1850: The U.S. Congress voted to pass the Fugitive Slave Law, which required Northerners to return runaway slaves to their Southern masters and tightened restrictions on free blacks as well as fugitive slaves. 1950s: Jim Crow laws were still in effect in the southern states, limiting the rights of African Americans. Slowly, many of those laws began to be reversed in the 1950s, such as the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Today: Many African Americans now serve in Congress, sit on the Supreme Court, and have been considered credible candidates for president by both major political parties.
1850s: American culture valued domesticity and the role of housewives in society. White middle-class women were expected to settle happily into marriage and motherhood and to tend to their families’ spiritual and moral lives. 1950s: While more career opportunities were beginning to open for women, middle-class women were still for the most part expected to marry young, not to work outside the home after marriage, and to stay home to care for their children. Today: Society’s expectations for women have changed with regard to marriage, working outside the home, and staying home with children. An increasing number of American women now choose to pursue a career along with raising children.
1850s: The Second Great Awakening, a religious movement calling people to find redemption through Christ, motivated inspired followers to try to improve society through reforms, which often included antislavery efforts. 1960s: The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his stirring “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he bemoaned the “laxity of the church” in the civil rights movement and called upon Christians to turn to “the inner spiritual church” and take up the civil rights cause. Today: Motivated by the problems affecting African-American communities, many religious leaders have become more involved in social reform.