Question: The Civil Rights movement aimed to convince white Americans to support the cause of equal rights for African Americans by abolishing segregation and guaranteeing the right to vote. What themes did the champions of civil rights use in their appeal and why were they successful?
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954):
We come then to the question presented; Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does…. Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the education and mental development ofnegro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system…. We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal….
Among the actions of the students in founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April 1960 was the adoption of a statement of purpose, drafted by divinity student James Lawson, that expressed their philosophy: We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian tradition seeks a social order of justice permeated by love. Integration of human endeavor represents the crucial first step toward such a society…. Love is the central motif of nonviolence. Love is the force by which God binds man to Himself and man to man. Such love goes to the extreme; it remains loving and forgiving even in the midst of hostility. It matches the capacity of evil to inflict suffering with an even more enduring capacity to absorb evil, all the while persisting in love. By appealing to conscience and standing on the moral nature of human existence, nonviolence nurtures the atmosphere in which reconciliation and justice become actual possibilities.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to national prominence in 1955 as the leader of a boycott of the city-owned bus line in protest of its discrimination against African-American riders. From this time on, until he was murdered in 1968, Dr. King remained the most prominent African-American civil rights leader. King’s leadership of demonstrations and open defiance of racist laws led police to arrest him a number of times. While in the Birmingham, Alabama, jail in the spring of 1963, King wrote an eloquent defense of his belief in nonviolent resistance. This excerpt comes from that essay: My dear Fellow Clergymen,
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas.... But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement.... We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It...