African Americans in the United States were subjected to racial segregation, and the civil rights movement sought to end this practice and secure legal recognition of their equal rights. In the 1950s, the contemporary civil rights movement had its beginnings. Although slavery was ended in the 1860s, when President Lincoln was in office, African Americans continued to face prejudice and discrimination. African Americans and white people had separate facilities, and the services provided to them were in appalling condition. Additionally, numerous rights, including the right to vote, were denied to African Americans. Where legislation in favor of African Americans have been passed, their implementation has been delayed. The idea of equality amongst the races caused some radical racists to be violent against African Americans, some even resulting in murder. African Americans felt that if they waited for change to occur while doing nothing, the discrimination against them would continue. Empowered by actions such as that of Rosa Parks who declined to stand from her bench on the Negro section of a bus so that a white person could have her seat, African Americans rose up to demand equal rights. The movement was instrumental in the passing of several laws in support of equality. Eventually, the American people either embraced the change willingly and those that did not were obligated by law to do so.
Stages of the Movement
The modern civil rights movement was put into gear in the 1950s. In 1948, President Truman penned an administrative order. The order said, “It is at this moment declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin” (Truman, 1948). The implementation of the order, however, was easier said than done. The Supreme Court ordered in Topeka’s Board of Education v Brown, Kansas agreeing unanimously that discrimination in public institutes was lawful in 1954 (Patterson & Freehling, 2001). In 1955, two things happened that launched the civil rights movement. In August, Emmet Till aged 14 years from Chicago got kidnapped, badly beaten and shot before her body was disposed of in a river because he shrieked at a white lady. The perpetrators were apprehend for the crime but they were cleared by a jury made up of white people only. They later boasted of committing the crime on an interview with Look Magazine. In December, a woman called Rosa Parks declined to get off her chair on the Negro unit of the bus so that a white person could sit (Brunner & Haney, 2000). She was arrested for this act.
The arrest of Rosa Parks led to the bus boycotts of Montgomery. The people of Montgomery refused to board buses for more than one year until segregation ended on 21 December 1956. Martin Luther King, who had just been elected Montgomery Improvement Association’s president, became critical to the boycotts. On 28, August 1963, King conveyed his prominent saying, “I have a dream” at the Lincoln Memorial in front of two hundred thousand people (King & Melvin,1992). In September 1967, nine black students who were trying to go to Central High School in Little Rock were denied entry from the school after Governor Orval Faubus ordered for them to be blocked. President Eisenhower deployed troops to intercede on behalf of the students; these students turn into famously recognized as the Little Rock Nine. In August 1964, one black, and two white civil rights workers were murdered after police arrested them on speeding charges and gave them to the notorious Ku Klux Klan at night. In 1965 March, African Americans began a march to Montgomery from Selma Alabama; they were stopped by police and driven back violently with tear gas, whips, and clubs. The event was televised live and dubbed Bloody Sunday. The Black Panthers, a militant group of the civil rights movement, was founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Martin Luther King, was assassinated in 1968 April 4th. James Earl Ray who was an escaped convict and a radical racist were jailed of the crime.
Martin Luther, Charles, Steel, and Fred started the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. Its fast president was Shuttlesworth. The SCLC became a key player in the organization of civilian rights society, and its principles are based on non-violence and civil defiance. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was established in 1960s with an aim give young black people a voice and a home in movement. The movement, however, grew radical in 1966-67 when Stokely Carmichael took over. During the spring and summer of 1961, The Congress of Racial Equality and the SNCC sponsored a program involving over 1000 black and white volunteers to test the new laws prohibiting segregation by taking bus rides through the South. Several of the groups were attacked by an angry mob along the way.
Decline and Success
The Civil Rights Movement garnered of achievement in their goals of ending racial segregation and legal recognition of their rights. After the bus boycotts of 1955-1956, segregation in buses was abolished. In 1962 October, James Meredith joined the University of Mississipi as the first black man. There were 5000 troops sent by President Kennedy to contain the violence that resulted from his enrollment. The twenty fourth Amendment eliminated the poll taxes, which had been implemented to prevent poor African Americans from voting in January 1964. The same year, President Johnson penned the Civil Rights Act which banned segregation of individuals by their country of origin, color, country or religion. It also gave authority to the federal government to impose unification. The Congress passed the Voting Right Act which made it easy for African Americans from the South to vote for illegalizing literacy tests, poll taxes and other hard to reach requirements. In September the same year, Executive Order 11246 was issued by President Johnson for the first time it enforced affirmative action. In June 1967, the sixteen states that still banned interracial marriages were forced to revise their laws. In 1988, Congress overruled President Reagan passing the Civil Rights Restoration Act which meant that private institutions receiving federal funds were subject to nondiscrimination laws.
The Civil rights movement paved the way for change in the way African Americans were treated. Decades later, people of color have been able to achieve a lot, which they could not have done without the emergence of the movement. Since President Kennedy’s time which posed as the height of the public rights movement, there have been numerous black people appointed to government offices. Thurgood Marshall became the leading African-American Supreme Court judge (Rowan 1993).Marshall was named by President Johnson in 1967; he was succeeded by another black justice, Clarence Thomas. In 2008, Barrack Obama became the first African-American US president and was reelected in 2012. It has become standard rather than strange to see intermarriages or children born of parents black and white parents. Black people have also been able to run successful businesses and amass wealth such as Oprah Winfrey who is one of the wealthiest women in the US.
There has been a lot of change brought about by the civil rights movement. Formerly, there used to be segregated schools, buses, even bathrooms. That has stopped being the case. Now, people can use whatever amenities they please without fear of either persecution by the law or retaliation. People have also been encouraged to react against injustices. In recent years the Black Lives Matter movement has risen in response to violence against African-Americans by the police. They have the audacity to speak up and have their voices heard. There is no fear of suppression as everyone has equal rights by the law. Though there are still individuals who find it hard to conform to the new routine, where everyone is subject to equal rights, the law is against them. Crimes against people of color are now just as punishable as crimes against white people. The country is a better place with racial equality.
Brunner, B., & Haney, E. (2000). Civil rights timeline: Milestones in the modern civil rights movement. Onlineresource, pearsonEducation. retrieved May, 3, 2007.
King, M. L., & Melvin, W. J. (1992). I have a Dream.
Patterson, J. T., & Freehling, W. W. (2001). Brown v. Board of Education: A civil rights milestone and its troubled legacy. Oxford University Press.
Rowan, C. T. (1993). Dream makers, dream breakers: The world of Justice Thurgood Marshall. Little, Brown & Company.
Truman, H. S. (1948). Executive order 9981. Harry S. Truman Library and Museum [online], 26.