In this essay I consider why debates over applying anti-discrimination norms to public accommodations have long been, and remain today, such a resilient presence in the history of the United States. I use as my starting point the most famous iteration of this phenomenon, the national debate sparked by the 1960 sit-in movement and culminating in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned racial discrimination in public accommodations across the nation. The battle over racial discrimination and public accommodations in the early 1960s illuminates the moral issue at the heart of the issue, the lines of argument that characterize the debate over how to define legal rights in this area, and the ways in which different legal institutions have resolved, or failed to resolve, the issue. I then move backward time, highlighting the continuities between this episode and the struggle over race and public accommodations during Reconstruction. The history of the civil rights era provides a useful framework to analyze the terms of debate from a century earlier, and it provides particular insights into the significance of the concept of public rights that Rebecca Scott has so effectively brought to our attention.