Thirty years ago, in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr., appealed to the American people to support a "constructive nonviolent" struggle to create a racially integrated society. Although legal segregation has been outlawed, America today seems in many ways even more fragmented by racial and ethnic divisions. And, despite the passage of landmark legislation in 1964 and 1965, the controversy surrounding civil rights seems to have grown, with the extension of civil rights protection to "new" groups including the disabled only creating further disputes in American politics and the courts.
It is true that progress has been made in the struggle for civil rights for racial and ethnic minorities and women. This collection of essays, however, seeks more than simply to measure the success of civil rights policy in America. Instead, the contributors ask how both the civil rights problems and the policies developed to remedy them have been affected by the distinctive historical forces that have shaped the American political culture. Written from diverse disciplinary, topical, and cultural perspectives, these essays offer readers a broad and historically informed analysis of civil rights policy that should foster reasoned discussion, academic debate, and further research.