The civil rights movement marked the period in American history when African-Americans vehemently fought against white supremacists to demand full legal equality. Prior to the civil rights movement, people of color faced discrimination in employment, housing, education, and transportation in the US, particularly in the South.
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Consequently, segregation became a major barrier to unity throughout the Americas during the mid-1950s and 1960s. African-Americans mounted resistant but non-violent campaigns to end racial discrimination with outright strategies such as freedom rides, sit-ins, civil disobedience campaigns, non-violent protests, marches, boycotts, and demonstrations and rallies,” which received national and international recognition as the media aired the tribulations to end racial inequity in America.
In addition, they challenged anti-discrimination legislations through courts of law. This paper will extensively analyze why the “Civil Rights Movement” is considered the most successful and important movement in American history in addition, the paper will ardently explain how the rights movement impacted US history and the lessons we can learn from these freedom movement of the 1960s.
The paper will briefly narrate the major events encountered during the civil rights movement and examine the views of African-Americans and white supremacists. Finally, the paper will look at both the positive and negative achievements of the civil rights movements including an assessment of how the rights movement continues to influence the socio-economic and political aspects of the American society and a brief justification why these changes ought to be considered the most pertinent to emerge during the 21st century.
The history of civil rights movement dates back to the late 19th century when the concept of segregation was born due to deficiency of slaves after the American Civil War. In the South, Majority of the blacks faced absolute discrimination in schools, hospitals and other public places after state legislatures enacted unequal laws famously called ‘black codes’ that sternly curtailed the rights of African-Americans.
These laws severely limited property ownership rights by blacks for example; it was illegal for African-Americans to rent properties in towns and cities. Also during the 19th century even government enacted rules segregating white and black schools, courts, and juries. Ultimately, these laws effectively prevented blacks from sharing the American dream with the whites.
In fact, the blacks’ opposition to segregation laws began during World War I when they started migrating in large numbers from the South to the North. These migration continued through the 1930s and eventually peaked in the 1940s and 50s. After World War II, African-Americans began agitating for reforms to streamline America’s legal and constitutional structure and other measures aimed at ending racial discrimination.
The massive migration of blacks from the South to the North altered the demographic patterns of African-Americans in Northern towns and cities. Many blacks became increasingly urbanized during the second half of the 20th century because their principal objective was to look for better employment opportunities, better schools for their children and to find an environment where they could receive equal treatment with the whites.
The civil rights movement sought for and successfully restored citizenship rights for blacks as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. In fact, “there wasn’t any social and political movement of the 20th century that had a profound effect on America’s legal and political institutions compared to the civil rights movements of the 1960s” (Brenda 56).
In addition, the movement significantly changed the relationship between the state and the federal government since they leaped major achievements including suffrage rights and educational rights for the blacks.
The civil rights movement had profound impacts on the US for instance; state policies and government laws were challenged in the courts. In several occasions, the federal government was forced to intervene and enforce its laws in order to protect black citizens for example; President Dwight Eisenhower was forced to send troops to Central High School to enforce the federal court order demanding non-discrimination in public schools when the state governor defied the court’s ruling and sent black students away.
In addition, the civil rights movement reinvigorated the American justice system as the guardian of constitutional liberties against majority power. Ultimately, the civil rights movements redefined the existing “conceptions of the nature of civil rights and the role of the federal government in safeguarding these rights” (Foner 15).
Most importantly, the civil rights movements secured constitutional amendments that prohibited slavery and re-established the citizen status for African-Americans and other legislations grounded on these amendments such as the 1954 Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown lawsuit clearly demonstrated to the movement’s activists that the litigation strategy employed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) could as well undermine the supremacists’ practices prevalent in the South if blacks boldly stood up and said no to racial discrimination. As a result, this led to the emergence of other organizations ready to oppose state policies and laws undermining the rights of blacks.
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In reality, these legal changes brought numerous opportunities for women, disabled people, and other minority groups who had been discriminated against for a long time.
However, these changes did not come on a silver platter because even after he court ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional, rights activists still had to press the government to enforce the ruling and to extend its principles to other areas such as hospitals, taverns, and in the transport sector. Thus, throughout the 50s and 60s, the rights movements, through NCAAP and other organizations sponsored several lawsuits, which sought to broaden social changes in the American society.
Apart from the Brown case, Rosa Parks initiated another major event in the civil rights movements in the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. Parks was jailed because she refused to give up her seat to a white passengers leading to the city’s bus boycott by blacks that lasted for more than one year.
Her courageous act and subsequent boycott demonstrated the inherent unity and determination of African-Americans resulting in the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; a clergy led organization that advocated for civil rights for blacks. Three years later, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed with the aim of ending segregation at lunch counters, a culture that had dominated American taverns and canteens for a long time.
The most profound campaign of the civil rights movement came in 1963 when SCLC launched an intense campaign in Birmingham that eventually culminated in the March to Washington, which attracted more than 250,000 protestors. These demonstrations received significant media coverage, which eventually forced President John F. Kennedy to call upon Congress to pass the civil rights legislation.
Despite the fact that white conservatives vehemently opposed the rising protests, the spirit of the rights activists especially from their leader Martin Luther King Jr. ensured that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The act prohibited segregation in public places and outlawed racial discrimination in schools and work places. On the other hand, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee vehemently demanded voting rights and emphasized on black voter registration and an end to segregation laws.
Eventually, President Lyndon B. Johnson heeded the rights activists’ call and he ratified the new voting laws in 1965 that significantly increased the number of southern black voters. In essence, the suffrage rights for African-Americans represented an important step since it gave them the democratic right to elect leaders who could advance their cause.
Nevertheless, it is imperative to understand that that during these non-violent protests several rights participants were injured and some lost their lives as they sought their constitutional rights. White supremacists used the courts to stop protests but demonstrators defied court orders and proceeded with protests.
Sometimes opposing sides formed organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, which terrorized pro-rights leaders. Towards the end of the 60s, the civil rights movement groups faced opposing challenges from newly formed militant organizations particularly the Black Panther’s Party.
Moreover, a few rights proponents regarded the rights reforms as inadequate because they believed they did not address other equally pertinent problems such as the number of rising poor blacks. Rigorous government suppression and multiple assassinations of the civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X saw the rights movements’ protests decline towards the end of the 60s.
Nevertheless, the rights movement struggles left an indelible mark on America. Five decades later, the achievements realized by the civil rights movement continue to influence today’s socio-economic and political aspects in the American society. For example, explicit forms of racial discrimination and segregation ended and today African-Americans attend same schools with the whites.
Like other movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, the civil rights movement transformed US democracy as blacks began dominating political offices and in fact, today President Barrack Obama, an African-American heads the US. In addition, women and other minority groups immensely benefited from the civil rights movement and today women head high profile jobs in American politics.
The changes realized by the civil rights movement have been vital in remaking America as the beacon of democracy and a hub for the respect of human rights. Whereas racial discrimination is behind us, other equally important “milestones in civil rights laws are on our books for purposes of regulating equal access to public facilities, equal justice, equal housing, educational, and employment opportunities” (Isserman and Kazim 52).
In conclusion, the paper has extensively described how the civil rights movements ended racial discrimination and segregation in America. It has also analyzed why the “Civil Rights Movement” is considered the most successful and important movement in American history, besides the paper has ardently explained how the rights movement influenced US history and the lessons both present and future generations can learn from these movement.
The paper has narrated how the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Birmingham and Washington marches contributed towards the liberation of African-Americans. Finally, the paper has looked at both the positive and negative achievements of the civil rights movements and assed how the rights movement continues to influence the socio-economic and political aspects in the American society.
Brenda Gayle Plummer. Rising Wind: Black Americans and US Foreign Affairs, 1935-1960 Chapel Hill, 1996.
Foner Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History, Vol. 2, Second Seagull Edition Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc., 2008.
Isserman Maurice & Kazin Michael. America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, Third Edition New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.