The American Civil Rights Movement or the African-American Civil Rights Movement started in the year 1955 and denoted the reformations brought about in the USA, like abolishing discrimination based on race, which was faced by the African Americans and mending the suffering of the people of the Southern States. Most of the people who were engaged with this movement also name it the Southern Freedom Movement, as they believe that the movement included not just the demand for civil rights from the law but also racial respect and dignity, social and economic equality, political independence, and freedom from being dominated by the Whites (Toth, 2008).
The elections of 1876 were highly disputed, after which the period of Reconstruction ended. In the South, the national troops were withdrawn, but the compromise made during the elections left the African Americans powerless in the matters of the government. Gradually they were not allowed to cast votes through grandfather clauses or poll taxes. Various laws were passed, which made the registration of the Black voter a highly complicated issue. The White people obtained control over politics in the South, and a Democratic government having a One-party structure was formed (Kelley, 2000).
The Blacks had already lost their voting rights; on top of that, racial isolation was being practiced, and most of the people became violent towards them. The entire US nation was facing this discrimination, and it was extreme in the South. This system of isolation and racial discrimination, which was approved by the state, was called the Jim Crow system and even continued to be there until the middle of the next century. However, the African Americans started to organize themselves to fight against this nationwide injustice and the various movements, known as the American Civil Rights Movement, continued until late 1960 when the Civil Rights Law was finally passed (Morris, 1984).
As the Blacks could not vote for almost 60 years, they did not have any representation in the government of their own country, who would take an interest in their needs. They were barred from entering the law enforcement or the justice system of the country. Most of the services provided by the government and various public facilities, like education, were separated into those for the whites and colored. Along with the Blacks, the Asians and Latinos were also discriminated against and were denied employment and economic opportunities. Even the police, along with the White people and various organizations, indulged in violent activities against them (Romano, 2006).
Finally, these minorities fought back and abandoned the rules made against them. They looked for better and improved conditions by forming different organizations and through various lawsuits. In 1909, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP was formed, which sought to conclude racial discrimination through lawsuits, lobbying efforts, and education. Except in the South, the condition of the Blacks started to improve as they could now vote and get educated. Still, a lot of them faced discrimination and racial prejudice. After 1910, most of the African American population started to migrate towards the west and north, looking for better lives (Button, 1989).
A Jewish layer named Arthur Spingarn headed NAACP. In the year 1944, NAACP tasted one of its first major legal victories when it outlawed the All-White Democratic Party of America, which had been formed after the Reconstruction period. NAACP also won a case in the Supreme Court of USA in May 1954, known as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which put an end to the practice of racial isolation in the public schools of America and allowed the Black children to be educated in them. Many other rulings like these were also won in the years 1955 and 1956, which forced the local governments to broadcast to the public its plans towards the unification of the nation and for ending racial discrimination in the use of public transport (Kelley, 2000).
Rosa Parks, who is also known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, did not leave her seat in a public bus for a White commuter in December 1955. She was soon arrested, tried in court, and finally convicted for violating an order and showing rebellious behavior. After this, a number of African Americans gathered to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a means to protest the discrimination of the Blacks and Whites in the use of public transport. Martin Luther King Jr., who was an important figure for the civil movement, was a Black Christian Minister and had arranged a number of open protests against racial discrimination. He directed this bus boycott, which not only made him a nationalized figure but also his ideas for the betterment of mankind left a positive effect on the American people (Toth, 2008).
In the South, the Whites did not agree with the government’s decision to unify the schools. The governor of one of the Southern States also opposed this, and in September 1957, he even told the National Guards of the state to stop nine Black school students from entering Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. This led to a number of conflicts between the local Whites and Blacks of the town. Finally, federal troops had to use their guns and draw their bayonets on the White protestors, forcing them to go back to their classrooms and attend school (Toth, 2008).
Even in the Northern States of the USA, there were isolation laws against the Blacks, and they lived in neighborhoods, which were away from where the Whites lived. They also did not enjoy various public facilities and had to attend schools in isolation. Here Bussing was also practiced. Under it, an order was passed by the federal courts through which the district lines maintained by the schools were redrawn. Children belonging to various races were made to travel over large distances, sometimes even more than 80 km, and compelled to attend those schools, which other races did. This not only created clashes between the races but also spread violence. In the year 1962, a Black scholar tried to register at the University of Mississippi but was met with protest from the White students (Kelley, 2000).
The Blacks came up with their own demonstrations, and a racial riot broke out. Hundreds were wounded, and a few were even killed. Finally, the National Guards had to intervene, and President Kennedy sent federal troops on the campus. He also wanted to implement certain rights for the Blacks but was assassinated in 1963. Lyndon B. Johnson, the vice president, said that the initiative taken by Kennedy would be continued, and in July, that year a law was passed to stop discriminating the Blacks for using public transports and the federal reserves. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was also arranged to guarantee that the Whites, in all of their businesses, starting a racial quota scheme for the non-Whites, employed a specific number of Blacks (Button, 1989).
This meant that the non-Whites were given some preference while recruiting, even if qualified and deserving Whites were present for the job. Marriage between the Whites and Blacks was also forbidden according to American laws. After 1942, these laws were challenged in the courts and were officially canceled. These anti-miscegenation laws were abolished in almost 14 states, and in the case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967, the Supreme Court of the USA abolished all the laws, which stopped inter-racial marriages (Kelley, 2000).
The Black citizens became frustrated with the legal system and started to reject the legal approaches to arouse integration. Huge resistance movements were organized to fight back racial isolation and suppression of the Black voters. Their strategy was a combination of using direct action along with various non-violent resistance methods, which came to be acknowledged as Civil Disobedience. This also led the way for The African-American Civil Rights Movement. The numerous Civil Disobedience activities aroused unfavorable situations among the government officials and the protestors. A Civil Disobedience activity included boycotts, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott during 1955-1956, sit-ins, like the Greensboro sit-in in 1960, and marches, like the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 (Romano, 2006).
These acts continued until a number of legislative actions were passed. They included the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which put a ban on the practice of discrimination in the employment sector and use of public facilities; Voting Rights Act of 1965, which reinstated and protected the voting rights of the Blacks; Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, allowed immigrants, apart from the usual European groups, to enter into the USA; and Civil Rights Act of 1968, put a ban in the practice of discrimination on selling or renting of houses (Toth, 2008).
The Blacks continued with their direct action plans by holding freedom rides, sit-ins and bus boycotts through non-violent actions and mass enlistments. They had faced enough harassment from the local authorities and, as a result, became outlaws. The churches, which were the focal point of the communities, and other small organizations, gathered up thousands of volunteers to take part in nationwide events. These actions were more rapid and direct in bringing about changes than the court cases. They did not see any development in the quality of their living standards. They did not believe in the explanations of the Whites that it takes time to build a proper life and thought that they were simply misleading (Morris, 1984).
Thus, they fought back with the Black riots of the 1960s. There were some major riots in 1963 and 1964 in Cambridge, where the National Guards had to intervene to bring back peace. Riots also took place in Watts, Los Angeles, which lasted for almost six days, causing a number of causalities and damage to property. Other cities of America were also faced with the problem of riots. The cities were turned into major battlefields, and the Black mobs looted and burned everything in its way. This continued until 1968 and claimed a huge number of human lives and millions in property damages (Romano, 2006).
- Button, J. (1989). Blacks and Social Change: Impact of the Civil Rights Movement in Southern Communities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Kelley, R. (Ed.). (2000). To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Morris, A. (1984). Origins of the Civil Rights Movements. Tampa, FL: 1ST Free Press.
- Romano, R. (Ed.). (2006). The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
- Toth, C. (Ed.). (2008). The Margins Specail Populations and American Justice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.