The history of democracy in the United States has not always been characterized by wide participation or inclusiveness. Over the past two-and-a-half centuries, the nation has transformed from thirteen states along the Eastern Seaboard governed by a white, male, land-owning elite to a vast country led by an increasingly heterogeneous population.
Among the greatest achievements of the last century were the many successful campaigns to strike down long-standing segregationist laws and social practices. While such changes were ultimately enacted in the courts and legislatures, the struggles to secure them were principally carried out where discrimination dominated. As such, the nation’s polls, buses, schools, and countless other places became battlegrounds in the fight for equal rights.
The individuals represented here are just a few of the countless citizens who have worked to advance the status of women; racial and ethnic minorities; LGBTQ+ individuals; and persons with physical and intellectual differences. Their triumphs have recast the contours of society and paved the way for the ongoing efforts to bring equal opportunity to all. Although not without setbacks, this struggle to expand inclusiveness has become the defining characteristic of democracy in the United States.