The article is written by Tejaswini Kaushal, a student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. This article seeks to elucidate upon the motive, need, historical timeline, and the implication of the American Civil Rights Movement on American society and in ensuring racial, social, and political equality for African-Americans.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
The American Civil Rights Movement, a historical struggle for racial equality in the United States of America from 1942 to 1968, ended legal segregation and reinstated universal suffrage in the southern United States. The movement’s overarching strategy included lawsuits, media coverage, boycotts, protests, sit-ins, and other acts of civil disobedience to mobilise public opposition to institutionalised racism and achieve meaningful legal reform in the United States. As footage of the clashes stoked considerable popular support for the movement’s goals, thousands were detained during nonviolent protests. Numerous thousands more took part in protests, boycotts, and drives to register voters across the southern United States. The movement played a role in creating a national crisis that compelled federal intervention and led to the repeal of segregation laws in southern states, the restoration of African-Americans’ right to vote, and an end to legal access to housing, education, and employment.
Need of the American Civil Rights Movement
The African-Americans in the US had been denied equal rights for centuries and were being subjected to racial discrimination, hate crimes and unequal treatment. This inequality had been institutionalised and was being practised through the American social system. Such inequality was being given official permits, and African-Americans were at the brunt of this oppression. For instance, state and local regulations, known as “Jim Crow laws,” made racial segregation legal. The Civil Rights Movement arose as a result of this entrenched inequality and oppression in the American system against the African-Americans.
Objective of the American Civil Rights Movement
African-Americans in the United States were the focus of agitation during the Civil Rights Movement for equal rights and treatment. People fought for social, legal, political, and cultural changes to outlaw discrimination and put an end to segregation throughout this time. The movement was a campaign to end institutionalized racial segregation, discrimination, and racial disenfranchisement. The movement’s ultimate goal was equality, and as soon as African-Americans were allowed fundamental political rights, such as the ability to vote and engage in politics, their economic and social circumstances began to gradually improve. The Civil Rights Movement aimed to create a significant historical impact and influence political rights, which in turn would have a positive effect on African-Americans’ social and economic standing.
Causes of the American Civil Rights Movement
- The Civil Rights Movement is the result of more than 400 years of American history, during which the social, economic, and political advancement of the country was largely influenced by slavery, racism, white supremacy, and discrimination.
- Despite a constitution that initially tolerated slavery and only counted those who were enslaved as three-fifths of the country’s free population, known as the ‘three-fifths compromise’, the pursuit of civil rights for Black Americans was also motivated by the traditional promise of American democracy and by the Declaration of Independence‘s assumption of everyone’s right to equality and unalienable right to life, liberty, as well as the pursuit of happiness.
- The Civil Rights Movement was made essential by the failure of Reconstruction (1865–77), which had guaranteed former slaves’ legal and electoral rights under the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. The withdrawal of federal forces from the South, however, resulted in the cessation of enforcement of these commitments. Therefore, the Jim Crow system of segregation, implemented through the Jim Crow laws, and the denial of African Americans’ ability to vote helped to restore white dominance.
- When the US Supreme Court upheld “separate but equal” segregation, it led to legal challenges and protests against the unequal social, economic, and political system.
- A lack of voting access for African Americans was caused by grandfather clauses, literacy tests, and poll fees. Furthermore, most African-Americans in the South were unable to succeed economically because they were denied full citizenship, and many rural Black Southerners were coerced into sharecropping arrangements that were hardly different from slavery.
Effects of the American Civil Rights Movement
- Black Americans were, in many respects, better off than they had been prior to the historic civil rights victories of the 1960s, but they continued to face disadvantages as compared to white Americans in other crucial ways.
- African Americans had been given citizenship rights after Reconstruction, but these rights had been curtailed during the Jim Crow era. The American Civil Rights Movement restored and strengthened these rights.
- The right to vote was eventually granted to African Americans in the South as a result of civil rights legislation and enforcement.
- The number of Black elected officials grew along with the percentage of African Americans who voted. African Americans started serving as mayors of significant cities, and the proportion of African Americans in the US House of Representatives rose sharply.
- Affirmative action is a set of policies, programs, and practices that give a relative advantage to members of minority groups and women in job hiring, admission to higher education institutions, the awarding of government contracts, and other social benefits.
- Massive improvements in Black Americans’ educational achievement were a result of expanded educational possibilities.
- Although salaries and incomes for African Americans have significantly increased due to advancements in educational attainment and a decline in hiring discrimination, African-Americans continue to be more likely than White Americans to live in poverty.
Characteristics of the American Civil Rights Movement
Certain parties, groups, and themes played a pivotal role in the success of this movement in the US. These characteristics of the movement include the following:
Participation of African-American women
African-American women played a crucial role in the Civil Rights Movement’s success. They served in leadership positions in groups that supported the civil rights struggle as activists, advocates, educators, clergy, writers, spiritual mentors, caretakers, and politicians. Because they thought it would enable them to advance the cause of civil rights, women joined the NAACP. Others contributed editorials to the Black Panther publication, which sparked internal conversations regarding gender issues. For instance, Ella Baker played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement and was the founder of the SNCC. Female students who were SNCC members assisted in planning sit-ins and the Freedom Rides. Many older black women took care of the organization’s volunteers in their houses at the same time, feeding them, giving them a place to sleep, offering them medical assistance, and showing them maternal love. In order to help themselves and their race attain freedom, other women who were interested also established religious groups, bridge clubs, and professional organizations like the National Council of Negro Women.
Regardless of their selfless contribution to the journey, many members of these organisations lost their jobs as a result of their participation. Many of the movement’s female participants were subjected to sexual harassment and gender discrimination. For instance, despite being the staff member with the highest seniority and expertise, Ella Baker’s opinions were suppressed within the SCLC.
Avoiding being branded as a “Communist” struggle
‘We Charge Genocide: The Crime of the Government Against the Negro People’ was a petition submitted to the UN on December 17, 1951, by the Communist Party-affiliated Civil Rights Congress, claiming that the US federal government had committed genocide by failing to take action to stop lynching in the country in accordance with Article II of the UN Genocide Convention. The petition’s editor, Patterson, was the head of the International Labor Defense, a group that provided legal assistance to communists, trade unionists, and African-Americans who were engaged in cases involving issues of political or racial mistreatment. Patterson was also a leader of the Communist Party USA. Early civil rights leaders like Robeson, Du Bois, and Patterson fell out of favour with both the NAACP and mainstream Black America as they became increasingly politically radical.
Hence, the new generation of civil rights activists believed that it had to clearly disassociate itself from anything and everybody connected to the Communist party in order to obtain acceptance in the political mainstream and garner the widest base of support. Since the FBI’s concern about communism began in the early 20th century under J. Edgar Hoover, they kept some civil rights activists under constant observation and classified some of them as “communists” or “subversives.” Similarly, Ella Baker asserted that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference added “Christian” to its name to allay accusations that it was connected to communism.
The movement was too broad to be attributed to one person, group, or tactic, according to some researchers, despite the fact that the majority of popular depictions of it center on the leadership and ideas of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the work of historians John Dittmer, Charles Payne, Barbara Ransby, and others, movement studies has recently placed a significant emphasis on decentralised grassroots leadership.
Strategies and nonviolence
At the Battle of Hayes Pond, armed Lumbee Indians engaged Klansmen in combat forcefully. The Ku Klux Klan and their allies in local police departments were the most organised examples of the Jim Crow system’s use of “fear as a technique of social control”.
In the late 1950s, this violence was a major factor in slowing the Civil Rights Movement’s advancement. In the South, some Black organisations have started engaging in armed self-defence training. The NAACP chapter in Monroe, North Carolina, under the direction of Robert F. Williams, was the first to openly do so. After the Klan frightened its members into leaving public life, Williams reestablished the chapter and successfully clamped down on the KKK’s activities. Williams was suspended from his position later due to his active position in the movement, yet he continued his work with his wife. Williams is an excellent example of how he employed strategy and tactics to ensure that African-Americans were freed from oppression and that their voices reached the top. African-Americans now have more room to engage in non-violent protests without worrying about deadly retaliation, thanks to his efforts and strategic approach to the movement.
Key figures and organisations in the US Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement saw great support and assistance from activists, social figures, politicians, and organizations. The movement saw equal resistance from many social, administrative, and judicial figures. The key players have been listed below, divided into the categories of oppositionists, supporters, and institutions.
As the leader of the Senate’s Southern Caucus, Russell used his parliamentary skills and knowledge of Senate rules and procedures, including upholding civil rights for Black Americans. He co-authored the Southern Manifesto in 1956, a statement that encouraged resistance to desegregation in public education in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) decisions. He led southern senators in their opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Respect for Russell’s long service and legislative skills, even among his opponents, led to the Russell Senate Office Building being named in his honour in 1972.
Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor
American politician Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor oversaw public safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, for more than 20 years. In the 1960s, he vehemently opposed the Civil Rights Movement as a member of the Democratic Party. As a white supremacist, he actively suppressed Black people’s civil rights, notably during the Birmingham campaign of 1963 that was spearheaded by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is well known for ordering the deployment of police attack dogs and fire hoses against civil rights campaigners, including those who supported the protests with their children.
In the 1960s, George Corley Wallace, a Democratic politician from the United States and a four-time governor of Alabama, spearheaded the South’s opposition to federally mandated racial integration. Wallace quickly earned the nickname “fighting judge” after giving up his moderate attitude on integration and refusing to cooperate with the US Commission on Civil Rights’ inquiry into the suppression of Black voters’ rights.
James Strom Thurmond Sr., an American politician, military commander, and lawyer, served as South Carolina’s senator. In the 1950s and 1960s, Thurmond was a fierce opponent of civil rights legislation. In opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, he held the record for the longest spoken filibuster by a single senator, lasting 24 hours and 18 minutes. He dissented from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 throughout the 1960s. Despite having backed racial segregation, Thurmond said he was a defender of states’ rights and opposed overreaching federal power in order to refute the charge that he was a racist. Before the 1964 presidential election in the United States, Thurmond changed parties and now backed a Republican candidate who was also against the Civil Rights Act.
Ross Barnett, the governor of Mississippi from 1960 to 1964, is well known for his confrontations with the federal government over civil rights, his resistance to integrating Mississippi schools and colleges, as well as the state’s economy during his term in office. He belonged to the Dixiecrats, a group of Democratic Southerners that favoured racial segregation.
James Oliver Eastland of Mississippi, also regarded as “Big Jim,” served in the US Senate for 36 years. Eastland, a segregationist and opponent of civil rights legislation, signed the Southern Manifesto in 1956, calling for opposition to school integration in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s seminal Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka judgments. Eastland has used his hefty influence as the Judiciary Committee’s chairman to block the entire Senate from debating civil rights legislation. To get the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, Eastland’s committee was skillfully worked around.
John F. Kennedy
American politician John Fitzgerald Kennedy presided over the country as the 35th president from 1961 until his murder at the conclusion of his third year in office. Kennedy was the youngest person to be elected president and played a significant role in the US Civil Rights Movement. He viewed civil rights as not only a constitutional matter but also a “moral issue”. He also advocated for the Civil Rights Act of 1963, which would provide protection for each American’s right to vote under the US Constitution, put an end to segregation in public places, and mandate integration in public schools. President Kennedy met with important civil rights groups to go over the details of his plan in an effort to assure its passage. In order to gather the necessary bipartisan support for the law to succeed, he also spoke with political and religious leaders. John F. Kennedy was an instrumental supporter of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Roy Wilkins oversaw the oldest and biggest civil rights groups. He was introduced at the August 1963 March on Washington as “the renowned champion of civil rights in America.” He played an important role in establishing the NAACP in 1909 with the goal of achieving equal rights for all Americans by peaceful and legal means. Since the 1930s, it had devoted its efforts to fighting Jim Crow laws in the courts, and in 1954 it was successful in doing so, causing the first significant fracture in the wall of segregation with the famous judgement in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Roy Wilkins remained a moderate but persistent advocate for progressive action with a direct route to the White House until the early 1960s, when a new generation of activists tried a more confrontational strategy.
Whitney M. Young Jr.
Whitney Young frequently discussed his own stance as well as the National Urban League’s contribution to the fight for equality. The Urban League was established in 1910 to better the lives of African-Americans, especially those who were relocating to northern cities from the rural south. Along with support with housing, education, health care, and social services, it also offered employment training. The League had not been directly associated with the Civil Rights Movement before Whitney Young assumed leadership in 1961. Young gave the League a significant voice in public policy by speaking out on issues, steering his organization in new directions, and forging closer relationships with political and commercial leaders.
A. Philip Randolph
Many newer civil rights activists looked up to A. Philip Randolph and saw him as the movement’s spiritual leader. Millions of African American homes heard the message of trade unionism thanks to A. Philip Randolph. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), the first black labor organization in the country, was founded by Randolph in 1925. He put pressure on both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to mandate the desegregation of the military services in 1942 and 1948, respectively. Randolph suggested a March on Washington in 1963 in support of freedom and employment. The other civil rights leaders were able to put aside personal rivalries and work together to organise the largest nonviolent demonstration in American history because of his talent for bringing out the best in others.
Bayard Rustin, sometimes referred to as “the Socrates of the Civil Rights Movement,” did not serve as an organization’s leader. He was referred to as “an intellectual engineer behind the scenes,” and his preparation had a significant role in the March on Washington’s success. Rustin’s Quaker background and strong conviction in the idea of a single, equal human family were the foundations of his activity. He was incarcerated for his militant pacifist efforts during World War II, and from the 1940s on, he took part in almost every significant Civil Rights Movement. In addition to leading movements against anti-Semitism in West Germany and atomic weapons in France, Bayard Rustin supported numerous African countries’ campaigns for independence.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Through his leadership in that momentous endeavour, the young Reverend King was thrust into the public front during the Civil Rights Movement and ended up playing a pivotal role in the same. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was established in 1957 by a group of black clergymen who were encouraged by the success in Montgomery. King served as president of the SCLC, which spread the philosophy and methods of Gandhi’s nonviolent mass protest to other southern towns. Martin Luther King Jr. served as the movement’s persuasive spokesperson as black churches emerged to be its centre of gravity.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was a well-known and divisive figure in the fight for civil rights as a preacher and politician. Together with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he proposed a legislative amendment in 1950 that forbade the use of government funds for segregated institutions. Powell repeatedly proposed the legislation even though the rider was rejected. Hence, it became known as the Powell Amendment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally included the amendment’s provisions.
In 1942, James Farmer helped co-found the Congress of Racial Equality. By using direct nonviolent action, the group attempted to “erase the color line.” CORE adopted Gandhi’s strategy in the struggle for Indian independence. Farmer believed in transparency and accountability, and, therefore, he disclosed specifics of CORE’s objectives in advance when he started the Freedom Rides in 1961 to protest segregated bus facilities in the deep south. This made the Freedom Riders more prominent in the public’s mind. Additionally, it left them open to vicious attacks from enraged segregationists.
John Lewis dedicated his entire being to peaceful protest. He took part in Nashville’s first large-scale lunch counter sit-ins in 1960. He was severely battered by a white mob in Montgomery while serving as a Freedom Rider. He became the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1963, when he was 23 years old. At a meeting called by Ella Baker, the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SNCC was established three years prior. Younger members of the group focused on the grassroots organisation in the South because they were frustrated with the sluggish progress of elder civil rights advocates. John Lewis’ original statements for the March on Washington had to be changed because some of the other leaders believed they were too controversial. Nevertheless, the marchers responded enthusiastically to his remarks.
Robert F. Williams
Robert Franklin Williams was a prominent American novelist and advocate for civil rights who is best known for leading the NAACP branch in Monroe, North Carolina, from the 1950s until 1961. The NAACP chapter in Monroe, North Carolina, under the direction of Robert F. Williams, was the first to openly clamp down on the KKK group and reestablish the chapter. Williams favoured guerilla tactics against racial institutions and considered the massive ghetto riots of the time as evidence of his doctrine. African-Americans were able to enjoy more freedom to engage in nonviolent protests without worrying about deadly retaliation due to his strategies and tactics.
As a civil rights attorney, Thurgood Marshall utilised the legal system to combat Jim Crow and end segregation in the United States. Marshall was a huge personality who was appointed as the first Black justice of the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court justice, who was formerly a civil rights attorney, had a profound influence on American society and culture. Equal justice for everyone was his goal. Marshall utilised the legal system’s authority to challenge bigotry and prejudice, end Jim Crow segregation, alter the course of history, and improve the lives of a lot of the country’s most defenceless citizens. He is best known as the lead attorney for the Supreme Court’s famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The Bus Boycotts are attributed to having begun under Rosa Louise McCauley Parks. After she disobeyed a city rule by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the black community protested. Although it didn’t achieve its initial goals, this sparked other demonstrations, and Rosa Parks became a symbol of nonviolent asceticism in the face of white injustice. Her gesture of civil disobedience served as a model for subsequent demonstrations. More than a year later, the buses were integrated. Rosa Parks has been the face of the American Civil Rights Movement ever since that historic day in December 1955 when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. She has been honoured with the titles “the mother of the freedom movement” and “the first lady of civil rights”.
Baker served as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s crucial first advisor. She also belonged to the Southern Christian Leadership Council and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (SCLC). Baker thought that specific African American neighborhoods should be the focus of civil rights advocacy. After Rosa Parks, whom Baker influenced before she took the Montgomery stance, she is arguably the most significant female figure in the Civil Rights Movement. She primarily operated in the background but maintained close relationships with the leading campaigners, such as King and Randolph.
James Meredith, an American civil rights fighter, rose to national prominence in 1962 when he enrolled as the first African American student at the University of Mississippi, marking a significant turning point in the civil rights struggle. Meredith was first prevented from entering the university because state officials were defying a US Supreme Court decision to integrate the institution. However, after violent campus protests that left two people dead, Meredith was allowed to enroll with the help of federal marshals. Meredith only spent a short time in Mississippi before graduating in 1963. Although James Meredith is mostly regarded as a pawn in the 1962 Ole Miss crisis, Meredith intentionally applied pressure on the Kennedy administration, causing it to face Southern prejudice head-on.
African American activist Bayard Rustin served as a key figure in the civil rights, socialist, non-violence, and LGBT rights movements. In order to push for the elimination of racial discrimination in the workplace, Rustin collaborated with A. Philip Randolph in the march on Washington Movement in 1941. In order to push for the elimination of racial discrimination in the workplace, Rustin collaborated with A. Philip Randolph in the march on Washington Movement in 1941. In order to support Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership and teach King about nonviolence, Rustin later organized Freedom Rides and helped to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also worked as an organiser for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In 1954, before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rustin collaborated with Ella Baker, a co-director of the Crusade for Citizenship. Rustin collaborated with Crusade for Citizenship co-director Ella Baker. Prior to the Montgomery bus boycott in 1954, he assisted in the formation of a group named “In Friendship.” Rustin has participated in a lot of charitable missions.
Everett McKinley Dirksen
Everett McKinley Dirksen was a United States Republican who served as Illinois’ representative in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. He played a prominent and important part in 1960s politics as the Senate Minority Leader for a decade, until he died in 1969. He contributed to the creation and passage of the historic civil rights laws known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Frederick Lee Shuttlesworth
As a clergyman in Birmingham, Alabama, Frederick Lee Shuttlesworth spearheaded the struggle against racism and other kinds of discrimination in the United States. He originated and played a key role in the 1963 Birmingham Campaign, co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and continued to fight racism and help the poor in Cincinnati, Ohio. After retiring, he eventually went back to Birmingham and collaborated with Martin Luther King Jr. on the Civil Rights Movement despite their many disagreements over strategies and tactics.
W.E.B. Du Bois
The NAACP was founded by W.E.B. Du Bois. W.E.B. Du Bois was already well-known as one of the leading Black intellectuals of his day before joining the NAACP as a founding member. Before becoming the NAACP’s head of publicity and research and founding the group’s official journal, The Crisis, in 1910, Du Bois published widely and became the first Black American to receive a PhD from Harvard University. Some of Du Bois’s famous writings on the predicament of Black Americans and his encouragement to Black people to embrace their African ancestry while working and living in the US are among his most well-known works.
Mary White Ovington
The civil rights and women’s suffrage movements, two of the most significant movements of the 20th century, both heavily included Mary White Ovington. In response to the demand for action in the 1950s, Ovington organized a national conference to talk about justice and civil rights for Black Americans. At the first board meeting after the NAACP’s founding, Ovington was chosen to serve as the organization’s executive secretary. After World War I, she went on to serve as the organization’s chair. The speeches and publications by Ovington have played a crucial role in mobilising the African American people in America as well.
Malcolm X was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement and an African-American Muslim cleric and human rights advocate. Malcolm Little was the birth name of Malcolm X. After being freed from jail, he adopted a new identity and joined the Nation of Islam, a group that supported black independence and was headed by Elijah Mohammed. He served as the Nation of Islam’s spokesperson up until 1964 and was a vociferous supporter of Black liberation and the spread of Islam among Black people. The Organization of Afro-American Unity was founded after he quit the Nation of Islam. In 1965, he was killed while giving a speech.
Medgar Wiley Evers
American civil rights leader Medgar Wiley Evers served as Mississippi’s first field secretary for the NAACP. Evers was a distinguished World War II combat veteran of the US Army, and he worked to remove segregation at the University of Mississippi, abolish it in public places, and increase opportunities for African-Americans, including the enforcement of voting rights. He was murdered by a white supremacist.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organization having many white members but a majority of American black members, works to eradicate racial prejudice and segregation. A mixed-race organization led by W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, Mary White Ovington, and others who were concerned about the difficulties facing African-Americans, particularly in the wake of the 1908 Springfield (Illinois) Race Riot, founded in 1909. The NAACP is one of the most well-known groups that has backed this struggle.
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
In Chicago, Illinois, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was established in March 1942. James Leonard Farmer Jr., Anna Pauline Murray, Elsie Bernice Fisher, George Mills Houser, and Homer A. Jack were among the group that founded the organization. Its stated mission is “to bring about equality for all people regardless of race, creed, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnic background“. The group’s initial goal was integration, but by the middle of the 1960s, it had shifted its focus to backing black power ideologies. CORE took part in demonstrations, Freedom Rides, voter registration drives, and the March on Washington. The Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, which assisted in registering African-Americans to vote, was organised by them. An important part of the civil rights struggle for African-Americans was led by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), an African American civil rights group in the United States.
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
Black and white college students founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which has since disbanded. In addition to opposing American involvement in the Vietnam War and funding the Mississippi Project, which helped African-Americans register to vote, the SNCC also enlisted young people to take part in integration efforts. The organization had a significant role in organizing sit-ins.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other southern Christians who supported civil rights established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. The SCLC assisted in coordinating several demonstrations and initiatives aimed at gaining African-Americans’ civil rights in a nonviolent manner.
Historical backdrop of the American Civil Rights Movement
Civil War and reconstruction era in America
- The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted US citizenship to white people, and eight presidents in office had owned slaves before the American Civil War. Three constitutional amendments were passed after the Civil War: the 13th Amendment (1865), which abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment (1869), which granted black people citizenship and increased their representation in Congress, and the 15th Amendment (1870), which granted black males the right to vote.
- The stormy Reconstruction era, which lasted from 1865 to 1877 in the United States, saw the federal government attempt to establish free labor and the civil rights of freedmen in the South following the abolition of slavery. Many white people opposed the social changes, which gave rise to rebel groups like the Ku Klux Klan, whose members attacked black and white Republicans to uphold white supremacy. Some states were hesitant to carry out the act’s federal requirements.
- Furthermore, during the early 1870s, various white nationalist and insurgent paramilitary groups emerged that vehemently fought African-Americans’ legal equality and the right to vote, intimidated and disenfranchised black voters, and murdered Republican officeholders. However, the legislation permitted the federal government to intervene if the states didn’t carry out the activities. Many Republican governors feared starting a war by sending black militiamen to battle the KKK.
Disenfranchisement of African-Americans post reconstruction
- Whites in the South reclaimed political control of the state legislatures after the contentious 1876 election, which led to the termination of Reconstruction and the removal of federal troops. The last African-Americans elected to Congress were from the South before blacks were denied the right to vote by states through intimidation and violent attacks on them before and during elections.
- Southern states created new constitutions and legislation between 1890 and 1908 to deny voting rights to African-Americans and many poor Whites. Therefore, the number of people who could vote was drastically reduced.
- In the remaining South American countries of the US, the status quo ante of excluding African-Americans from the political system persisted. They were unable to cast ballots, hence, they were unable to serve on municipal juries.
- The Democratic Party, which was predominately white, continued to have political sway in the South throughout this time. The Whites had a significant voting bloc in Congress since they held all of the seats that represented the South’s entire population. The Republican Party sank to nothingness.
- More blacks were appointed to federal positions in the South by Washington, which also tried to increase the number of African-American leaders in state Republican organizations. However, white Democrats and white Republicans opposed these efforts as an unwelcome federal incursion into state politics.
- At the same time as African-Americans were losing their right to vote, white southerners enacted laws requiring racial segregation.
- Through the turn of the century, there were numerous lynchings and a rise in violence against black people. The “Jim Crow” system was the name given to the de facto state-sanctioned racial oppression that developed in the post-Reconstruction South. The Jim Crow regulations, which reinforced the practice of segregation that dates back to slavery, included signs that indicated where black people might lawfully walk, speak, drink, relax, and dine. African-Americans had to wait until all white patrons were attended to in racially mixed establishments.
- Since there were the most lynchings during this time, it is frequently referred to as the “nadir of American race relations” in the early 20th century.
- African-Americans faced social discrimination everywhere, while tensions and civil rights abuses were particularly severe in the South. At the federal level, the Southern bloc had control over significant Congressional committees, prevented the adoption of legislation against lynching, and exerted substantial authority that went beyond the influence of white Southerners.
After-Reconstruction era characteristics
- Separation based on race- Public buildings and government services, including education, were segregated into “white” and “colored” realms by law. Typically, institutions for people of colour lacked funding and were of poorer quality.
- Disenfranchisement– When white Democrats took back control, they established regulations that made voter registration more onerous, effectively removing black registrants from the voter lists. African-American votes significantly decreased, and they lost their ability to choose representatives. Tens of thousands of African-Americans were denied the right to vote between 1890 and 1908 by Southern Confederate governments, while impoverished white Americans were also denied the vote in areas like Alabama in the United States.
- Exploitation– Increased economic discrimination against Latinos, Asians, and Blacks through the use of the convict leasing system, as well as pervasive job discrimination.
- Violence– Racial violence by individuals, police, paramilitaries, groups, and gangs against black people.
Minority groups like African-Americans and others opposed this rule. Through litigation, new groups, political redress, and labor organizing, they rejected it in a variety of ways and looked for better prospects. In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established. Through legal action, public awareness campaigns, and lobbying, it worked to eradicate racial prejudice. The Warren Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which declared segregation of public schools in the US to be unconstitutional and implicitly invalidated the “separate but equal” principle established in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), was its greatest achievement.
Issues of national concern
- Outside of the South, black people’s circumstances were somewhat better. Blacks left the South in search of a better life between 1910 and 1970, moving north and west. During and during World War II, millions of black people left the South during the so-called “Great Migration.” Many individuals moved away, changing certain states’ demographics from having a black majority to having a white majority. The quick inflow of black people changed the demography of northern and western cities. Because it occurred at a time of increased immigration of European, Hispanic, and Asian people, it increased social competitiveness and tensions as the newcomers and immigrants competed for employment and homes.
- The Red Summer of 1919 was marked by countless deaths and casualties across the United States as a consequence of white race riots against blacks that took place across cities. These riots were a reflection of social tensions after World War I, as military personnel struggled to return to the workforce and labor unions were organising. Based on preconceptions about rural southern African-Americans, urban issues like crime and sickness were attributed to the enormous flow of southern Blacks to cities in the north and west. Black people’s access to housing, work, and economic prospects was restricted and at the lowest status levels.
- Many African-Americans became urbanized as a result of the Great Migration, and many started to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party. President Roosevelt issued the first federal order forbidding discrimination and established the Fair Employment Practices Committee as a result of intense pressure from African-American supporters who started the March on Washington Movement.
- Many white individuals moved to more racially integrated suburban or exurban areas, a phenomenon known as “white flight,” while many other white people used violence, intimidation, or legal means to defend their territory against black people. Hence, all-black ghettos were created in the North, West, and South, areas with older homes. 38 US states had anti-miscegenation laws by the late 1800s. There was opposition to the idea of allowing intermarriage.
Beginning of protests
- After Brown, the Civil Rights Movement’s defining tactics of public education, legislative lobbying, and litigation were expanded to include “direct action” tactics like boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, marches or walks, and other methods that rely on crowdsourcing, nonviolent resistance, standing in line, and, occasionally, civil disobedience.
- Churches, neighborhood grassroots groups, fraternal organizations, and black-owned businesses organized volunteers to take part in widespread actions. Compared to the NAACP and others’ customary strategy of launching legal challenges, this was a more direct and maybe quicker way to bring about change. Boycotts and rallies were organised to give effect to the same.
Timeline of events of the American Civil Rights Movement
1954 : Brown v. Board of Education
Black students in Virginia protested the state’s segregated school system in the spring of 1951 about their unfair treatment. Students at Moton High School demonstrated against overcrowding and outdated infrastructure. The NAACP’s local officials had attempted to talk the youngsters out of protesting the Jim Crow laws that forced school segregation. The NAACP joined the teenagers’ fight against school segregation after they refused to give up. The NAACP then brought five lawsuits against the educational systems, which were subsequently consolidated under the title of Brown v. Board of Education. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which established the “separate but equal” principle generally, and Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education (1899), which extended the principle to schools, were both found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
1955 : Murder of Emmett Till
Emmett Till, an African American teenager from Chicago, spent the summer visiting his relatives in Money, Mississippi. Young Emmett Till was brutally killed by Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam after he supposedly had contact with a white woman named Carolyn Bryant in a tiny grocery shop that went against Mississippi cultural standards. He was beaten and dismembered before being shot in the head and having his body lowered into the Tallahatchie River. Two defendants were tried by the state of Mississippi, but a white-only jury quickly found them not guilty. The choice by Tiller’s mother to hold an open-casket funeral sparked a visceral reaction that energised the black community across the country.
1955–1956 : Montgomery bus boycott
Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a public bus on December 1, 1955, nine months after Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old high school student, was jailed for doing the same thing in Montgomery, Alabama. Parks garnered widespread media attention and quickly turned into the face of the ensuing Montgomery bus boycott.
Parks, the secretary of the NAACP branch in Montgomery, had just returned from a gathering at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, where Myles Horton and other instructors were imparting lessons on nonviolence as a tactic. African-Americans came together following Parks’ incarceration and launched the Montgomery bus boycott to call for an equal-treatment transportation system. Jo Ann Robinson, a member of the Women’s Political Council who had been looking for the chance to boycott the bus system, served as the organization’s leader.
The boycott, which had the backing of the majority of Montgomery’s 50,000 African-Americans, continued for 381 days until the city’s ban on separating African-Americans and whites on public transportation was lifted.
Black people made up the bulk of bus passengers in Montgomery, therefore, their participation in the boycotts, which resulted in a 90% participation rate, drastically decreased bus income. In addition, this campaign caused rioting before the 1956 Sugar Bowl. In Browder v. Gayle, the United States Supreme Court affirmed a trial court decision in November 1956, ordering Montgomery’s buses to be desegregated and putting an end to the boycott.
1957 : Little Rock Crisis
The National Guard was summoned by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus on September 4 to bar access to the nine African-American students who had fought for the right to attend Little Rock Central High School, sparking a crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas. The nine pupils were to attend Central High under Daisy Bates’ direction due to their outstanding academic performance. Elizabeth Eckford, 15, was the only one of the nine pupils who showed up on the first day of class since she had not received the phone call warning her about the risks associated with attending school. Eckford had to be taken away by the police in a police car since she was harassed by white students. The nine pupils then had to ride in a carpool to school while being accompanied by military officers in jeeps.
Orval Eugene Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas, didn’t openly advocate segregation. Following his declaration that he would look into bringing Arkansas into line with the Brown decision, Faubus was under intense criticism from the Arkansas Democratic Party, which at the time had major political sway in the state. Then, Faubus declared his opposition to both the Federal court’s decision and racial integration. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was committed to upholding the rulings of the Federal courts, became aware of Faubus’ resistance.
The youngsters went to secondary school in challenging circumstances. On their first day of school, they had to enter through a line of spitting, jeering whites and endure abuse from other kids for the remainder of the year. Despite the fact that federal forces accompanied the students between courses, when the soldiers were absent, white students taunted and even assaulted them. One of the Little Rock Nine was suspended for dumping a bowl of chili on the head of a white student who was taunting her in the school lunch line. She was later expelled for insulting a white female student. Ernest Green was the only member of the Little Rock Nine to graduate from Central High School.
1958–1960 : Sit-ins
The NAACP Youth Council organised sit-ins at a Dockum Drug Store lunch counter in the heart of Wichita, Kansas, in July 1958. The initiative was successful in changing the store’s policy of segregated seating within three weeks, and soon after that, all Dockum stores in Kansas were desegregated. In the same year, an Oklahoma City student sit-in at a Katz Drug Store was immediately followed by this movement.
In Greensboro, North Carolina, a Woolworth’s shop was the scene of a sit-in that black students from nearby institutions mostly spearheaded. Four students from the all-black North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College sat down at the segregated lunch counter on February 1, 1960, to protest Woolworth’s decision to not serve food to African-Americans. The students were Ezell A. Blair Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain. The four students made minor purchases elsewhere in the shop, retained their receipts, and then sat down at the lunch counter and requested service. They displayed their receipts after being turned away and questioned why their money was accepted everywhere in the shop but not at the lunch counter. Other sit-ins in Richmond, Virginia, Nashville, Atlanta, Tennessee, and Georgia swiftly followed the one in Greensboro.
1960 : New Orleans School Integration
Six-year-old Ruby Bridges was escorted by four armed federal marshals to her first day at the formerly all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960. Parents entered the school in protest of desegregation and were confronted by furious mobs yelling their displeasure. This continued throughout the day. For the remainder of that academic year, Bridges was accompanied to school every day, where she endured taunts and threats on the way. There, she was taught by her young teacher, Barbara Henry, in a room that was otherwise vacant.
1961 : Freedom Rides
The Boynton v. Virginia judgement from the US Supreme Court in 1960, which held that segregation was unconstitutional for those travelling interstate, was tested by civil rights activists riding interstate buses during the Freedom Rides into the segregated southern US. The inaugural Freedom Ride of the 1960s, organized by CORE, departed Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, and was due in New Orleans on May 17.
Aiming to combine bus seats and desegregate bus terminal amenities like drinking fountains and bathrooms, campaigners journeyed through the Deep South on the first and subsequent Freedom Rides. A series of White mob attacks resulted from this. Hence, it was a failure. The imprisoned freedom riders endured brutal treatment, were jammed into cramped, dirty cells, and were even beaten.
1961–1962 : Albany Movement
The SCLC invested a significant amount of its reputation and resources in a desegregation effort in Albany, Georgia, in November 1961, despite criticism it had received from some student activists for not participating more completely in the freedom rides. Martin Luther King Jr. intervened personally to support the campaign run by both SNCC organisers and local leaders, despite personal criticism from some SNCC activists for his remoteness from the risks that local organisers faced.
The local police chief, Laurie Pritchett, employed cunning methods during the campaign, and tensions within the black community contributed to its failure. The objectives might not have been clear enough. Without resorting to violent attacks on protesters that polarised public opinion, Pritchett subdued the marches. Additionally, he made plans for the detained protesters to be sent to jails in other towns, leaving his own cell with plenty of space. In order to prevent King from mobilising the black community, Pritchett also perceived King’s presence as a threat and pushed for his release. King retired in 1962 without having won any notable battles. However, the local movement persisted in its fight and made substantial progress over the following few years.
1963 : Birmingham campaign
But when the SCLC launched the Birmingham campaign in 1963, it became clear that the Albany movement had been an essential lesson for the organization. The campaign’s first strategy and tactics were meticulously designed, and instead of wholesale desegregation, like in Albany, it concentrated on one objective: the integration of Birmingham’s downtown businesses.
The violent response of local authorities aided the movement’s goals. The campaign included a number of nonviolent confrontational tactics, including sit-ins, kneel-ins at neighborhood churches, and a march to the county government to signal the start of a voter registration drive. However, the city was able to secure an injunction prohibiting all such protests. The campaign disobeyed the order because it believed it to be unlawful and got ready to have a large number of its supporters arrested. On April 12, 1963, King opted to be among those taken into custody. But when the number of protestors prepared to risk being arrested diminished, the campaign sputtered.
1963 : March on Washington
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was mostly planned by Bayard Rustin and Randolph after they came up with the idea in 1962. The Kennedy administration staunchly opposed the march initially in 1963 for fear that it would hurt efforts to achieve civil rights legislation. Randolph and King were adamant that the march would go on, though. The Kennedys believed it was critical to strive to assure the march’s success since it was moving forward. The protest took place on August 28, 1963. The 1963 march was a joint effort of all the main civil rights groups, the more progressive side of the labor movement, and other liberal organizations, in contrast to the planned 1941 march, for which Randolph only involved black-led organizations in the preparation. The march had six specified objectives:
- Important civil rights laws
- A significant federal labor programme
- Fair and complete employment
- Good housing
- Ability to vote
- Sufficient integrated education.
The enactment of the civil rights legislation that the Kennedy administration had suggested following the unrest in Birmingham was one of these, and it was the march’s main emphasis.
1964 : Chester school protests
The Chester school protests, which took place in Pennsylvania’s Chester from November 1963 to April 1964, were a string of civil rights demonstrations organized by Stanley Branche of the Committee for Freedom Now (CFFN) and George Raymond of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP). Chester has been described as “the Birmingham of the North” by James Farmer, the national director of the Congress of Racial Equality.
In 1962, Branche and the CFFN concentrated on enhancing circumstances at Chester’s Franklin Elementary School, which served a large number of African-Americans. It had a poor teacher-pupil ratio, obsolete and inadequate infrastructure, and had never been modernised. 240 protestors were detained in November 1963 after CFFN demonstrators blocked the entrances to Franklin Elementary School and the Chester Municipal Building. The mayor and school board bargained with the CFFN and NAACP after media coverage of the numerous arrests raised public interest in the demonstrations. The Franklin School’s Chester Board of Education approved reducing class numbers, removing unhygienic restrooms, moving lessons that had been housed in the boiler room and coal bin, and making repairs to the school’s grounds.
1964 : Freedom Summer
Nearly 1,000 activists, mostly white college students from the North and West, were recruited to Mississippi by COFO in the summer of 1964 to work with local black activists to register voters, instruct in “Freedom Schools,” and establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). Many white people in Mississippi were bitterly opposed to foreigners and attempts to transform their civilization. To resist the initiative and keep black people from registering to vote or obtaining social equality, state and municipal governments, police, the White Citizens’ Council, and the Ku Klux Klan used arrests, beatings, arson, murder, spying, firing, evictions, and other types of intimidation and harassment. Even though Freedom Summer didn’t successfully register many voters, it had a big impact on how the Civil Rights Movement developed. It assisted in dismantling the decades of oppression and isolation that were the basis of the Jim Crow regime. Prior to Freedom Summer, the Deep South’s discrimination against black voters and the threats faced by black civil rights activists received little attention from the national news media. The development of the events across the South drew further media attention to Mississippi.
1964 : Civil Rights Act
President Kennedy had proposed civil rights legislation that had the support of senators and congressmen from both parties in the North, but Southern senators obstructed it by threatening to hold a filibuster. President Johnson was able to pass a law through Congress after extensive political wrangling and a 54-day filibuster on the United States Senate floor.
1964 : Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. the United States
In the matter of Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, the issue of racial discrimination in a motel was challenged. Racial discrimination in places of public accommodation was prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if it had an impact on commerce. Black Americans were not permitted in Atlanta, Georgia’s Heart of Atlanta Motel. Under Title II of the Act, the government attempted to prevent the hotel from discriminating based on race. The court determined that hotels that welcome visitors from outside the state are covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s anti-discrimination provisions under the Commerce Clause.
The Court decided that the government may forbid the hotel from discriminating based on race under the Commerce Clause in a unanimous ruling written by Justice Clark. The motel’s location close to Interstates and the fact that the majority of its business came from outside Georgia demonstrated that it had an effect on interstate commerce, which is all that is required for Congress to use its Commerce Clause jurisdiction.
1964 : Harlem riot
Tensions grew out of hand after police in Harlem shot an unarmed black teenager in July 1964. Racial disparities infuriated the locals. Then, rioting broke out in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, a significant black neighbourhood. Philadelphia saw unrest that summer as well, and the causes were identical. The riots were significantly less severe than those that would take place in 1965 and thereafter. In response, Washington launched Project Uplift as a test initiative. During the summer of 1965, thousands of young people in Harlem were offered employment.
1965 : Selma voting rights movement
Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2, 1964, outlawing discrimination in hiring decisions and access to public accommodations based on race, colour, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or national origin. The measure gave the Attorney General the power to bring legal actions to carry out the new legislation. State and local legislation that demanded such discrimination were likewise invalidated by the statute.
Hosea Williams of the SCLC and John Lewis of the SNCC led a march of 600 people on March 7, 1965, walking the 54 miles from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery in accordance with Bevel’s plan.
Once the march had begun, state troopers and local police officers, some of whom were mounted on horses, assaulted the nonviolent protesters with clubs, tear gas, rubber tubes covered in barbed wire, and bullwhips. The protesters were driven back into Selma. 16 of the demonstrators who had been assaulted and gassed were hospitalised.
Hundreds of people from throughout the nation joined for a second march after a video of police beating unarmed protesters trying to exercise their fundamental right to vote was shown nationwide. In order to avoid breaking a legal injunction, King abruptly directed these demonstrators in a different direction. The public indignation over the blatant murder of a White minister allowed the marchers to lift the injunction and get military protection.
1965 : Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which abolished literacy tests and other subjective voter registration requirements, was signed by Johnson on August 6. In states and certain voting districts where such tests were being employed and where African-Americans were historically underrepresented in the voting registers relative to the eligible population, it enabled Federal supervision of voter registration. African-Americans who had been denied the right to vote suddenly had a choice other than to file lawsuits in municipal or state courts, which seldom successfully pursued their claims.
1965 : Watts riot
Watts was a predominantly black community with extremely high unemployment and related poverty. Poor Blacks’ daily lives were unaffected immediately by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A riot broke out in the Watts area of South Central Los Angeles a few days after the legislation was signed into law.
1966–1968 : Fair housing movements
The Rumford Fair Housing Act, which was passed in California in 1963, dealt the first significant blow against housing segregation at the time. The next year, white Californians and real estate lobbyists defeated it with Proposition 14, a decision that sparked the Watts riots. The Rumford Fair Housing Act was revived in 1966 after Proposition 14 was declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court.
1967 : Loving v. Virginia
In the case of Loving v. Virginia, the US Supreme Court ruled on June 12, 1967, that the Virginia laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional. The case was decided nine years after Mildred Jeter, an African American and Native American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, pleaded guilty to breaking a Virginia state law that forbade a white person and a “coloured” person from getting married outside of the state and then returning to live there as husband and wife. On the condition that the pair leave Virginia and stay away from it as husband and wife for 25 years, their one-year jail term was suspended. The couple filed a lawsuit in 1963 after relocating to Washington, D.C., in a Virginia state court. The Supreme Court heard the case and overturned their convictions. In a unanimous court opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated that the right to marry is a fundamental civil right and that to restrict that right based on the arbitrary distinctions made in Virginia state law would be to “deprive all the citizens of the State of liberty without due process of law.” Hence, Virginia’s and 15 other states’ laws prohibiting interracial marriage were declared unconstitutional.
1967 : Nationwide riots
More than 100 American cities had riots in 1967, including Detroit, Newark, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C. A sizable black middle class was starting to emerge in Detroit among African-Americans employed in unionized positions in the automobile sector. These workers claimed that ongoing racial discrimination prevented them from obtaining certain positions and prospects for advancement. These grievances were routed via cumbersome, ineffectual grievance procedures by the United Auto Workers. Up until the 1960s, violent white mobs maintained the segregation of housing. In reaction to a widespread outbreak of rioting, President Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Major changes in public policy and employment were recommended in the commission’s final report for black neighborhoods.
1968 : Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Memphis, Tennessee’s Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot a
nd murdered by a sniper on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the second-floor balcony. After spearheading a nonviolent protest in favour of the city’s striking sanitation workers, he had been residing at the hotel. On April 11, in King’s honour, Congress passed the delayed Fair Housing Act following riots that broke out in hundreds of communities throughout the nation. The law made it illegal for sellers, landlords, and financial institutions to reject requests to rent, sell, or finance a home based on things other than a person’s ability to pay. Some of King’s followers continued his campaigns after his victory, organizing the Poor People’s March in Washington, D.C., that spring. However, it appeared that the Civil Rights Movement was moving away from the peaceful methods and interracial cooperation that had resulted in a number of legislative improvements. However, the adjustments were unable to eliminate systemic prejudice and the economic exploitation that stood in the way of true equality.
1968 : Civil Rights Act
It issued a warning that the country was heading toward two societies for whites and blacks. Prior to King’s murder and the greatest wave of countrywide unrest since the Civil War, the House of Representatives was debating the Fair Housing Act in early April. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin in the purchase, leasing, and financing of housing. Additionally, it made it illegal under federal law to, “by force or by the threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone…by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.“
Political responses to the US Civil Rights Movement
1953–1961: the Eisenhower administration
President Eisenhower took a number of conservative steps to make America a more racially integrated nation, despite this not being a major priority of his presidency. Eisenhower desegregated Washington, D.C., the year he was elected, after learning about an African American man who was unable to book a hotel room, make a purchase, get access to drinking water, or go to a movie. Eisenhower used Hollywood stars shortly after this action to urge movie theatres to desegregate as well. Additionally, Eisenhower desegregated government schools for military dependents as well as the Veterans Administration and military posts in the South. Eisenhower broadened his efforts outside of the military by establishing two non-discrimination committees: one to negotiate non-discrimination contracts with government contractors and the other to eradicate prejudice inside government departments and agencies.
The Eisenhower administration also saw the passage of the first significant civil rights law since the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was drafted, supported, and signed by President Eisenhower. The act forbade threatening, coercing, and other methods of interfering with a citizen’s right to vote. It also established the Civil Rights Commission and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Eisenhower made significant contributions to the desegregation of the legal system. He carefully avoided appointing segregationists to federal courts and nominated justices who were liberal on civil rights and integration issues.
1961–1963 : the Kennedy administration
Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s attorney general, and civil rights advocates were not always on friendly terms during the first two years of the Kennedy administration. African-Americans developed a sense of uneasy scorn for any white politician who professed to share their worries for freedom, especially ones affiliated with the historically pro-segregationist Democratic Party, due to a well of historical distrust against liberal politics. However, the covert backing Kennedy offered King and the administration’s readiness to implement racial equality measures in the wake of intense pressure from civil disobedience inspired many.
Numerous efforts were the outcome of Robert Kennedy’s fervour. Through experiences like the Baldwin-Kennedy meeting, the younger Kennedy received an immediate education in the realities of racism. The president eventually grew to feel the same concern about the issue, which led to the historic Civil Rights Address of June 1963 and the enactment of the first significant civil rights measure of the decade.
Midway through the Freedom Rides in May 1961, when images of the burning bus and brutal beatings in Anniston and Birmingham were broadcast around the globe, Robert Kennedy developed his first concern for civil rights. Robert Kennedy gave a speech to the Voice of America claiming that the problem of racial relations had made significant progress. The government was working behind the scenes to avoid using excessive force to settle the issue and keep future stories about the Freedom Riders from overshadowing the President’s foreign agenda.
By the end of 1962, the movement’s ardent support for legislative measures like administrative participation across all US Government agencies and expanded voting rights more than offset unhappiness with the sluggish pace of political change. Robert Kennedy eventually became captivated by the Civil Rights Movement, and when he ran for president in 1968, he continued to fight for these social justice concerns.
On the eve of Governor Wallace’s concession to African-American enrollment at the University of Alabama, President Kennedy delivered a speech to the nation that signaled a shift in the political landscape regarding civil rights. This speech would go on to become a landmark for the ensuing change in political strategy. Robert Kennedy visited South Africa in 1966 and spoke out against apartheid, becoming the first significant US politician to do so.
1963–1969 : the Johnson administration
Lyndon Johnson made the racial rights movement one of his top goals and combined it with a war on poverty for white people. However, the expense of the war and growing anti-Vietnam War sentiment undermined support for his domestic initiatives. President Lyndon Johnson was a far better negotiator than President John F. Kennedy, but he also had a strong national momentum on his side that demanded rapid action on moral and emotional grounds.
Lyndon Johnson combined black entrepreneurship with his fight against poverty at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing by establishing specialised programs at the Small Business Administration, the Office of Economic Opportunity, and other organizations. The Office of Minority Business Enterprise (OMBE), which Richard Nixon established in the hope that black business people would assist in reducing racial tensions and perhaps support his reelection, significantly expanded the programme.
Summary of the American Civil Rights Movement
Between 1954 and 1968 in the United States, the Civil Rights Movement was a political movement and campaign to end institutionalized racial segregation, discrimination, and racial disenfranchisement. Although the movement’s roots may be traced back to the Reconstruction era in the late 19th century, it did not achieve its greatest legislative success until the 1960s, following years of direct actions and popular uprisings. Major nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience efforts led by the social movement finally succeeded in securing new federal safeguards for all Americans’ civil rights.
All African-Americans, the majority of whom had previously been slaves, were granted emancipation and constitutional rights of citizenship after the American Civil War and the subsequent abolition of slavery in the 1860s thanks to the Reconstruction Amendments to the United States Constitution. For a brief time, African American men were able to vote and hold political office, but as time went on, they were increasingly denied civil rights, frequently due to the discriminatory Jim Crow laws, and they experienced persistent racism and violence from white supremacists in the South. African-Americans made several attempts to establish their legal and civil rights throughout the ensuing century, including the Civil Rights Movement (1865–1896) and the Civil Rights Movement (1896–1954).
The 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education by the United States Supreme Court and other decisions that followed significantly undermined and ultimately destroyed the separate but equal principle, which supported the implementation of Jim Crow legislation. Between 1955 and 1968, nonviolent mass demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience led to emergency circumstances and fruitful discussions between activists and political leaders. These circumstances frequently required rapid action on the part of companies, communities, and federal, state, and local governments, which brought to light the injustices experienced by African-Americans throughout the nation. African-Americans around the country were inspired by the killing of Chicago adolescent Emmett Till in Mississippi and the indignation caused by witnessing how he had been mistreated when his mother opted to hold an open-casket burial. Boycotts and a variety of other nonviolent activities and resistance were among the forms of protest and/or civil disobedience.
The US Supreme Court, led by Earl Warren, threw down many of the statutes that had permitted racial segregation and discrimination to be permissible in the United States as unconstitutional in 1954, marking the success of an advocacy campaign by African-Americans.
With decisions like Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964), and Loving v. Virginia (1967), the Warren Court established a precedent against racial discrimination and overturned all state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The decisions were essential in ending the segregationist Jim Crow laws that were in place in the Southern states. Modest members of the movement worked with the US Congress in the 1960s to pass a number of key pieces of federal legislation that invalidated discriminatory laws and practices and permitted federal monitoring and enforcement.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964), explicitly outlawed all discrimination in employment practices based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin. It also put an end to the unfair application of voter registration laws and outlawed racial segregation in public places like schools, workplaces, and hotels. By allowing federal control of voter registration and elections in places where minorities have historically been underrepresented in the voting population, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 restored and maintained minorities’ right to vote. Discrimination in the purchase or tenancy of a home was outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Young people all around the nation were motivated to take action as a result of the return of African-Americans to politics in the South. A surge of inner-city riots and protests in black areas from 1964 through 1970 decreased middle-class white support but increased backing from private foundations. In response to the established black leadership’s cooperative approach and ongoing practice of legalism and pacifism, the Black Power movement, which existed from 1965 to 1975, arose. Instead, its leaders pushed for the development of political and economic self-sufficiency in the black community in addition to the new legislation obtained via the nonviolent campaign. African-Americans who had experienced little tangible progress since the Civil Rights Movement’s climax in the middle of the 1960s and who continued to experience discrimination in employment, housing, education, and politics, provided support for the Black Power movement.
The charismatic leadership and ideology of Martin Luther King Jr., who earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts to overcome racial inequity through nonviolent resistance, along with the revolutionary work of Rosa Parks, Ellen Baker, and several others, are central to many popular depictions of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Civil Rights Movement was a huge success in many ways. The racial power structures that spread throughout the southern United States were undermined by several, focused campaigns of nonviolent direct action. Newsworthy demonstrations drew media attention and inspired support across the country. Despite the fact that Martin Luther King Jr.’s charismatic leadership was crucial, it is critical to remember that the Civil Rights Movement required a large-scale movement. Lyndon Johnson quickly addressed many of the racial injustices brought to light by the Civil Rights Movement after sensing a shift in public opinion. Many Black Americans saw significant change as a result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended racial segregation and black disenfranchisement.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When did the American Civil Rights Movement start?
In the middle of the 1950s, the American Civil Rights Movement began. In December 1955, NAACP leader Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man served as a significant impetus in the movement for civil rights.
What was the aim of the American Civil Rights Movement?
People fought for social, legal, political, and cultural changes to outlaw discrimination and put an end to segregation. The movement was a campaign to end institutionalized racial segregation, discrimination, and racial disenfranchisement, and to achieve equality.
What are some examples of civil rights?
The right to vote, the right against discrimination, the right to government services, the right to a fair trial, the right to public education, and the right to utilise public facilities are a few examples of civil rights.
Who were some of the key figures in the American Civil Rights Movement?
An influential Civil Rights Movement leader was Martin Luther King Jr. Another significant figure was Rosa Parks, who resisted giving up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. The March on Washington was planned in part by the politician and civil rights activist John Lewis.
What did the American Civil Rights Movement accomplish?
The American Civil Rights Movement overturned the South’s long-standing practice of racial segregation and won significant equal rights legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a cornerstone of the American Civil Rights Movement.
What were some of the major events during the American Civil Rights Movement?
Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist, was a key driver of the Montgomery bus boycott, which was a major turning point for the movement. The Greensboro sit-in and the Freedom Rides were two more significant protests and marches.
Which Acts were passed as a result of the American Civil Rights Movement?
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 were passed as a result of the American Civil Rights Movement.
What are some major judgments that were delivered by the US Supreme Court during the period of the American Civil Rights Movement?
Decisions like Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964), and Loving v. Virginia (1967) were some of the major precedents set by the US Supreme Court during the period of the American Civil Rights Movement.
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