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Civil Rights Essay, Research Paper
Essay: Trace the development of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Explain why it became more radical and violent in the 1960s. What changes occurred in the motives, assumptions, and leadership of the movement?
The Civil Rights movement has been a debate that has plagued America since the its conception with slaves first appearing to the New World in 1619. The debate over the rights of slaves became even more explosive in the 1850s with the Civil War when America fought over the freedom of these slaves, and the eventually the slaves gained their constitutional guarantee to be free through the Thirteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment gave the Federal Government the right to protect the individual against the state which was supposed to help pave way for Civil Rights. Despite these massive changes in their lives, the slaves were not truly free. They now had to free themselves from the chains of segregation and oppression. Everywhere they would travel, they would be discriminated purely on the color of their skin. The Civil Rights movement gained momentum in the 1950s and 1960s as blacks thirsted for equal rights and became more violent in the 1960s with such leaders as Malcolm X.
The combat against segregation became prevalent in 1896 when the Supreme Court made a monumental decision. They declared in Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation was constitutional. They claimed that segregation was allowable as long as the facilities were separate but equal. However, in the 1940s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909 by black radical and first black to graduate from Harvard with a PhD from Harvard W. E. B. DuBois, began to attack the principal of separate but equal. NAACP began suing colleges to gain entrance for black students into their colleges. In 1950, the Supreme Court made a significant step in favor of Civil Rights when the Supreme Court ruled in Sweatt vs. Painter and McLaurin vs. Oklahoma in which the Court ruled that segregation was illegal at the state college level. These decisions forbade the upcoming decision the Court would make in Brown v. Board of Education.
In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower made a significant move when he appointed Earl Warren as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Warren Court would make some of the most liberal and significant actions in the course of American History. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court led by Earl Warren made a significant decision in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka. The court decided that the 1896 decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson, in which the Court ruled segregation was alright if the facility was separate but equal, was unconstitutional. They contended that separate but equal was inherently unequal. With this decision, the Court made it illegal to segregate public schools. Linda Brown was a black elementary school student who wished to enroll in an all-white school. Thurgood Marshall from the NAACP, who would later become a Supreme Court Justice, argued on the behalf of Brown. He claimed that segregation of public schools deprived black of an equal educational opportunity thus making their education unequal. The Supreme Court put to use the Fourteenth Amendment when the Court made its decision under the equal protection clause. One year later, the Supreme Court declared that the schools must be integrated with all deliberate speed. The Brown decision was one of the first movements toward desegregation. President Harry Truman s Executive Order 9981 ordered the desegregation of the military in 1948.
The Brown decision sparked much debate and violence around the issue of Civil Rights. The decision was perceived as a threat to state and local authorities as they felt that the Federal Government should not influence desegregation. Eisenhower even criticized his decision to appoint Warren as the Chief Justice calling it my biggest mistake. The Brown decision faced vehement opposition in the south as eighty percent of the southern whites opposed the decision. Southern whites refused to attend integrated schools, and the Ku Klux Klan reemerged in the South and would lead to another important decision known as the Emmett Till case. In fact, many states did all they could do to resist the desegregation of schools. Virginia passed in 1956 the massive resistance. The massive resistance declared that Virginia would cut off state funding to desegregated schools.
In 1957, Eisenhower made a significant move to help lead to desegregation of the schools. In Little Rock, Arkansas, Governor Orval Faubus ordered the National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering Central High School. Faubus blatantly defied the Supreme Court and ignored the Brown decision. Eisenhower sent one thousand federal troops in to protect and allow the students to attend the school. This was the first time a president had sent troops to the South to enforce the Constitution since Reconstruction.
The next battle waged on the issue of Civil Rights Movement began in Montgomery, Alabama, with a black seamstress named Rosa Parks. On December 11, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus because she was tired and did not want to move. Quickly after, Parks was arrested and fined fourteen dollars. Civil Rights activist seized upon the opportunity to begin a boycott against the Montgomery bus system. The leader of the boycott was a young pastor known as Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott gained national attention and sympathy as blacks carpooled, walked, or took black-owned taxi company to the places they needed to go to. The boycott eventually led to the near-bankruptcy of public transportation as eighty percent of the customers of the public transportation system. King s house during this time was bombed and he and eighty-eight other leaders of the boycott were fined one thousand dollars for conspiracy to conduct an illegal boycott. However, in 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on Montgomery buses was unconstitutional. The boycott won. The effective method of boycott in which the blacks exercised their economic power resulted in a monumental victory in dismantling segregation. The boycott also served to catapult Martin Luther King, Jr. into the public spotlight.
In January of 1957, after his victory in Montgomery, King became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King preached non-violent resistance. He use similar tactics used by Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi and King were both inspired by Transcendentalist thinker Henry David Thoreau s On Civil Disobedience. King attempted to gain support up North as he traveled there and preached at several Northern churches. On February 1, 1960, four black North Carolina freshmen at Greensboro Agricultural and Technical College started a movement to integrate lunch counters across America. The students sat at an all-white table knowing that they would not receive service. However, they continued to sit until they would receive service. Many students joined them in their protest. The use of that resistance gained popularity across the nation. Six months later, the sit-in was successful, and the merchants agreed to serve integrated masses. Variations of the sit-in began to emerge known as kneel-ins for churches, read-ins for libraries, wade-ins for beaches, and sleep-ins for motels. The tactic of sit-ins was organized and spread by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Many blacks were beaten and harassed by white teenagers for taking place in such activities. Students formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to better organize the sit-ins in 1961. The SNCC and the SCLC worked together to help get black citizens registered to vote and teach them how to harness their voting power.
CORE, meanwhile, went out to help desegregate the nation s interstate highway system. A group of both white and black members went out on buses throughout the South. They were deemed freedom riders as their travels resulted in much public opposition. The riders were often severely injured and attacked by Southern residents. The ride ended up in the arrest of three hundred riders. However, the protest showed that despite the Supreme Court ruling, the interstate travel was still segregated. The Interstate Commerce Commission followed up in November 1961 by banning segregation on interstate travel.
Blacks still faced segregation in colleges despite Supreme Court rulings. In 1962, James Meredith applied to the University of Mississippi after which he was not allowed to attend because he was black. Meredith sued and the Supreme Court agreed on behalf of Meredith and said that the University of Mississippi must allow Meredith to attend their college. The Mississippi Governor attempted to block Meredith s enrollment, but Kennedy sent federal marshals to ensure that Meredith enrolled. In 1963, Governor George C. Wallace attempted to block the admittance of black students into the University of Alabama. Kennedy, however, sent in troops again and allowed the black students to attend the college.
Also in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. set on a crusade to stop the segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. After being invited by Fred Shuttlesworth, King set out a campaign in Birmingham that would help to dismantle the segregation. Demonstrations began on April 3, 1963 and continued for several months. During this time, King was imprisoned where he wrote Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Eventually, the protesters included children in their protest marches, calling it the Children s Campaign. The police chief of Birmingham Eugene Bull Connor ordered the police to stop the protests. Kennedy initially advocated that both sides reach a solution. The businessmen who were losing significant profits agreed to desegregate lunch counters and hire black workers. This action elicited hatred from the Ku Klux Klan which led to an increase in violence. Kennedy eventually sent federal troops in to enforce the desegregation. This event leads Kennedy to propose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The campaign in Birmingham was similar to the one in Albany, Georgia in which the SCLC, SNCC, and CORE organized massive sit-ins to end discrimination in 1961-1962.
On August 28, 1963, King and the SCLC plan a march on Washington at the time when Congress was pressed to decide the fate of the Civil Rights Bill. Over two-hundred and fifty thousand people met at the Lincoln Monument in demonstration. At this point, King delivered his I Have a Dream speech. This march received more extensive media coverage than any other event in American history at the time. However, the march sparked much opposition again as two months after the march, Medgar Evers was killed in his driveway by white supremacists. The killer escaped conviction in many trials. Also, on September 15, four girls who attended Sunday School were killed by a bomb planted by segregationalists in Birmingham s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Nevertheless, these movements gained support from such entertainers as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Harry Belafonte. Even four hundred members of Congress came out to support the march.
Also, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. This proposal by Kennedy was really his first Civil Rights action. Despite his actions to help Civil Rights activists, Kennedy merely did those actions out of support of the Federal court rulings. Kennedy s administration prior to the Civil Rights Act was purely reactionary as they never acted as a catalyst for change. Lyndon B. Johnson had to push the proposal through Congress as Kennedy was assassinated before the Act was passed. The Civil Rights Act was called the strongest legislation since Reconstruction. The legislation prohibited segregation and discrimination in all public accommodations. Johnson, soon after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, passed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which was made to enforce the Civil Rights Act.
During the 1963, King was not the only influential black leader making a dynamic impact on the black community. Malcolm X, a preacher and organizer for the Nation of Islam, had been preaching his message since the 1950s. Malcolm X was a part of the black Muslims that proved to be crucial in a switch to the more violent movements during the 1960s. The Nation of Islam was led by Elijah Muhammed and believe that whites had systematically and immorally denied blacks their rights and that blacks therefore had no reason to act peacefully or lovingly. The Nation of Islam believed that whites should repay the blacks for slavery. Malcolm X became famous for his speech Chickens Coming Home to Roost Speech which he delivered on December 1, 1963. Malcolm X based that speech off of the assassination of Kennedy. The media remained biased against the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X and used that speech to show Malcolm X s hatred for the American government. To avoid public detestation, the Nation of Islam silenced Malcolm X for ninety days. Malcolm X was called a hateful speaker as his rhetoric was filled with angry references to white people, and he exemplified an undeniable rage that most black people felt. Power movements such as X s came from the idea that the non-violent protests that King advocated might not be working as well as well as hoped. The Black Power movement sought a new method for which the black would gain rights.
In 1964, King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Soon after, he along with the SNCC and SCLC went out to test whether the South was complying with the new Civil Rights Act. The SNCC and the SCLC organized a massive voter registration in Selma, Alabama. Again, this demonstration resulted in massive retaliation from the white supremacists as the Selma sheriff Jim Clark beat a black woman waiting in line to register to vote. Demonstrators began a fifty-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. On that march, state troopers attacked the protesters giving it the name of Bloody Sunday. This action in Selma led Johnson to introduce the Voting Rights Bill. This bill allowed the federal observers to ensure that all who were eligible to vote would be allowed to vote. The bill was signed into an Act in 1965.
Following these actions, the Civil Rights Movement began to fragment. King began on a new crusade in the north that would combat social racism instead of institutional racism. All agencies began to look toward dismantling racism and poverty since the segregation battle was won. The SNCC abandoned the principals of non-violence and became more radical and militant. As a result of these changes, the Civil Rights Movement lost several of their white sympathizers. The Civil Rights Movement returned to the North to combat two new enemies: poverty and the unwillingness of Northern whites to acknowledge their own racism. In 1966 and 1967, King campaigned in Chicago for better housing for blacks. King faced new problems in Chicago that could not be solved by simply desegregation. These issues no longer revolved around laws, but instead the revolved around social and economic issues that could not be solved as easily as eliminating laws. In 1967, King organized the Poor People s Campaign that was supposed to improve the condition of the poor. King made several demonstrations in Washington D.C. that he hoped would spur the government to help the poor.
During the long, hot summer of 1967, massive race riots ensued in Northern cities that only reflected the move toward militancy by the Civil Rights Movement. Under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, the SNCC continued to radicalize. Carmichael coined the term black power. Also in 1967, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. The Panthers advocated violence in response to white violence. They attempted to reach black economic stability, yet they were perceived by the public as terrorists.
The Civil Rights Movement faced a monumental loss as James Earl Jones killed Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. King was about to start his non-violent campaign against poverty when King went down to Memphis to support black sanitation workers. Stokely Carmichael asked that the shops and businesses be shut down for the day to mourn over the loss over King. Just shortly after, political fanatic Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert Kennedy, a Civil Rights activist and Presidential candidate. The death of King proved to be one of the largest contributing factors that led to increase in the Black Power movement. The black community grew even more angry over the death of the lost leader. The resistance which these Black Power groups had toward Vietnam War gained much sympathy. However, with the end of the Vietnam War, the protests died, and eventually the Black Power movement died. Because of their extreme violence, the government made many programs such as Cointelpro to monitor the Black Power groups such as the Black Panthers. Despite the tremendous revolutions that occurred in the areas of Civil Rights during the fifties and sixties, racism still exists in one for or another.
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