Civil Rights Act of 1875

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was the last civil rights legislation passed during the Reconstruction period. Parts of it was overturned in 1883 when the Supreme Court ruled the Act illegal.


The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was enacted as law on March 1st 1875 by President Ulysses Grant. It was introduced by Massachusetts senator Charles Summer in 1870. The Act declared:

  • All persons regardless of color, race or previous condition (slaves) were entitled to full and equal employment of accommodations in “inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters and other places of public amusement”
  • No citizen could be denied the right to serve on grand or petite juries.
  • Enforcement fell to federal districts and circuit courts.
  • Those who break the law faced a fine of between five hundred and one thousand dollars for each offence as well as forfeiture of five hundred dollars to the aggrieved individual.

In 1883 the United States Supreme Court ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional.

The XIII Amendment relates to slavery and involuntary servitude (which it abolishes);… yet such a legislative power extends only to the subject of slavery and its incidents; and the denial of equal accommodations in inns, public conveyances and places of public amusement, imposes no badge of slavery or involuntary servitude upon the party, but at most, infringes rights which are protected from State aggression by the XIV the Amendment”

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was the last of two acts passed during the Reconstruction period, the previous one was the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The decision to overturn the act led to legalized discrimination and segregation, a set of laws known as Jim Crow.