Racial Equity Resource Guide


The Past and the Future of American Civil Rights

Organization: American Academy of Arts and Sciences

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The history of civil rights in the United States has always been one of two steps forward and one step back. Significant progress toward racial equality has been made and then partially reversed, only to be advanced again at a later date. Race is too deeply embedded in the cognitive and institutional structure of American society to disappear entirely. (In speaking of race, I refer to attributes and meanings that are socially attached to inherited characteristics such as skin color.) Race has been a principal organizing frame in American society since its inception during the colonial era. Although race as a social category in the United States is unlikely to vanish anytime soon, its meaning will change. Indeed, the meaning of race has changed dramatically since the 1960s. In this essay, I review the history of racial formation in the United States to place the current moment in historical perspective. I then outline a new agenda for civil rights in the age of Obama.

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