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menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

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Colonial Virginia Laws on Slavery and Servitude

From the earliest days of the Virginia colony, laws governing the ownership of slaves were put in place to define the legal status of slaves and their masters and regulate interactions between them. In this series of laws dating from 1639 to 1705, [...]

Congress Signs An Act Respecting Alien Enemies

The Act Respecting Alien Enemies was one of four Alien and Sedition Acts that Congress passed and president Adams signed into law in 1789. The laws were controversial in that they challenged the authority of the Constitution, specifically the Tenth [...]

Chief Justice Taney's Majority Opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford

In Dred Scott v. Sanford, Supreme Court judges considered two key questions: did the citizenship rights guaranteed by the Constitution apply to African-Americans, and could Congress prohibit slavery in new states? The first excerpt below addresses [...]

Birmingham, Alabama Issues Racial Segregation Ordinances

This selection of city ordinances from Birmingham, Alabama, highlights the often absurd lengths to which local leaders in the Deep South were willing to go in order to maintain the strict separation of races. These "Jim Crow" laws, passed by [...]

Item Type: Laws/Court Cases
Illustration of bus where Rosa Parks sat, December 1, 1955

The diagram below shows where Rosa Parks sat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955. At the time, the first ten seats on Montgomery buses were reserved for white passengers only. Parks was sitting in the eleventh row. When the bus [...]

Tags: Boycotts
Item Type: Laws/Court Cases
Congress Passes the First Immigration Law

In March 1790, the newly-formed Congress passed a law establishing the rules for becoming a citizen. Under the law, only "free white persons" who had been in the United States for at least two years were eligible for citizenship, thus excluding free [...]

Slave Laws in British Colonial New York, 1664—1731

As the population of enslaved Africans grew, colonial elites in New York passed laws to restrict the activities and movements of black residents. These laws were similar to laws passed in Virginia and Maryland, indicating that white fears of slave [...]

San Francisco and California Pass Anti-Chinese Laws, 1858-1913

The playing field in the U.S. was not level for all immigrant groups. Chinese immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries faced a host of laws that restricted their freedom to emigrate, earn a living, and follow their native [...]

The U.S. Supreme Court Rules in the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark

In 1895, Wong Kim Ark returned to San Francisco, the city of his birth, from a trip to China. Customs officials denied him re-entry to the country and detained him, claiming that he was not a citizen; because of the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in [...]

The United States Bars Chinese Immigrants (with text supports)

The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed on May 6, 1882, was the first major restriction placed on immigration in the U.S., and the only immigration law that explicitly barred a specific group from entering the country. The Exclusion Act forbade Chinese [...]