This guide offers a history of various movements by citizens in the United States to gain political and social freedom and equality. It highlights resources available through HUSL Library and HU Libraries, as well as a selection freely accessible Internet resources with a focus on authoritative content from civil rights organizations and government entities.
What is the difference between a civil right and a human right? Simply put, human rights are rights one acquires by being alive. Civil rights are rights that one obtains by being a legal member of a certain political state. There are obviously several liberties that overlap between these two categories, but the breakdown of rights between human and civil is roughly as follows:
Human rights include:
Civil rights within the United States include:
It is important to note that civil rights will change based on where a person claims citizenship because civil rights are, in essence, an agreement between the citizen and the nation or state that the citizen lives within. From an international perspective, international organizations and courts are not as likely to intervene and take action to enforce a nation's violation of its own civil rights, but are more likely to respond to human rights violations. While human rights should be universal in all countries, civil rights will vary greatly from one nation to the next. No nation may rightfully deprive a person of a human right, but different nations can grant or deny different civil rights. Thus, civil rights struggles tend to occur at local or national levels and not at the international level. At the international stage, we focus on the violation of human rights.
This guide will focus on the civil rights that various groups have fought for within the United States. While some of these rights, like the right to education, certainly overlap with human rights, we treat them as civil rights in most academic conversations. Typically, the reason used to justify a right to equal education or another human right is grounded in a civil right of due process or equal protection.
As Charles Hamilton Houston stated:
A lawyer’s either a social engineer or … a parasite on society … A social engineer [is] a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who [understands] the Constitution of the United States and [knows] how to explore its uses in the solving of problems of local communities and in bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.
Howard University School of Law is dedicated to producing “social engineers” and has proven track record of success. The words of Charles Hamilton Houston are alive everyday in the work taking place at The Mecca's law school. Learn more about Social Justice issues here.
Over the summer of 2019, Kristina Alayan in her capacity as HUSL Library Director communicated with her former Georgetown Law Library guide collaborators and with the assistance of Victoria Capatosto, Research and Instruction Librarian at HUSL Library, transferred a copy of their original guide to HUSL Library for independent development. HUSL Library's edition of the guide is accessible through our website, where you’re currently viewing it.
The following law librarians at Georgetown Law Library created the original guide that was the basis for HUSL Library’s version:
The Georgetown Law Library's original guide is available here: https://guides.ll.georgetown.edu/civilrights.
Victoria Capatosto oversaw the development of HUSL Library's edition of the guide while working at HUSL between May 2016 through January 2022, with assistance from LIS graduate student interns and law students working at HUSL Library.