California’s Civil Rights Timeline

California’s Civil Rights Timeline
By The Diversity Employment Team - Published on: Feb 01, 2024

California has a long and complex history when it comes to civil rights and the fight for equality. From the state’s earliest days, there have been strides towards greater inclusion as well as setbacks due to prejudice and discrimination.

Some key events and figures that have shaped California’s civil rights history include:

  • The California Constitution of 1849, which banned slavery in the new state. California entered the Union in 1850 as a free state.
  • In the 19th century, California enacted a number of discriminatory laws targeting Chinese immigrants, including foreign miner’s taxes and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which severely restricted Chinese immigration. There were also efforts to deny Chinese Americans the right to become citizens and vote.
  • In 1942, Executive Order 9066 led to the incarceration of over 110,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast in internment camps during World War II. Many of those interned were California residents.
  • In 1946, Hispanic Americans formed the Community Service Organization (CSO) in Los Angeles to advocate for Mexican American civil rights. The CSO registered nearly 100,000 new voters in the late 1940s.
  • California was a major center of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Key events included the Watts riots in 1965, the formation of the Black Panther Party in Oakland in 1966, and Cesar Chavez’s leadership of the Delano grape strike and boycott from 1965-1970 to advocate for farmworker rights.
  • In 1959, California became the first state to enact fair employment legislation banning discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin and ancestry.
  • In 1975, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act was passed granting collective bargaining rights to farmworkers.
  • In 2019, Hispanic/Latinos made up 39.4% of California’s population, followed by 15.5% Asian American and 5.5% African American.
  • As of 2021, people of color made up 62.1% of California’s labor force, but held only 37% of managerial positions. The unemployment rate for Black workers was 9.3% compared to 5% for white workers.
  • In 2020, 28.9% of Californians spoke a language other than English at home. As of 2019, 44% of Californians over age 5 spoke Spanish at home.
  • California leads the nation in protections for LGBTQ rights. In 2003, it legalized domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. In 2013, over 28,000 same-sex couples got married after Prop 8 was overturned.
  • In 1994, California passed Proposition 187 denying public services like healthcare and education to undocumented immigrants. It was later ruled unconstitutional.

California continues to grapple with civil rights issues today including police brutality, immigration policies, and discrimination faced by minority groups in areas like housing and employment. The state’s diversity fuels an ongoing discussion about equality, inclusion and human rights protections under the law.

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