When the Government Stood Up For Civil Rights "All my life I've been sick and tired, and now I'm just sick and tired of being sick and tired. No one can honestly say Negroes are satisfied. We've only been patient, but how much more patience can we have?" Mrs. Hamer said these words in 1964, a month and a day before the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 would be signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. She speaks for the mood of a race, a race that for centuries has built the nation of America, literally, with blood, sweat, and passive acceptance. She speaks for black Americans who have been second class citizens in their own home too long. She speaks for the race that would be patient no longer that would be accepting no more. Mrs. Hamer speaks for the African Americans who stood up in the 1950's and refused to sit down. They were the people who led the greatest movement in modern American history - the civil rights movement. It was a movement that would be more than a fragment of history, it was a movement that would become a measure of our lives (Shipler 12). When Martin Luther King Jr. stirred up the conscience of a nation, he gave voice to a long lain dormant morality in America, a voice that the government could no longer ignore. The government finally answered on July 2nd with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is historically significant because it stands as a defining piece of civil rights legislation, being the first time the national government had declared equality for blacks. The civil rights movement was a campaign led by a number of organizations, supported by many individuals, to end discrimination and achieve equality for American Blacks (Mooney 776). The forefront of the struggle came during the 1950's and the 1960's when the feeling of oppression intensified and efforts increased to gain access to public accommodations, increased voting rights, and better educational opportunities (Mooney). Civil rights in America began with the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, which ended slavery and freed blacks in theory. The Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875 were passed, guaranteeing the rights of blacks in the courts and access to public accommodation. These were, however, declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, who decided that the fourteenth did not protect blacks from violation of civil rights, by individuals. This decision allowed white Southern conservative leadership to make laws and policies regarding blacks that eluded constitutional guarantees. In the face of this blatant discrimination black Americans started to gather and form new organizations to further, and in many cases create civil rights for themselves. Civil rights leadership was assumed by organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP), and the National Urban League (NUL). The NAACP was formally organized in 1910, and for half a century was the foremost civil rights agency, bringing mass amounts of litigation to the courts. In its commitment to the ideals of democracy the NAACP pursued equality for all in the eyes of the government. Around the middle of the century gains were being made in small places, with a few minor changes in state laws. Yet blacks were still for all conventional purposes second class citizens (Mooney 776). World War II and its homecoming black veterans brought back even more unrest than before. After fighting the Germans and witnessing Hitler's racial holocaust blacks realized the inequality at home even more. The problem was helped by the migration of black soldiers out West to take advantage of wartime prosperity. The civil rights issue was now gaining a national face. Then the Supreme Court handed down its devastating decision in Plessey vs. Ferguson (1896), that segregation is constitutional as long as facilities are "separate but equal." In the words of the one dissenting justice, "this is the worst...
Cited: Ash, Philip. "The Implications of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 For Psychological Assessment in Industry." American-Psychologist 6 (1966): 797-803. Ginsberg, Benjamin, and Theodore J. Lowi, eds. American Government-Freedom and Power. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Mooney, Chase C. "Civil Rights Movement." Encyclopedia Americana. 1996 ed. Shipler, David K. "The Marshall Plan." The New York Times Book Review 1 June 1998: 12-13 Watters, Pat. "The Spring Offensive." The Nation 3 February 1964: 117-120
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