The Civil Rights Movement in America
And when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and city, we will be able to speed
up that day when all of God’s children-black men and white men, Jews
and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants-will be able to join hands and
to sngn in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at
last; thank God almighty, we are free at last.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The civil rights movement in the United States was a political, legal, and social struggle that was organized primarily by black Americans with some help from white America. The civil rights struggle was aimed at gaining full citizenship and racial equality for all Americans, particularly the most discriminated group, African Americans, and was first and foremost a challenge to segregation. Segregation was deeply embedded in the South and was used to control blacks since the reconstruction of the South following the American Civil War. During the civil rights movement, individuals and organizations challenged segregation and discrimination by using a number of methods that included protests, marches, boycotts, and refusing segregation laws. Most historians agree that the civil rights movement began with either the Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 or the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and ended with the Voting Rights Act of 1965; however, there is a lot of debate on when it began and ended. There were civil rights issues well into the 1980s.
The main tool of discrimination against blacks in the United States was segregation, often called the Jim Crow system. Segregation became common in the South after the Reconstruction when the Democratic Party had gained control of the South and started to reverse black advances made during reconstruction. Jim Crow laws emerged and effectively segregated every aspect of life for blacks in the South. This segregation included, but was not limited to, separate schools, transportation, restaurants, and parks, many of which were inferior to white establishments. In theory, the black and white establishments were to be equal.
The denial of voting rights, known as disfranchisement, is how the South controlled segregation. Between 1890 and 1910 virtually all the Southern states passed laws imposing requirements for voting that kept the black voter out. Some of these requirements included, the ability to read and write, property ownership, and paying poll taxes; all these tactics were in direct violation of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Blacks were virtually powerless, because they could not vote there was nothing they could do to prevent the segregation of the South. Conditions in the North were slightly better, blacks could vote but there were so few blacks in the North before World War II that their votes barely counted, furthermore, even though segregated facilities in the North did not exist legally, most blacks were denied access to the more affluent facilities.
There were civil rights movements prior to the 1960s. The National Afro-American League was formed in 1890 followed by the Niagara Movement in 1905, and then the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909, the NAACP was to have a great impact on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and still continues to exist today. The NAACP became one of the most important organizations that championed civil rights in the twentieth century and relied on a legal strategy that challenged segregation and discrimination against blacks by using the American legal system. There were many cases that the NAACP fought in court that set the precedence for the legal battles during the civil rights movement that would take place twenty to thirty years later. Although the legal battles fought by the NAACP in...
Bibliography: Albert, Peter J. and Hoffman, Ronald, eds., We Shall Overcome: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Freedom Struggle. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990.
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