The Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Section 1983) was intended to provide a remedy in federal courts for former slaves whose rights were violated by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) or by state officials during the Reconstruction period in American history. After 1871, literally hundreds of Klansmen and public officials were sued successfully for violating the Fourteenth Amendment rights of Blacks. Klan membership and activity declined commensurately. Although Section 1983 was rarely cited as the basis for federal litigation for almost a century after that, it has been the source of much civil rights litigation in the federal courts over the last half century. Elected public officials and educational leaders at all levels are frequent targets of those actions. Section 1983 is now viewed as bane by many public officials who fear and dislike its provision that permits personal payment of damages for violation of someone’s constitutional rights.
Robert C. Cloud
See also Civil Rights Movement; Fourteenth Amendment