The landmark Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. Sullivan has been memorialized as a case about the First Amendment, but it is also a civil rights story. Through the story of Sullivan, we see how the civil rights movement gave rise to modern free speech law and how the pursuit of civil rights and freedom of speech have been intertwined in American history.
New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), which established broad protections for freedom of speech in libel law, is widely regarded to be the most important First Amendment decision in history. It was also crucial to the civil rights movement. This lecture discusses the history of Sullivan in the context of civil rights history and argues that Sullivan’s protections for free expression helped enable the successes of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.