African American Heritage

Black History Guide: Civil Rights

What records relating to Black History can be found at the National Archives (NARA) in Civil Rights?

Many significant moments relating to Civil Rights have come through the response of the government. As the repository for permanent federal records, the National Archives now holds these important documents, photographs, and other records.

Choose a records type to begin browsing, and click on the National Archives Identifier (NAID) to go to the full records description in the National Archives Catalog:

Textual | Photographic | Motion Pictures | Electronic

Textual Records

Record Group 12 - Records of the Office of Education

Title IV Case Files, 1965–1970

National Archives Identifier: 649950
Extent: 26 linear feet, 2 linear inches
This series is arranged numerically by project number. It consists of case files documenting the administration of the provisions of Title IV, PL 88-352, which provided money for civil rights educational activities. Each case file consists of a project proposal, evaluations of the proposal, notification of grant awards, and progress reports. The case file may also contain biographies of school personnel, information about a school district, or information about the organization sponsoring the training.

Grant Management Files, 1972–1976

National Archives Identifier: 2668681
Extent: 10 linear inches
This series is arranged by state and thereunder alphabetically by name of the institution or school district. It contains grant and procurement requests submitted by various academic institutions to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, stating objectives, methods and cost projections for new and established grants. Narratives of grantee's proposals, justification for grants, and program accomplishments are included with the requests.

Office Files, 1928–1980 [Commissioner of Education]

National Archives Identifier: 573507
Extent: 506 linear feet, 7 linear inches
This series is arranged chronologically by year, generally in one-year blocks, and thereunder by type of file. These records include topics concerning racial balance in schools, segregated cafeterias, school district plans under the Civil Rights Act, student unrest, poor people's demands, desegregation plans, urban education, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), affirmative action, Operation EXCEL, civil rights compliance, and discrimination. This series also contains progress reports, legal documents, correspondence, and newspaper and magazine articles relating to desegregation in Prince Edward County, Virginia, and the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Emergency School Assistance Program Case Files, 1971–1973, documenting the period ca. 1965–1973

National Archives Identifier: 1074745
Extent: 48 linear feet, 8 linear inches
These records were created to determine school district eligibility for grants under the Emergency School Assistance Program (ESAP), which aimed to confront needs produced by the desegregation of elementary and secondary schools.

Record Group 14 - Records of the United States Railroad Administration [USRA]

Subject Classified General Files, 1918–1927

National Archives Identifier: 7347193
Extent: 239 linear feet, 4 linear inches
This series is arranged alphabetically and numerically, thereunder, in accordance with the United States Railroad classification scheme. It contains records (file P19-3) that concerned the controversy in the 1920s over the barring of African Americans from purchasing prepaid rail tickets and the reaction of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to this ruling, the improvement of conditions for Black passengers on southern railroads, and discrimination against African American passengers. Also included are records (file E38-30) that relate to the pay of Black trainmen, firemen, and switchmen.
This series is indexed by the series Index to Subject Classified General Files, 1918-1927 (NAID 7347195).

General Files of the General Counsel, 1918–1937

National Archives Identifier: 7348223
Extent: 511 linear feet, 5 linear inches
This series is arranged numerically by file number. It contains records that document such matters as “colored” porters and Jim Crow Laws.
This series is indexed by the series Index to the General Files of the General Counsel, 1918-1937 (NAID 7348229).

Record Group 32 - Records of the United States Shipping Board

Dockets of the Secretary, 1917-1936

National Archives Identifier: 654807
Extent: 394 linear feet, 7 linear inches
This series is arranged according to a subject-numeric system. In these dockets are reports about the purchase of ships by Marcus Garvey, a Black activist who organized the Black Star steamship line and the Black Cross Trading Company, Inc.
This series is indexed by the series Indexes to Minutes and to the Dockets of the Secretary, 1917-1936 (NAID 654817).

Investigated Case Files of the Home Office, 1918-1926

National Archives Identifier: 890236
Extent: 174 linear feet, 2 linear inches
This series is arranged in two groups. A file for Marcus Garvey, 1921–1925 (#1494-15), includes correspondence, clippings, and reports about various ships. Another file, “Colored Cooks and Stewards,” 1923–1925 (#3436) gives information about the Colored Cooks and Stewards League and other labor organizations formed by Black cooks and stewards.
This series is indexed by the series' Indexes, 1918-1924 (NAID 890248), and Indexes to Files for Involved Cases, 1918-1924 (NAID 890257).

Record Group 35 - Records of the Civilian Conservation Corps [CCC]

General Correspondence [Division of Selection], 1933-1942

National Archives Identifier: 1077442
Extent: 11 linear feet, 5 linear inches
This series is arranged alphabetically by subject. It contains correspondence related to the operations of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Divided into segments the series contains information related to African American participation in the camps and projects developed by the CCC. There are a number of index cards with the heading “Negroes” and a few “Colored” in the “Precedent” segment of the index. The subjects most often covered in this correspondence are the enrollment of Black youths into the program, the employment of Black staff in the camps, and the location of Black camps. There was a degree of controversy over each of these subjects. Black organizations, including the National Urban League, wanted to ensure that Black youths were not discriminated against in the enrollment process. The letters also relate to reminding the CCC that African Americans should be involved in these projects and should not be excluded through “negligence.” Much of the correspondence about the locations of Black camps came from whites who did not want these camps to be located near their communities. In the “Congressional” segment of the index are some cards for Oscar De Priest, a Black Congressman from Illinois. The “Personal” segment includes a few cards for African American leaders, such as Robert R. Morton, president of Tuskegee Institute and Claude A. Barnett, head of the Associated Negro Press.

Record Group 40 - General Records of the Department of Commerce

Records of the Advisor on Negro Affairs, 1940-1953

National Archives Identifier: 6773688
Extent: 11 linear feet, 10 linear inches
This series is arranged in two sections: the first section is arranged by subject and the second section is arranged alphabetically by correspondent or office location. It contains correspondence and reports concerning African Americans in small businesses and reports from banks owned by Black investors.
The segment for 1918–1922 contains a folder with the heading “Negroes” with records relating to lynchings, World War I, discrimination, Black employment, publications about African Americans, and the employment of Blacks by the Department of Commerce. There are a few letters under the heading “Negro” in the 1923–1927 segment, including one from Robert R. Moton of Tuskegee Institute pertaining to the 14th census and another from R. J. Bryant about the rights of African Americans. Sections for 1928–1950 contain records relating to - the Department’s Negro Advisory Council, the Negro Affairs Section, headed by Charles E. Hall, Negro problems, Negro chambers of commerce, the appointment of Eugene Knickle Jones (former executive secretary of the Urban League) as an advisor to the Department, Negroes and the Texas Centennial celebration, publications about Black newspapers and periodicals, African American participation in Civil Aeronautics Administration aviation programs, and Black businesses, in particular banks.

Record Group 46 - Records of the United States Senate

Various Papers, 1789-1982

National Archives Identifier: 559834
Extent: 79 linear feet, 6 linear inches
These records contain a variety of documents not appropriately filed in any other series. The bulk of the records are "yeas and nays," or roll call votes, on measures brought before the Senate. Items relating to Black history include: the Cloture Motion for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (NAID 5635105), and the Roll Call Vote Tally on S. 1564, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (NAID 5637787).
Some of the records in this series have been digitized.

Committee Papers, 1816-2011

National Archives Identifier: 559828
Extent: 9,765 linear feet, 3 linear inches
This series consists of records of the Committee on the Judiciary, 1861–1901, committee papers; petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee; minutes of committee meetings, 1865–1907; legislative dockets, 1861–1896 and executive dockets, 1865–1901. Records relating to Black history include: the Petition of Colored Citizens of McMinn County, Tennessee, Praying for Protection of Civil Rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, 03/02/1874 (NAID 5637786), and the Petition to the Senate Requesting the Judiciary Committee Grant a Hearing, ca. 01/1893 (NAID 7741394).
Some of the records in this series have been digitized.

Petitions and Memorials [Committee on Privileges and Elections], 1871-1944

National Archives Identifier: 559826
Extent: 16 linear feet, 1 linear inch
This series contains petitions protesting discrimination against Black voters in elections and related mob violence, including petitions supporting a bill - S. 4252, 56th Congress (1899–1901) - to prevent voting discrimination were also referred to the committee (files #53A-J29.1, #54A-J30.1, #56A-J33.1).

Records Relating to Race Discrimination, 1941-1943

National Archives Identifier: 563308
Extent: 10 linear inches
This series is arranged by category, thereunder alphabetically by subject. It contains correspondence and other records of the committee's investigation of racial discrimination in defense industries, segregation of African Americans in military camps, denial of membership to African Americans in various labor unions, and riots in various cities resulting from alleged discrimination.

Record Group 146 - Records of the US Civil Service Commission [USCSC]

Records Relating to Participation in Voting Rights Program, 1965-1967

National Archives Identifier: 12006979
Extent: 21 linear feet, 4 linear inches
This series is arranged by subject. The Commission was given the responsibility of overseeing voter registration in key political subdivisions in the South after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The records include statistical reports of examiners, who were usually Federal employees in the affected state and who had been appointed by the Commission to examine applicants and list those eligible to vote. The lists indicate whether the voter was White or Black and literate or illiterate. Some of the records are reports of observers who watched newly registered voters casting their ballots.

Photographic Materials

Record Group 46 - Records of the United States Senate

Berryman Political Cartoon Collection, 1896-1949

National Archives Identifier: 306080
Extent: 61 linear feet
This series represents one of the finest collections of graphic art dealing with Congress and American politics from the late 1890s to the 1940s. Clifford Kennedy Berryman was Washington's best known and most admired graphic commentator on politics in the first half of the 20th century. Several of the cartoons are untitled, but there are several that depict Black history such as:

  • Untitled, 03/25/1948 (NAID 6012418) - showing Southerners abandoning President Truman and the Democrats over the progression of civil rights
  • Reconciliation, 01/22/1907 (NAID 6010688) - relating to the Brownsville, TX riot by Black soldiers
  • Record's White House Subscriber Interested, 01/08/1907 (NAID 6010682) - relating to the Brownsville, TX riot
  • Tillman - The Senatorial Brothers - Foraker, 01/13/1907 (NAID 6010684) - relating to the Brownsville, TX riot
  • A Bureau of Information, 10/09/1902 (NAID 6010411)

Some of the records in this series have been digitized.

Motion Pictures

Electronic Records