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Civil Rights Movement

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In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine that formed the basis for state-sanctioned discrimination, drawing national and international attention to African Americans’ plight. In the turbulent decade and a half that followed, civil rights activists used nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to bring about change, and the federal government made legislative headway with initiatives such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Many leaders from within the African American community and beyond rose to prominence during the Civil Rights era, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Andrew Goodman and others. They risked and sometimes lost their lives in the name of freedom and equality.
After World War II, African Americans demanded changes in American society. African Americans fought in World War II for their country, but they returned home to discrimination and inequality. In the late 1940s and 50s American society started to overturn some official discrimination against African Americans The Civil Rights Movement came about after the Great Depression. African-Americans protested against injustice since the earliest slave revolts over 400 years ago. Yet, because of its attempt to dismantle Jim Crow segregation, Brown v. Board of Education can be seen as the spark that ignited the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Court's well-publicized 1954 decision moved white citizens to band together to protect their way of life, but it also bolstered activists who would fight for the next decade to end the indignities perpetrated against one segment of American society, in flagrant violation of federal law. Employing a range of tactics and philosophies, activists staged marches, peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts and voter registration drives throughout the South to achieve civil rights gains for African-Americans. In 1947, Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball and in 1948, Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. In 1954, the Plessey decision of 1896, which created two societies, one for whites and one for blacks, was overturned in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, creating integrated schools. Although the Supreme Court ruled that official school segregation was unconstitutional, blacks still faced many discriminatory laws and attitudes, especially in the South. At the beginning of the 1960s, the goal of the Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., was to end legal segregation and to integrate society. His strategy to achieve these goals was non-violent protest. The first big milestone in the Civil Rights Movement was the arrest of Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama because she would not give up her seat to a white passenger. Mrs. Parks rode the bus home from her job at the Montgomery Fair Department Store Rosa boarded the bus, paid her fare, and sat down in the first row behind the seats reserved for the whites This was in the eleventh row and almost in the middle of the bus This same incident had occurred nine months later but the NAACP felt as if she was not the ideal poster child to be the center of everything that was going to happen. When the incident happened with Rosa Parks, people made it seem like she was just tired but in actuality she was tired of giving in. She knew the consequences of her actions. She felt as if she should not be deprived of a seat she paid for. Like other African Americans in her time they were tired of being mistreated. This movement sparked the Civil Rights Movement. There was more to Rosa Park’s story than just an African American woman who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. Rosa Parks was actually an educated woman. She attended the laboratory school at Alabama State College because there was no high school for blacks in Montgomery at that time. She has decided to become a seamstress because could not find a job that met her skills. She was also a long-time NAACP worker. When she was arrested in December 1955, she had recently completed a workshop on race relations at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. Rosa Parks was also a well-respected woman during her time. In response to this incident, they launched a bus boycott. They started this bus boycott five days after Rosa refused to give up her seat. This was the day blacks of Montgomery, Alabama, decided that they would boycott the city buses until they could sit anywhere they wanted, instead of being relegated to the back when a white boarded. The bus boycott would end up lasting more than a year. The boycott actually lasted for a total of 382 days. When the bus boycott started, they did not expect it to last as long as it did. There had been bus boycotts in the past but they were not as long as this one would end up being. The Montgomery Improvement Association elects Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as president on December 5 in order to lead the boycott. Martin Luther King became well like but equally hated by those who disagreed with the equal rights movement. He gained a lot of government support due to his right to make a point and not retaliate with violence. Martin Luther King’s efforts lead to the March on Washington in 1963, where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. This was one of the greatest speaking moments of all time. It is also one of the most memorable ones. He demanded for racial justice and for discrimination against blacks to end. One of the key points in his speech was that we were all created equally, even if blacks did not get treated that way. In addition to this verbal artistry, King had the ability to inspire moral courage and to teach people how to maintain themselves under excruciating pressure. He merged nonviolence with black Christian faith and church culture to create a unique ideology well suited for the civil rights struggle. Martin Luther King said that the boycott would go on with or without their leaders because the conflict was between justice and injustice not between the black and the white. In this day in age, the whites were taught to hate the blacks and raised to look down on them. So they are not totally responsible for their hate but somebody has to decide to stop the cycle of hatred. Martin Luther King helps found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in January. The organization's purpose is to fight for civil rights, and King is elected its first president. The SCLC was a federation of civil rights groups, community organizations and churches that sought to coordinate all the burgeoning local movements. In three years after the Montgomery bus boycott, the SCLC also aided black communities in applying the lessons of that struggle to challenge bus segregation in Florida and Atlanta. In February of 1960, Ezell Blair Jr., Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain and David Richmond, all freshmen at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, decided to desegregate local restaurants by sitting at the lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. They sat at the counter at 4:30 p.m. They received no service that day but they sat at that time until it closed doing homework. By the fifth day hundreds of young African Americans crowded the downtown store demanding their rights. This was the beginning of many sit-ins. The community supported these students. After the first sit-in, students at different organizations began to organize nonviolent workshops.
This sit-in movement paved the way for Freedom Rides of 1961. This new journey tested the Justice Department’s willingness to protect the rights of African Americans to use bus terminal facilities on a non-segregated basis. The Freedom Rides showed the world how far some white Southerners would go to preserve segregation. The first ride ran into trouble when an African American male tried to enter the white waiting room of the Greyhound bus terminal in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and was brutally beaten by local white people in full view of the police. The police did nothing to help him. As Freedom Rides continued across the deep South, the federal government had no other choice but to intervene on activists behalf. With the police offering no protection, CORE abandoned the Freedom Rides, and all but a few of the original riders left Alabama. Founded in 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) became one of the leading activist organizations in the early years of the American Civil Rights Movement. In the early 1960s, CORE, working with other civil rights groups, launched a series of initiatives: the Freedom Rides, aimed at desegregating public facilities, the Freedom Summer voter registration project and the historic 1963 March on Washington. Core emerged as the dynamic vanguard of the civil rights movement. Before long the movement would inspire and even larger number of northern black and white students. As the Freedom Rides continued across the deep South, the activists provoked crises and confrontations and forced the federal government to intervene in their behalf. John F Kennedy’s primary interest at this time was to prevent disorder from getting out of hand and to avoid compromising America’s position with the developing nations. Despite Kennedy’s limitations, he did aid the cause of civil rights. Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s successor, lobbied hard to secure passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act. Four days after taking the oath of office, Lyndon Johnson told the nation he planned to support the Civil Rights Act in support of his slain president. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the culmination of the civil rights movement to that time. This act banned discrimination in places of public accommodation, including restaurants, hotels, gas stations, schools, playground and etc. The Civil Rights Act allowed government agencies to withhold federal money from any program that did not abide by this Act. It also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to monitor discrimination in employment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 contained provisions for helping black voters to register, but white resistance in the deep South had rendered them ineffective. There was an incident in Selma, where the sheriff worked to block African Americans from registering to vote. President Johnson refused requests to send federal marshals to the county to protect voter registration workers. They sent for Martin Luther King and the SCLC. When Martin Luther King came, he was promptly arrested. After that, they planned for a mass march from Selma to Montgomery. The protests at Selma and the massive white resistance spurred Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Johnson signed it on August 6. This act outlawed educational requirements for voting in states or counties where less than half the voting age population had been arrested. Malcolm X’s message was some of the same but different than that of Martin Luther King’s. He believed that revolutions were based on bloodshed. He also believed that the day of nonviolent resistance was over. One of his contributions was his advocacy of the right to self-defense. The Black Panthers gave an organizational expression to the right of Black and other oppressed peoples to defend themselves, especially against the state-sanctioned violence of the police and other racist, repressive institutions at home and abroad. But it was Malcolm who first popularized it. His phrase "freedom by any means necessary" alluded to this right along with so many of his speeches. One that stood out in my mind was entitled "The Ballot or the Bullet." in this speech, which was aimed mainly towards a Black audience, he asked how Black soldiers could turn their guns on the Korean people fighting against U.S. military aggression and not turn their guns against the KKK who were free to lynch and terrorize Black people in the South. In Martin Luther King’s search for a new strategy, it came to labor issues. He went to Memphis to address the striking sanitation workers. This special occasion was marked by violence. The day after he gave his speech, Martin Luther King was murdered by James Earl Ray as he stood on the balcony of his hotel. After this assassination, it bought about a civic rage in black communities. With days of his assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The act law outlawed discrimination in the sale and rental of housing and gave the Justice Apartment authority to bring suits against such discrimination. For the first time since the Supreme Court ruled on segregation in public schools in 1954, the federal government had a means of enforcing desegregation; Title VI of the act barred the use of federal funds for segregated programs and schools. In 1964 only two southern states, Texas and Tennessee, had more than 2% of their black students enrolled in integrated schools. Because of Title VI, about 6% of the black students in the South were in integrated schools by the next year. Early in 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, but it did not prevent the rising tide of militancy among blacks. Even though there is no set end to the Civil Rights Movement, in actuality we still have these same issues going on in today’s world. There are a lot of incidents and people who have helped in bring us this far. Americans will always remember Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. We also remember cases like Brown vs Board of Education and the boycotts. Without these certain incidents in history, we would know be where we are today. America has come a long way but we still are not there yet.

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