reservation for Native Americans in the Oklahoma Territory.
After the 1848 Mexican-American War, Mexicans faced discrimination. Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded 500,000 square miles to the US in return for $15 million and US citizenship for Mexicans within that territory. An amendment to the treaty granted Congress the option to determine when citizenship should be offered to Mexicans. Mexicans have encountered discrimination from society at large.
The Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision reinforced the legality of racial discrimination by holding that African-Americans were ineligible to become US citizens. Racial discrimination persisted after the end of the Civil War. State governments in the South passed "Black Codes," some of which required African-Americans to sign mandatory labor contracts and denied them the right to vote or serve on a jury.
In 1867, the US Congress passed the First Reconstruction Act over the veto of President Andrew Johnson. The Act required all former Confederate States to adopt the Fourteenth Amendment, submit new state constitutions to Congress for approval, and grant voting rights to black males. When the federal government lifted the military occupation in 1877 and formally ended Reconstruction, blacks continued to encounter legal and social racial discrimination.
During this period, the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871 eliminated the treatment of Native American tribes as sovereign nations. The nineteenth century Indian Wars further disrupted Native American tribal sovereignty.
Discrimination was not limited to southern states. On the west coast, Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth century were paid less for labor than whites and lived in segregated communities. In May 1882, the US Congress banned Chinese immigration and used the Chinese Exclusion Act to place place limits on the mobility of those already in the US. Persons of Japanese descent encountered similar discrimination.
As whites regained political power in the South and West, they pushed for a new era of racial discrimination. By 1890, Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation in areas such as education, marriage and transportation. In May 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the idea of a separate but equal society in Plessy v. Ferguson. The Court stated that the Fourteenth Amendment only ensured equality in the legal and political spheres of society.
In the 1940s, the Supreme Court issued opinions that eroded racial segregation in some areas of the law but upheld it in others. The Court upheld the Fifteenth Amendment and ruled against segregated interstate busing in Smith v. Allwright and Morgan v. Virginia, respectively. When Japanese and Japanese-Americans were were forced into internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Supreme Court declined to render such policy illegal, indicating that protection during wartime outweighed individual rights.
In May 1954, the Court formally overturned Plessy in Brown v. Board of Education, which held that racial segregation in public schools deprived minority children of educational opportunities and that "separate but equal" schools were inherently unequal.