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A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States: The Termination Era (1953 - 1968)

This guide focuses on the civil rights that various groups have fought for within the United States.

The Termination Era (1953 - 1968)

The Termination Era saw a reversal in policies from the Self-Government Era. Under this new era, the federal government resolved to terminate the special trustee relationship tribes held with the United States. This policy was captured in House Resolution No. 108, 83rd Congress (August 1, 1953). In this resolution, Congress "announced their support for a new Indian policy: 'termination.'" Facially, the resolution seemed to be well-intended, for it appeared that Congress wished to liberate tribes from federal control. However, this policy became another means of controlling and erasing Native Americans' rights. 


The main method of terminating Native Americans' special status was through relocation. In the 1950s and 1960s initiatives like the 1952 Urban Indian Relocation Program encouraged Native Americans to leave the reservation and pursue economic opportunities and lives in large urban areas. The economic opportunities, however, turned up to be less plentiful than promised. Native Americans often returned to their communities to avoid staggering levels of unemployment and poverty.

Another piece of legislation, Public Law 280, transferred civil and criminal jurisdiction over Native American communities in several states, including California, Nebraska, and Minnesota. As a result, states, who had previously been barred from regulating Native Americans, assumed the role of the United States in managing tribes in their territory. Most states lacked the history and resources to carry out their new duties properly, which bred resentment both in state officials and the tribal members whose cases they attempted to adjudicate. 

Together, these various laws and policies toward Native Americans roll backed the gains in self-governance that they achieved during the New Deal. However, things began to change for Native Americans during the 1960s as the Civil Rights Movement swept the nation. 


Selected Library Resources:

  • Thomas Clarkin, Federal Indian Policy in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations (2001), E93 .C65 2001
  • Edward Charles Valandra, Not Without Our Consent: Lakota Resistance to Termination, 1950-1959 (2006), KF8228.R67 A3 2006, eBook