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The Early 1960s and Civil Rights Essay

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Updated: Apr 29th, 2021

In the early years of the 1960s, Civil Rights activists in Mississippi and Alabama played a crucial role in the Civil Rights movement. What were the key events of those first few years of the early 1960s? Who were the leaders of the movement? What did they accomplish and did they suffer any setbacks?

The 1960s saw a significant societal shift in the Civil Rights movement, which built upon the political foundations of the 1950s and experienced exponential momentum. The most prominent leader was Martin Luther King Jr., a reverend who collectively with 100 other religious leaders founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It encouraged passive and nonviolent resistance to prevalent segregation, particularly in the Southern United States.

Churches and religious groups often became the foundation of the Civil Rights crusades in the region during the 1960s. However, black students also became active participants in the movement by attempting to challenge segregation in educational institutions. A notable event occurred in Greensboro, NC, where black students staged a sit-down at “white only” lunch counters. This led to massive protests from both sides and boycotts of businesses. Eventually, the government, under pressure, had to desegregate the lunch area (Moss and Thomas 2012, 108).

This inspired a range of activism across the South, particularly in educational institutions. An African American student, James Meredith, was able to enroll into an all-white University of Mississippi through a Supreme Court order. After defiance from the authorities, President Kennedy ordered federal marshals to the university, which sparked massive riots from the mostly white local populations. The Army had to be called in to maintain order in the area and protect Meredith.

Another large Civil Rights movement was known as the Freedom Riders that sought to desegregate public transportation in the South. These groups of travelers purposefully entered segregated bus terminals, local facilities, and sat in the “all-white” section of the bus, especially after the famous incident with the activist Rosa Parks. Freedom Riders were supported by various Civil Rights organizations and even the government entities such as CORE. However, they commonly faced abuse and extreme violence, as occurred in Montgomery in May of 1961 when passengers were severely beaten as they exited the bus (Moss and Thomas 2012, 109).

Certain Southern cities such as Birmingham, Alabama were extremely segregated. Despite African Americans making 40% of the population, only 10% were allowed to vote due to draconic and unfair laws targeted at black voter suppression (Moss and Thomas 2012, 110). There were systemic discrimination and abuse, which made Alabama a battleground state for Civil Rights. Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Shuttlesworth led peaceful demonstrations in Birmingham to protest segregation Overall, the journey for various Civil Rights leaders and movements was difficult as they faced violence and strong opposition from the white population.

However, in collaboration with the federal government and President Kennedy, they were able to achieve recognition. A massive rally in Washington D.C. where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech served as a key step to uniting the nation and guaranteeing fundamental rights for African Americans.

How did Kennedy’s policies represent a shift from Eisenhower’s conservatism to a more liberal view of government’s role in American life? Cite economic, social, and political examples

John Kennedy ran his election and subsequent presidency on the platform of liberal ideals, challenging the status quo, and achieving breakthroughs for American society in all aspects of progress and development. In his inaugural address, Kennedy reflected on the “edge of a new frontier” that America was facing, entering a technological revolution, a fight for freedom, and establishing itself as a global power. Unlike Eisenhower, he did not seek to pursue the policy of war, terror, and delving into problems affecting the world. Kennedy held a very positive and enlightened belief that union should be achieved through progress, in space, arts, and commerce (“John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address (1961)”).

For social aspects, Kennedy enacted the New Frontier program which introduced reforms to medical and immigration policies. He wanted to expand the welfare state but would often face resilience from conservative pundits in Congress. Despite several setbacks, he was able to enact several policies such as supporting rurally depressed areas, minimum wage, and unemployment (Moss and Thomas 2012, 107). This differed significantly from the approach taken by Eisenhower who did not believe that the government should actively participate in economic or welfare aspects, but rather encourage private and non-profit organizations to focus on these issues.

The American economy was experiencing a downturn as Kennedy came into office. He sought to cooperate with business leaders and corporations but was often met with refusal. Kennedy was pragmatic and wanted to see the economy prosper. However, when steel companies began to raise prices, he engaged the government to create pressure on the industry for them to lower their prices. Furthermore, Kennedy proposed a purposefully unbalanced budget to stimulate economic growth (Moss and Thomas 2012, 107).

This was radically different from the conservative Eisenhower that dedicated his economic policy to carefully balancing the budget and practicing a more laissez-faire approach with businesses. Politically, Kennedy was often burdened and limited by conservative alliances in Congress and faced criticism on his decisions as well as beliefs. Despite his iconic status, Kennedy was a controversial President which led to his assassination later on. However, his pragmatism and charm allowed him to competently focus on issues and cooperate with the Republican party to execute his initiatives, particularly in foreign policy.

Based on standards of the 1960s, John F. Kennedy was moderately liberal with a few conservative tendencies which appealed to a wide range of voters. He was popular amongst young Americans that resented the conservative authority of the Eisenhower administration while appealing to religious groups by being the first openly Catholic President of the United States. Kennedy was able to navigate sensitive issues in a manner that let society develop at a natural rate but interfering with government oversight when it was necessary.


Moss, George D., and Evan A. Thomas. Moving on: The American People Since 1945 (5th ed.). London: Pearson, 2012.

(1961).” Pearson Myhistorylab. Web.

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