The Help is shaped by the struggles of the Civil Rights movement. The end of the Civil War in 1865 abolished slavery in the United States. However, the southern states introduced a number of laws that kept black people in inferior positions: black people and white people were not allowed to use the same libraries, bathroom, water fountains, schools, theaters, train cars, or other public facilities. This separation was referred to as segregation.
Moreover, black people were forbidden from living in certain areas and working at lucrative jobs. Black people who fought against these rules were often subject to vigilante violence by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan; this violence was rarely prosecuted in any court of law.
In 1954, the landmark legal case Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka led to the end of "separate but equal" laws; the Supreme Court ruled that the establishment of separate public schools for black and white students violated the Constitution. This legal decision paved the way for integration, leading to a number of challenges to similar legislation over the next decade. The 1960s saw a number of efforts to desegregate universities and restaurants; these efforts were met with intense and often violent backlash, but were ultimately successful.