Civil Rights of African American


The term civil rights refer to a set of permissions and entitlements given to an individual so as to protect him or her from government power and enable one to willfully participate in any form of civil or political life. Objectives of civil rights include ensuring the safety of the people and their physical integrity, protection from any form of discrimination, procedural fairness in legal affairs, and all political freedoms such as freedom of movement, the press thought, and so on.

They top the list in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is therefore fair to say that civil rights are the most important form of rights and many entities share this sentiment. Civil rights are entrenched in many countries’ constitutions and are also included in their respective bill of rights. In most countries across the globe, civil rights are natural rights that are generally upheld However, citizens enjoy ‘more’ civil and political rights than non-citizens despite the notion that they apply to all persons universally. Discrepancies in guaranteeing civil rights have led to social unrest in many a country throughout history. Variably in America’s history, the civil rights movement is considered one of the most famous movements. (Morris 101)

Brown v. Board of Education

The above-mentioned case was a landmark decision made in 1954 by the United States Supreme Court. The decision overturned earlier rulings that had set out separation grounds in public schools for black and white students. The decision concluded that this separation denied children of African descent equal education opportunities. The “unanimous 9-0 landmark decision” came to the conclusion that there existed unequal facilities in education that were based on separation.

This contravened the Equal Protection clause in the United States Constitution. The Brown v. Board of Education decision was one of the initial steps towards the civil rights movement and ultimately integration. The case came at the backdrop of poor race relations and a long history of racial segregation. An earlier Supreme Court case dated 1896 had concluded that as long as separate facilities were equal then segregation of this nature did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

The argument presented by the plaintiffs stated that separating races brought about inferior accommodation, services, and poor treatment of African Americans. Brown’s inspiration came from an earlier statement from UNESCO titled ‘The Race Question’. The UNESCO paper denounced justifying racism using science. This was seen as trying to approve such injustice as moral while it was not. The Board of Education of the Kansas City of Topeka had an official policy of racial segregation.

Thirteen parents representing their 20 children wanted these policies reversed. One of the African Americans was Oliver Brown who was both a pastor and welder in the community he was in and his third-grade daughter, Linda, had to travel a mile away to her black school even though a white school was seven blocks from her home. Following a directive from NAACP, the parents were allowed to enroll their children in the schools that were closest to them. They were however refused enrollment by the white schools under the pretext of segregation policies. The Brown case inspired desegregation in American institutions.

Rosa Parks

She was an African American civil rights activist who came to earn the title ‘mother of modern-day civil rights movement’. Rosa Parks is renowned for her stance of refusing to give up a seat for a white passenger, a requirement that was forced on all blacks. In Montgomery for example, certain parts of the bus were specifically reserved for either whites or blacks and the two could not mix. The whites were allocated the first four rows and the rest which were termed as the colored section was left for the African Americans. This was even though more than seventy-five percent of bus riders were blacks. (Morris 101)

The colored section was usually at the rear and the bus driver moved the sign according to the number of white passengers on the bus. It was quite dehumanizing for the Blacks because they had to board the bus first and pay their fare then disembark and reenter through the back entrance. Parks had earlier been sent out of the bus and forced to walk five miles from her home. The following day parks boarded the same bus and sat in the black section.

The bus however picked white passengers on the way and four African Americans including Parks were ordered to give up their seats for the whites. She refused upon which she was arrested leading to what is commonly referred to as the famous Montgomery bus boycott. A new organization was founded and named Montgomery Improvement Association with a relatively unknown minister by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. picked as its president.

Montgomery’s black community boycotted the buses to protest the arrest and trial of Rosa Parks. The boycott run for 381 days and damaged the bus company’s finances. The segregation law was lifted. During the boycott, supporters of segregation hit back with terrorism. They burnt churches, bombed the home of Martin Luther, and attacked E.D. Nixon’s home. The boycott was one of the most successful black civil rights movements. It elevated Martin Luther as the de jure leader of the civil rights movement and also sparked many protests. (Williams 19)

Greensboro sit-ins (1960)

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University students David Richmond, Jibreel Khazan, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain sat at the segregated lunch counter at a Woolworth store. They were fully cognizant of the fact that they could not be served since during this time blacks were never allowed to sit leave alone being served. The store manager called the police but did not order their arrest.

In his opinion, the protest will last a short time and everything will be back to normal. However, the following day the students brought along with them twenty-seven other people. Four days later, the number of protesters showing up for the Woolworth’s sit-ins, mainly African American students, had reached more than 300. Tensions between blacks and whites increased at the lunch counter which was closely followed by a bomb scare. The Greensboro sit-ins sparked economic boycotts and sit-ins, especially throughout the Southern states. President Dwight Eisenhower expressed his support for the students taking part in the protests. (Marable 240)

Freedom Ride (1961)

The Boynton v. Virginia case had banned segregation based on race in waiting rooms, restraints, and buses. Activists referred to as ‘freedom riders’ made their journeys on buses to the segregated states of the south to put the above hurling to test. African Americans and whites as well rode to the south to challenge segregation laws and customs. The freedom rides had the following impact:

  • Provoked violent reactions.
  • The American Civil Rights Movements’ credibility was bolstered
  • Laws enforcing racial segregation in the south caught national attention.
  • Many riders were arrested and allegations of trespass state and local law violations were leveled against them.
  • Gave credibility to non-violent resistance. (Marable 240)

Freedom rides run for several months and despite the Kennedys calling for a cooling-off period, the rides persisted. “Most large companies feared that boycotts would affect the north and therefore desegregated their businesses”(Marable 240). Later Robert Kennedy will influence the Interstate Commerce Commission to enforce the ICC rule. White and colored signs in terminals, restraints, toilets and many other places came down. (Marable 240)

Religion, Dr. King, and the SNCC

It is almost impossible to talk about American Civil Rights Movement and not talk about Martin Luther King Jr. He is globally recognized as a human rights icon and is also a Nobel peace laureate. “He was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977 and in 2004 was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom”. He is recognized as a martyr by various churches. He played a leading role in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also had the chance of leading the Rosa Parks Montgomery Bus Boycott. He is also recognized as one of the greatest orators in the history of the United States. He advocated for civil disobedience and the use of non-violent means to seek an end to racial segregation and discrimination. (Garrow 51)

In 1957 Martin Luther and other activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and led the outfit until his demise. The organization was to harness the organizing power and moral authority of African American churches to organize non-violent protests. The SCLC was therefore a very important part of the civil rights movements and always advocated for nonviolent means of protest. They were by and large very successful in their strategies and in achieving their desired objectives. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (pronounced sink) on the other hand was another organization at the heart of the civil rights movement during these years. It played a major role in the earlier mentioned sit-ins and freedom rides and were also involved in:

  • Important contribution in fieldwork
  • Organizing voter registration
  • Protesting against Vietnam War (Garrow 51)

End of Segregation

The Kennedy administration implemented the Interstate Commerce Commission rule on 1st November 1961 during the active times of the freedom rides. This effectively saw the bringing down of ‘white’ and ‘colored’ signs in previously segregated areas. “In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act that facilitated black voters’ registration on spite of state barriers. The Voting Rights Act came to effect in 1965”. (Williams 19)


The story of the rights of African Americans fight for their rights is a long and painful one that predates this era. African Americans have been subjected to all forms of cruelty and injustice but today they can at least say that it is not that bad. Though they still continue to face numerous challenges in the American society as a result of legacy, nothing can be compared to past times. The American society has transformed in a great way that today the president of the United States of America is an African American.

Work Cited

Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: William Morrow, 1986 34-59.

Marable, Manning. Race, Reform and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945-1982. University Press of Mississippi, 1984. 234-246.

Morris, Aldon D. The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. New York: The Free Press, 1984 100-123.

Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Penguin Books 11-23.