- The Civil Rights Movement was when many people worked together to get equal rights for African Americans, and this happened from 1946 to 1968.
- The civil rights movement used many different methods to achieve its goals.
- These included filing lawsuits, lobbying the government, and taking direct action.
- Civil rights activists achieved many victories, but they also faced strong opposition from white supremacists.
Table of Contents
Origins of the Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement started many years ago. People have been trying to improve the quality of life for African Americans since the United States got founded.
Abolitionists were already attempting to eradicate racial injustice and bring an end to slavery by the time the American Revolution took place in the late eighteenth century.
African Americans and their white allies used many strategies to end slavery and get legal equality for the “freedmen” in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
It would be challenging to achieve racial equality because it would require the cooperation of two different cultures. Unfortunately, slavery and prejudice against blacks were among the things that held the United States together.
The Civil War of 1861-1865 ended slavery in the United States. However, once the war was over, it became harder and harder for the north to make the white south change their ways and accept racial equality.
African-American leaders kept creating chances throughout the tough times. This would help support the successful civil rights movements of the mid-to-late 20th century.
Blacks in the United States faced segregation (being split off from whites) and prejudice (being treated unjustly due to their race) in the 1950s.
Segregation in the North got caused by prejudice. Black people had the lowest-paying and worst jobs and the worst housing.
Segregation was legally imposed in the South. There were rules prohibiting black people from using facilities intended for white persons.
Segregation laws (also known as Jim Crow Laws) used the concept of separate but equal’ to justify separate facilities for whites and blacks. This said that separation was acceptable as long as the white and black facilities were comparable.
If they didn’t stay in the “colored” area, black people might be ejected or arrested. Many Southern white people saw black people as inferior and unintelligent.
Brown v. Board of Education
One of the earliest approaches to stop discrimination was through the courts. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) led this effort.
This strategy was used to challenge the segregation laws in the South.
The Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling trial found that separate facilities for different races are inherently unequal, which means that segregation in public education is unconstitutional.
As a result, school integration progressed slowly. By the end of the 1950s, less than 10% of African American children in the South were attending integrated schools.
Even though segregation was now illegal, it still existed in much of the South. This was especially true for schools, but it also applied to other public facilities like swimming pools, buses, movie theatres, and lunch counters.
The Supreme Court decision was a significant victory for civil rights. However, white supremacists in the South pledged to do everything to stop desegregation.
However, the federal government had to make sure the ruling was enforced. The pace of civil rights protests increased sharply in response to the Supreme Court’s decision.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks was a secondary school graduate. Parks was involved in her local NAACP, and she was a registered voter in Montgomery, Alabama.
On December 1, 1955, Parks got employed as a seamstress at a local department store. That afternoon, she rode home from work on the bus. She sat in the first row of the “colored section” of seats between the “white” and “black” sections.
The driver asked Parks to give up her seat to another white person boarding the bus, and Parks refused and got arrested.
Rosa was fined $10 for breaking the law, plus $4 for court costs. She was put in jail too.
The Montgomery Improvement Association got formed to organize a boycott of the city bus system by the black community.
Some people in Montgomery turned to a new person, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., to help stop rivalries among local leaders.
Martin Luther King Jr.
King was 26 years old when he became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He had been born to lead.
Martin Luther King, Jr. organized a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, to end racial segregation on the buses.
King began his rise to national and international prominence during the boycott.
King drew on his study of nonviolent civil disobedience in the teachings of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi to deliver a message of nonviolent protest against racial injustice.
On the boycott’s first day, King said to a crowd of more than 5,000 black citizens:
“There comes a time when people get tired…. tired of being segregated and humiliated… If you will protest courageously and yet with dignity and Christian love… historians will have to pause and say, ‘there lived a great people—a black people—who injected a new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.’ This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.”
Under King’s leadership, boycotters organized carpools. The city got forced to pay a heavy price for its segregationist ways through nonviolent direct political action taken by people using cars, horses, and even walking.
In November 1956, the United States Supreme Court rejected the city’s final appeal to keep bus segregation in place. This meant that bus segregation in Montgomery ended.
The civil rights movement continued to fight for equality after gaining strength from their previous successes.
Little Rock Central High School
In 1957, a federal court ordered that the public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, integrate.
Nine African American students were selected to attend Central High School, but Governor Orval Faubus blocked them from entering the school.
President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to enforce the court order. Nine black students got escorted to class.
When several African-American teenagers arrived at Central, they got met by a vicious white mob. The parents jeered the students and the federal marshals who protected them.
In November 1960, four African-American girls also integrated Frantz Elementary School. This was an important event because these students could attend a school where they did not get segregated from the other children. This was an important step in the fight for equality and education for all people
Sit-ins and Protests
In February 1960, four African American college students sat down at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in North Carolina and asked to get served.
The students who were refused service at the restaurant refused to leave their seats. More than 50 students volunteered to continue the sit-in within days, and the movement spread to other college campuses within weeks.
In early 1960, there were protests all across the South. Young people joined these protests, which happened in about 65 different cities in 12 states.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
On August 28, 1963, 250,000 people gathered in Washington, DC, to demonstrate in favor of full civil, political, and economic rights for African Americans.
The March on Washington was one of the largest demonstrations in United States history that advocated for human rights. This event showed the power of nonviolent direct action.
The march began at the Washington Monument and ended at the Lincoln Memorial. Representatives from many organizations gave speeches there.
The March on Washington brought together numerous diverse civil rights organizations, labor unions, and religious congregations, which included:
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
- Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
- American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO)
- Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
The last speaker of the day was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who delivered a very famous speech during the civil rights movement.
This speech is known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. In it, he envisioned a world where people were judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
After many years of people fighting for it, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination and segregation in education, public facilities, jobs, and housing.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped create the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This commission helps to make sure that people get hired fairly.
The act also established the Community Relations Service, and this service helps communities with civil rights issues.
The bill also authorized the US Office of Education to provide money to struggling communities to get rid of segregated public schools.
Black Power began as a movement to improve the lives of black people. The movement emphasized racial pride, economic empowerment, and the creation of political and cultural institutions.
During this era, many people started to demand more Black history courses. They also began to embrace African culture more and express themselves, which showed African Americans’ realities.
Malcolm X was a very influential thinker who helped start the Black Power movement.
Malcolm X inspired other leaders like Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party.
The Black Panther Party was a black self-defense militia and a service provider for the black community in Oakland, California.
The Civil Rights Movement Today
African Americans still get incarcerated at a much greater rate than their population percentage, which means that they are not treated equally under the law.
Black men are more likely to be victims of police brutality than people of other races. In addition, poverty rates among black children and families are higher than whites or Latinos.
Many black Americans suffer from poor access to social services and systemic inequalities in institutions like public education. This is often because many popular depictions of African Americans get based on stereotypes.
Even though the Civil Rights Movement was successful, there is still more work to achieve full equality.
Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter is an international social movement that started in the United States in 2013. The goal of this movement is to fight racism and anti-black violence, especially police brutality.
This system works by making sure that society values the lives of black people as much as it respects the lives of white people.
The Black Lives Matter demonstrations peaked on June 6, 2020, when half a million people gathered in 550 cities across the United States.
Millions of people in the United States have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others.