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Civil Rights Essay, Research Paper

Although the Civil War brought about the freedom of slaves in the 1860s, blacks were not entirely free until the 1960s. Following the abolition of slavery, blacks found themselves still under racial oppression. The majority of the racial problems occurred in the South. In many areas of the South, laws blocked their right to vote, move freely in society, and own property. In addition, lynching and killing of blacks occurred regularly with no punishment for the white racists. These injustices continued and with them black resentment for it grew. In 1954, with the decision of The United States Supreme Court to overturn the “Separate but equal” doctrine during the Brown verses the Board of Education case the civil rights movement began. After years of peaceful demonstrations, trials, and extreme patience, blacks finally gained all of their rights, which made them equal to whites.

The 1869 Plessy vs. Ferguson court case made the decision that declared “Separate but equal facilities” for African Americans. In 1954, The United States Supreme Court made the decision to overturn the “Separate but equal” doctrine during the Brown verses the Board of Education case. The legal argument, which resulted in the decision that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional was presented by Thurgood Marshall, the chief counselor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This provided the legal foundation of the civil rights movement of the 1950 s and 60’s.

The event that moved African Americans more than any other to come together and work for justice was the case of Emmett Louis Till. Emmett Till was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He was sent to Mississippi, when he was fourteen to spend the summer with his uncle. He bragged to his southern black friends that he even had a white girlfriend. His unbelieveing friends dared Emmett to go into a store and ask a white woman on a date. Na ve to the racist customs of the South, Till went inside the store, hugged Carol Bryant’s waist, and squeezed her hand. He even whistled at her as his friends rushed him away. On August 28, 1955, Carol Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half brother, J.W. Milam, took Emmett from his Uncle s home. His body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River, naked, beaten, decomposed, and shot in the head. The two white men were tried one month later by an all white jury, and despite the fact that they admitted abducting Till, they were acquitted because the body was too badly mangled to be positively identified. His mother insisted on an open-casket funeral to show what the white men had done to her son. Photographs of Till s body were reprinted across the country, allowing millions to become enraged over the injustice. Till’s murder had become a rallying point for the civil rights movement. Protests were organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This event forced Congress to include a clause for federal investigations of civil rights violations in the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. The arrest caused a disturbance in the black community that started the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Other than a few black taxis, African Americans walked everywhere. After more than a year of boycotting the buses and a legal battle, the Montgomery buses desegregated. This was a huge step in the process of desegregation everywhere.

After the Brown vs. the Board of Education case, segregation in schools was supposed to be no longer permitted. However, in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, out of 517 black students, who lived in the Central High district, nine decided to try to attend the Little Rock integrated high school, they became known to the world as the Little Rock nine . When the nine black students tried to enter on the first day of school, they were turned away by the National Guard ordered by Governor Faubus. Judge Davies ruled that Governor Faubus had not used the troops to preserve the law, but to prevent the students from entering. Governor Faubus had to remove the troops, but the Little Rock Police Department took over. On September 23, 1957 an angry crowed gathered around the school as the students tried to enter. The black students entered through the side door, but were escorted out of the building as the enraged, white protestors stood by. When President Eisenhower learned about the situation in Little Rock he sent one thousand members of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect the students and keep the situation under control. With the army troops clearing a path through the protestors, the Little Rock nine were taken into school. Although only one of the nine students graduated from high school, they got the federal government to show that it would not allow for local or state governments to go against its authority on integration policies.

While protests and boycotts achieved moderate successes in desegregating aspects of education and transportation, other public facilities such as restaurants, theatres, libraries, amusement parks, and churches still either denied or limited access to African Americans. In 1960, college students in Greensboro, North Carolina began to try their own methods for promoting change in their area. They had sit-ins , where they sat down and requested service at white only lunch counters and did not get up until they were served or arrested. Soon the nonviolent sit-ins spread all over the South. During sit-ins, blacks would be severely beaten by white racists, but they never strayed from their nonviolent strategy. Nashville became the center for student nonviolent workshops and directed action led by James Lawson and Diane Nash. National boycotts were organized by the NAACP and CORE. Local black communities supported the jailed students by boycotting downtown stores. The protest work in Nashville persuaded the mayor of Nashville to admit that discrimination at lunch counters was morally wrong. In three weeks, African-American customers were served for the first time in Nashville.

One of the main leaders during the civil rights movement was Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American Baptist minister. He had a magnificent speaking voice, which he used effectively to express the demands for African-American rights. He won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for leading nonviolent civil rights demonstrations. Although King preached non-violence, he was often the target of it. Like when white racists threw rocks at him in Chicago and bombed his home in Montgomery. Ironically, violence is what ended King s life at the age of thirty-nine, as he was shot and killed by an assassin. King became the second American whose birthday is celebrated as a National Holiday.

The protest of Montgomery s bus system in 1955 is where King found his place in civil rights activities. In 1957, with other black ministers, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLS) to expand the nonviolent fight against racism. During the late 1950s, King assisted in the sit-ins and protested housing and poor schools. He also organized protests against real estate practices in Chicago that kept blacks from living in many white neighborhoods and suburbs, which he believed were trapping poor blacks in inner-city ghettos. King proved victorious in all kinds of work toward civil rights.

In the early 1960s, King sought to gain more support from the federal government, as he believed that President John F. Kennedy was not doing enough work to advance civil rights. King and the SCLC organized demonstrations to protest racial discrimination in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the nation s most racist cities. He knew that in order to get attention, he would need to show the nation the racism and hate that came not only from southern citizens, but from southern officials as well. Police used dogs and fire hoses were brought out by the city to drive back peaceful protesters, including children. Thanks to great organization to gain wide spread news coverage of the event, the nation became aware and embarrassed of what occurrences in the South. Kennedy was obligated to propose a wide-ranging civil rights bill to Congress. After the protests in Birmingham, which gained the full attention of the public, King and others then organized their March on Washington, D.C. The event was intended to highlight African-American unemployment and to urge congress to pass Kennedy s bill. On August 28, 1963, over 200,000 Americans, including many whites, gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in the capital, where the rally was brought to a thrill with King s famous I have a dream speech. The movement won a major victory in 1964, when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in public places and called for equal opportunity in employment and education.


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