The Civil Rights Movement in 20th Century America Essay
The Civil Rights Movement Until the 1950s, African Americans had experienced discrimination in all aspects of their lives. They were no longer slave, but they were definitely not equal citizens. During the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans, along with a number of other racial groups, embarked on a campaign to change this situation.
This campaign challenged discrimination and fought to achieve the objective of equality that the American constitution promised for its entire people. It composed a number of significant groups, individuals and events to fulfil this vital objective.
It was known as the Civil Rights Movement. Significant Groups The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was founded in 1909 by WEBB Du Bois. Along with Booker T Washington, an ex-slave, Du Bois was one of the early crusaders for equality.
The NAACP published its own newspaper and set out to defeat the ‘Jim Crow’ laws. They defeated laws that segregated housing in Louisiana and helped establish the right for African Americans to sit on juries. The NAACP paved the way for future groups, such as CORE, to end racial discrimination.
WEBB Du Bois and Booker T Washington were both for ending racial discrimination although they had conflicting views. Booker T Washington believed African Americans needed to prove they were worthy of equality by becoming economically independent. WEBB Du Bois did not agree with this.
In the words of Dudley Randall (source 4), ‘For what can property avail, if dignity and justice fail? Unless you help to make the laws, they’ll steal your house with trumped up clause. ’ This presents the conflicting views that would have caused dispute amongst the African American people of the time.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was an American Civil Rights organisation that played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement. They were motivated through the belief that ‘all people are equal’ and the methods of non-violence preached by Martin Luther King. Their ultimate objective, which they are working on still to this day, is to achieve true equality throughout the world.
This inequality that they were working against is reiterated in source 3, which shows the vast differences in the African American primary schools in comparison to the white primary schools.
The African American primary school is run down and underfunded whilst the white primary school is pristine and clean. This source emphasises the difference in resources and how the African American children weren’t deemed important enough for sufficient resources. During the 1950s and 1960s, CORE participated, and in some cases pioneered, significant events such as the Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer and the March on Washington. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), founded by Martin Luther King, played a large role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Their campaign involved non-violent protests in the form of boycotts, demonstrations, and marches against the denial of civil rights to African Americans.
They initiated non-violent movements and campaigns in Albany, Chicago, Grenada, Birmingham, Selma and Washington. The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was another principal organisation of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The SNCC played vital roles in the various ‘sit-ins’, freedom rides and marches with the biggest of their contributions being the famous March on Washington.
Its non-violent strategies were a reflection of Martin Luther King’s philosophy and the methods he stood for.
“A final SNCC legacy is the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever. It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks. ” – Julian Bond. In the later 1960s the SNCC focused on ‘Black Power’ (A movement among Black Americans emphasizing racial pride and social equality) and began to broaden its strategies as they fell into doubt about the effectiveness of non-violence.
The influence of new leader Stokley Carmichael saw the group take part in violent methods in order to achieve their objectives. It faded out of existence in the 1970s.
The Black Panthers were a political militant group of the Civil Rights Movement, led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The Black Panthers were the opposite of other non-violent organisations in strategy, but the principal behind their actions was the same. They were advocates for the reconstruction of American society to achieve social, political and economic equality for African Americans.
They patrolled black communities and protected the residents from abuses of police power. Although some of the significant groups during the Civil Rights Movement differed in their way of doing things, they all had the same message to send.
Their objectives were to stamp out inequality for African Americans and put a stop to discrimination, racism and segregation, which were in turn the objectives of the Civil Rights Movement. Significant Events In 1957, just following the end of desegregation in schools, nine African American students attempted to attend the Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
They were met by a racist crowd who hurled threats and attempted violence against the nine students to the extent where the US army were called in to protect the students from the angry mob. They were the first African American students to be integrated into a white high school. The pro-segregationists of Little Rock engaged in campaigns of hatred and violence against the students. This is presented in source 4, as Elizabeth Eckford, one of the students, described her attempts to reach the Central High School.
This event demonstrates the sheer discrimination that gripped Little Rock and the kind of racism that African Americans endured throughout America. The Freedom Rides were organised in 1961 by CORE to bring attention to the fact that in the South most transport was still segregated, even though it was illegal for that to be the case. When travelling through Alabama they were attacked by angry mobs, many who were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Local police did nothing to protect the riders.
The Government of Alabama threatened to arrest the federal agents who were sent to protect the Freedom Riders.
Transport was finally integrated in 1962. The Freedom Riders may not have finished their trip, but they made an important and lasting contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. The three aspects of the Civil Rights Movement – non-violence, sit-ins, and voter registration – came together in Mississippi Freedom Summer Project in 1964. The objective was to encourage African Americans in the South to register to vote. The Freedom Summer volunteers, led by the SNCC, were under constant threat of violence.
Three young Voter Registration workers were murdered and it took three years for the killers to be found guilty.
The murders highlighted – – the dangers of being a civil rights activist – how the laws failed to uphold justice. In response to the shooting of NAACP member, Medger Evers, civil rights activists organised a March to Washington DC. Their objective was to pressure the Government in passing the Civil Rights Bill proposed by Kennedy, whilst attracting worldwide media attention. It was also the place where Martin Luther King spoke of his dream for a new America in front of a crowd of 200,000 civil rights supporters.
Significant Individuals Martin Luther King (1929-68), respected the non-violent protest that Mohandas K. Gandhi had used in India in the 1920s. Using Gandhi’s example, King advocated a program of civil disobedience (refusing to obey laws that are considered to be unjust) that used non-violent methods. King’s philosophy of non-violence and unified action gave direction and focus to civil rights forces, which in turn gained national and international support for desegregation in all areas of American life.
King led and participated in many non-violent protests and marches to challenge racism and segregation. On the 28th August, King led a huge demonstration known as the March on Washington. This is where he spoke the famous, “I have a dream” speech (source 1). This source emphasises King’s dream for America.
It was this dream that motivated him to fight for civil rights and end racism, discrimination and segregation in America. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Malcolm X was best known for his leadership of the Nation of Islam (the Black Muslims).
Unlike King, he believed, as well as many others that the white man was the enemy and the African American needed to become militant (violent) in order to defeat white racism. The Nation of Islam combined the idea of having a separate African American state as well as promoting economic self-help for African Americans.
The Nation of Islam believed that African Americans had the right to defend themselves with violence and to take revenge on white society. This is shown through source 2, which presents Malcolm X’s view on the best way of achieving freedom for African Americans.
Although Malcolm X was adamant about his beliefs, he began to believe that hatred was the only evil and began to warm to the idea of integration. He was assassinated in 1965 by 3 members of the Nation of Islam.
When John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, he promised to end racial discrimination. He appointed African Americans to many Federal positions. No other president had had done this before in the past.
President Kennedy supported the Freedom Riders, who tested the Supreme Court’s decision to end segregation on buses.
Kennedy’s Government also banned discrimination in housing in 1962 after a Civil Rights commission report said that 57% of all non-white housing was below standards. Kennedy tried to get more blacks registered to vote. He thought that if blacks could vote they could change laws and the people who governed them. Kennedy helped support the people who wanted desegregation of schools, like James Meredith who was denied enrolment into the University of Mississippi because of his colour, so that blacks would be educated the same as whites.
Kennedy tried to make white people aware of the unfair way black Americans were being treated.
He pointed out that unequal treatment was against religious and constitutional morals. He promised new civil rights laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1963 included laws to guarantee all people would have equal access to public places, equal voting and school desegregation. The act became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was a start to helping blacks and whites to be treated as equals. Kennedy was assassinated before he could see the act passed.