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To what extent was the federal government responsible for improving the status of African Americans in the United States in the years 1945-1965?

By OlayOgun1 Oct 08, 2014 1598 Words
In America the federal government can be defined as a body of individuals at the federal level that sets and administers public policy, exercises executive and political power through laws within a country. But the federal government faced much criticism but also some praise between the time of 1945 and 1965 with the handling of African American rights. It would be more accurate to give praise to many campaigns and people between the times of 1945 and 1965 that would go on to help shape and improve the position of African Americans. Campaigns and cases such as the Brown case, Montgomery bus boycott, little rock campaign, and many more helped to improve the position of African Americans between 1945 and 1965. President Truman as a young man was undoubtedly a racist. But after hearing about stories of black men fighting in the Second World War his attitude towards African Americans did change. It was because of this change in opinion and the importance of the black vote Truman established the president’s committee on civil rights to produce a report on experiences of African Americans in 1947. This report was important as it was one of the first steps in establishing what the actual problems were for African Americans and what needed to be done to change it. In the report it talked about many things including lynching, police brutality, voting rights and much more. But what could be gathered from the report was that segregation was the main source for much of the African Americans problems. So this was something that the federal government could be blamed for as much of the south had free reign over black people and the federal government done nothing to change this. Instead they focussed their attentions on keeping the news of African Americans treatment in the south out of the media and not actually helping the cause. So although the “secure these rights” was important in identifying the problems of African Americans it didn’t actually help the position of African Americans only highlighted their struggle. Even though Truman did desegregate the armed forces this was an issue that was secondary to the primary which was of the African Africans in the south and much of America. From 1946-1950 campaigns were very important in the fight for African Americans. For example In 1946 the Morgan vs Virginia was one that followed the story of Irene Morgan who went to court when he refused to give up his seat to a white man. Now when the case went to Supreme Court the court ruled that segregation on interstate buses was illegal but this did not lead to any actual change. So this was another example of the federal government failing to address issues but this lead to a campaign in 1947 consisting of 16 core activist which was called the journey of reconciliation. This campaign involved black members of the team sitting in seats for white people and white members sitting in seats for black people. This campaign ended in failure however with southern states still keeping the buses segregated. But the campaign was still very important as not only did white and black Americans unite to fight segregation but it was also a stepping stone for campaigns to follow. The campaign followed from a legal case so the campaign was in some ways not a complete failure as it showed that African Americans would not take legal decisions lying down. This gave many other African Americans the belief to fight such legal forces. With the NAACP learning from past campaigns such as the journey of reconciliation and the smith vs Allwright case the NAACP decided to challenge the Texan education system. This would prove to be important step for African Americans as education was a big issue at the time with many of the top schools in the country being strictly white. The Texan education system refused African American Heman Stewart entry into the University of Texas due to the school being for white students only. The NAACP challenged this but the Texas courts simply rejected their case. The NAACP therefore took the case to the Supreme Court where they eventually won and Heman Sweat became a law student at the university of Texas law school. This was a huge step not only for African Americans but also the federal government. This defining case meant that African Americans could have a chance at receiving the same quality education of white people. But it was also a statement from the federal government showing people that matters of segregation and racial inequality would be handled fairly and this was an example of that. Following the achievement of the Sweat vs Painter case the NAACP decided to focus on younger students. Linda brown was a young girl forced to attend an all-black school that was 20 blocks away from her home in 1950. Her parents wanted her to attend the local school in her area which was closer to her home. However after much campaigning from the NAACP Linda brown and her parents won the case. This case was especially important to the statues of black people as this was the second victory for African Americans and showed again that the federal government were starting to view black people as equal citizens instead of separate individuals. The case also provided black people with the confidence to stand up for other things and actually have the belief to follow it through. The shift from the federal government was a welcomed one from the African American community and allowed African Americans to regain their belief in the countries legal system. These decisions from the Federal system lead to a number of campaigns over the years to come In America many of them monumental in improving the status of African Americans. Following on from the Brown case African Americans seven years on still had problems of segregation affecting them. But the Little rock campaign was again important as this was a campaign that helped to fight off the power off white politicians and give more power to the government rather than individuals. The little rock campaign was one that aimed to get nine black students into an all-white school. At this time in America Governors had a lot of power so the local governor of Orval Faubus tried to prevent the nine black students from attending. Following more opposition from Governor Faubus African Americans had to trust in the power of the Supreme Court to help desegregate the school. The Supreme Court did rule in favour of the nine black students and Little rock opened again in June 1959 admitting both black and white students. This once more was a important step for African Americans as the case wasn’t won by white supremacy but instead a legal case. The decision by the Supreme Court showed that America was indeed changing if not in attitudes but in legal proceedings. From 1960 to 1965 America saw numerous campaigns. This may seem interesting as the end of the previous decade saw legal changes in favour of equality. The Greensboro sit ins in 1960 were important and influential. Even though they showed the power black people have economically it failed to make any legal changes of any importance, still leaving African Americans in the same positions of the previous decade. The Albany movement was also fairly weak in providing a change with police chief Laurie Pritchett not providing the protestors with any media attention. This move from the police chief minimised the effect of the campaigns and again failed to improve the status of African Americans. With a lack of media attention the government didn’t feel a need to act so they didn’t this meant that African Americans were at a standstill with much of their progress from previous decades looking like going to waste. At this time in America you could say that the federal government was shying away from taking action in many ways to try and diminish what was a growing African American force from the previous decade. This was clear from the Greensboro sit ins and the Albany movement. However from the 1963 to 1965 two important campaigns saw a big shift in status for African Americans. The Birmingham campaign was important as it targeted the problem where it was at its worst and helped to end racial discrimination. Even though segregation remained in many parts of Birmingham it gathered media attention something that the movement needed if African Americans wanted change. But perhaps the most important campaign was the Selma campaigns which lead to the voting rights act of 1965. This campaign was important as it finally held black people in the same regard as white people with the federal government now needing to please black people as much as white people. The voting rights act being formed showed the progress had been made and that patient campaigning could improve the African Americans status even if the federal government didn’t want to. The federal government did play some part in improving the status of African Americans from 1945 to 1965 but the impact was minimal compared to that of the patient and important campaigning of brave African Americans. The Selma campaign being a good example showing the journey of African Americans and that if the federal government didn’t want to help African Americans they had to help themselves. The federal government did pass some important laws on the behalf of African Americans but they only decided to act after severe pressure from the media.

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