The History and Impact of Civil Rights in Idaho

The History and Impact of Civil Rights in Idaho
By The Diversity Employment Team - Published on: Feb 03, 2024

The History of Civil Rights in Idaho

Idaho has a rich history of civil rights, often overshadowed by select events that have put a negative stigma on the state. The Idaho Black History Museum, located in Boise’s Julia Davis Park, is housed in the first African American church in Boise, the St. Paul Baptist Church. This museum showcases the history of Idaho’s civil rights movement, which was progressive for its time. Notably, Idaho passed a civil rights law three years before the U.S. did. In the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan increased its activity in Idaho, forcing more than 300 blacks to leave the state, Pocatello’s first black policeman stood strong. In response, the Idaho Legislature made it unlawful to wear masks in public. In 1952, Idaho civil rights groups worked to overturn YMCA policies that prohibited blacks from joining. That same year, Reginald Reeves became the first black person to graduate from the University of Idaho’s law school. By 1964, Pocatello resident Dorthy Johnson became the first black woman to win the title of Miss Idaho.

Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in Idaho

Phillip Thompson, the Board president and director of the Idaho Black History Museum, is a notable figure in Idaho’s civil rights history. His great-great-grandfather built the St. Paul Baptist Church in 1921. Thompson’s grandmother, Dorothy Buckner, played a pivotal role in the passage of Idaho’s first civil rights bill in 1961.

Landmark Civil Rights Cases in Idaho

The state’s early adoption of a civil rights law, three years before the U.S., and its proactive measures against the Ku Klux Klan are testaments to its commitment to civil rights.

The Impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Idaho

The civil rights movement had a profound impact on Idaho. While much of the country was embroiled in racial injustice and hatred, Idaho showcased milestones that set it apart. However, the state’s reputation began to tarnish in the early 1970s with the establishment of the Aryan Nations in North Idaho and the Ruby Ridge standoff in 1992. These incidents fueled negative stereotypes about Idaho. In response, Idahoans launched campaigns like “Idaho is Too Great for Hate.” Over the last 20 years, there has been a shift towards more inclusiveness in the state.

The Challenges of Maintaining Civil Rights in Idaho

Maintaining civil rights in Idaho has not been without challenges. The establishment of the Aryan Nations and the Ruby Ridge standoff are examples of incidents that have tested the state’s commitment to civil rights. Moreover, isolated incidents, such as vandalism to the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial and threats against young refugee soccer players, have posed challenges. However, the majority of Idahoans have shown resilience and commitment to upholding civil rights, emphasizing the importance of community response over isolated incidents.

Idaho’s history and commitment to civil rights are both rich and complex. While the state has faced challenges, its progressive stance on civil rights and the efforts of its leaders have paved the way for a more inclusive future.

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