The Civil Rights Movement was a time dedicated to activism for equal rights and treatment of African- Americans in the United States. During this period, many people rallied for social, legal and political changes to prohibit discrimination and end segregation. Many important events involving discrimination against African- Americans led up to the era known as the Civil Rights Movement. The enslavement of Africans is perhaps the biggest example of inhumanity in United States history. The abolishment of slavery did not change the issues that allowed discrimination to continue.
Many great leaders came about from the Civil Rights movements such as, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, President John Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson. It takes the courage and dedication of people to get positive changes in a country.
The affects from the slavery era brought upon the civil rights movement. As soon as the United States was discovered people used African- American’s for forced labor. According to Jacobs, “During the four centuries of the Atlantic slave trade, an estimated 11 million Africans were transported to North and South America.
” The vast majority of these people were brought to North and South America against their will. They were often abused both mentally and physically and they were even separated from their families. The reason why most slaves could not stay with their families is because slaves had no say in where they lived or who they worked for. If someone would abuse them, there was nowhere they could go for help because they had no rights. It was even illegal for them to learn how to read and write. The reason for this is people knew if they had an education there was a better chance at a revolt. Slavery did not exist in the northern Part of the United States and Canada; as a result, many slaves would often try to escape to the north were they had a better chance of living a humane life. The people who were against slavery would sometimes try to help African- American’s escape slave life. The Underground Railroad is a prime example of people helping African- Americans escape to the north. According to Brooks, “The Underground Railroad had no track and no locomotives; it was, instead, a system set up by opponents of slavery in the antebellum United States to help slaves escape to free states, Canada, and other locations, around 75,000 slaves were freed.” People knew the government would not change policies if they just stood around. People took action regardless of the fact that if they got caught helping African- Americans escape to freedom, they could have been sent to jail or even killed. Not only was slavery inhumane, but think of all the great minds we lost because of slavery. If slavery did not exist I would bet everything I have that we would be a more advanced society.
The United States Civil War was the framework of giving freedom to African- Americans. The American Civil War was the result of decades of tensions between the north and south. According to Hickman, “After the1860 election over the next several months eleven southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America.” President Lincoln wanted to preserve the union; as a result, the civil war began. The first two years of the war it looked like the south was going to win. The battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863 changed the tables. In April of 1865 the south surrendered; thus, making the north victorious. This war led to many social changes in the United States. The 13th amendment was established in order to abolish slavery in the United States. Also, the 14th amendment extended legal protection regardless of race. Furthermore, the 15th amendment abolished all racial restrictions on voting. Many states found loopholes not to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments. President Lincoln was assassinated on April 15 1865; thus Vice President Andrew Johnson became president. President Johnson favored the south; as a result, he did not do much if states went against the amendments. Johnson was such a bad leader congress attempted to impeach him, but were unsuccessful. One can argue that if President Lincoln was not assassinated the country would not have gone through as much turmoil and African-Americans might have gotten civil rights much sooner.
Many historical events lead to the civil rights movement, one being Jim Crow Laws. After the American Civil War most states in the South passed anti-African American legislation. According to Ring, “Jim Crow laws were tested in 1894 by Homer Plessey when convicted in Louisiana for riding in a white only railway car. Plessey took his case to the Supreme Court but the justices voted in favor of the Louisiana Court. William B. Brown established the legality of segregation as long as facilities were kept “separate but equal”. Only one of the justices, John Harlan, disagreed with this decision.” This also included law that discriminated against African- Americans with attendance in public schools and the use of places such as restaurants, theaters, hotels and movie theaters, trains and buses were also segregate. There were even laws that made it impossible for an African- American to vote. In most cases, if an African American would go into these public places they would not get treated the same. They would often be ignored and/or humiliated. Ultimately, they would not get the same service like everyone else because the mindset was that whites were the dominant race and they should be superior to everyone else. Regarding, voting African- Americans must have passed a literacy tests and pay a high poll tax, the test contained informal loopholes and trick questions. I took a political science class at BMCC and the professor gave the whole class a Jim Crow literacy exam, I was shocked when everyone in the class failed it. The states that enforced Jim Crows Laws did everything in their power to not allow African- Americans the right to vote. According Johnson, “By the 1890s, Southern states began to deprive African Americans of their voting rights by creating stringent voting restrictions. Property qualifications were required in Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina; a registered voter had to own as much as $300 or more in real estate or personal assets. Poll taxes were imposed in Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, and several other states with property qualifications. A third common voting restriction was an education qualification.” From the 1700s-1965, African- Americans had very little say in public policies. If people do not have a say in any matter people will take advantage of it. If only whites could vote politicians would not cater to other groups because it does not benefit them; in fact, it might hurt them because most whites especially in the south did not think African -Americans were entitled to civil rights. It was part of the white’s value system; they felt if they allowed African -Americans to have rights there values would be destroyed because other values might come into play as part of policy making.
On July 26, 1948, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 establishing equality of treatment and opportunity in the Armed Services. According to Maxwell, “Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which began an arduous process that would, over the next 17 years, fully integrate the nation’s military.” This like the health care bill. It could not be changed overnight because it needs to get phased in over a certain time period.
Many events lead to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In December of 1955, Rosa Parks, started a major progressive movement. According to McGuire,” Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a while man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her defiance of Jim Crows law violated a city ordinance. Parks was arrested, convicted, and fined.” After the word spread of Rosa Park’s arrest, there was a large backlash against the Montgomery Bus Company. For one year people boycotted the bus company and refused to ride it, until they changed their policy. The people wanted public transportation desegregated. African-Americans were paying to ride the bus, just as the whites were. All they wanted was to be treated fairly whenever they took a ride on the bus. They did not want to have to give their seat up simply because they were African-Americans.
Governments set up committees in order to dissect domestic problems of inequality within the workforce. According to Donald, Presidential Studies Quarterly, “The President’s committee on equal employment opportunity headed by Vice President Johnson investigated seventeen hungered complaints of discrimination in employment.” This committee was established to ensure people would not be discriminated against in the workplace. The committee, run by Vice President Johnson investigated seventeen hundred complaints. Through their research, they came to the conclusion that seventy percent of the complaints were true. While the research helped build a framework of the problem, employment of African- Americans still remained low until the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Many court cases may way for a civil rights act, one being Brown vs. the Board of Education. According to Cozzens, “The Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessey for public education, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and required the desegregation of schools across America.” This landmark case made it illegal for public schools to discriminate against people just because they were black. It paved the way for more social change in the United States.
In September of 1963 President Kennedy got involved when the University of Mississippi, denied someone admissions because of their skin color. According to Williams, “James Meredith, a black man, wanted to go to an all-white school called the University of Mississippi. It was not surprising that the school objected. With the backing of the NAACP, Meredith sued the University of Mississippi and won. President John F. Kennedy told the department of defense to protect James Meredith when he went to the school.” There were many riots because of this decision. President Kennedy wanted to protect Meredith and others around him because if troops were not there he might have gotten hurt or even killed.
The NAACP was founded in February of 1909; they are widely recognized has the greatest grassroots organization for civil rights. This organization led many marches to Washington D.C. during the 1960s. During the marches they would demand change. The organization did its best to recruit women and young people. The young people were the future and if they got involved more civil rights laws would get passed.
The civil rights act of 1964 was a very heated debate among politicians. In the 1960 presidential election campaign John F. Kennedy wanted to see a civil rights act. After the election it was discovered that over 70 percent of the African- American vote went to Kennedy. He was young and very energetic; therefore, people figured he was the best person to advocate for civil rights. However, during the first two years of his presidency, Kennedy failed to put forward his promised legislation. With very hard work and protest for it, the civil rights bill was brought before Congress in 1963 and in a speech on television on June 11th 1963, President Kennedy pointed out that, “The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day; one third as much chance of completing college; one third as much chance of becoming a professional man; twice as much chance of becoming unemployed; about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year; a life expectancy which is seven years shorter; and the prospects of earning only half as much.” Because African-Americans had fewer rights than whites, they did not have a great chance at making a decent living because people looked down upon them. Since there was segregation in schools African-American’s were denied the rights to an education. This is one of the reason there was a high dropout rate in school among the African-American community. If they were being mistreated in the schools what was the point of them going. Plus, there were many death threats against them which made them scared for their lives if they went to school. President Kennedy’s Civil Rights bill was still being debated by Congress when he was assassinated in November 22 1963. According to Davis, “At 9:51 on the morning of June 10, 1964, Senator Robert C. Byrd completed an address that he had begun 14 hours and 13 minutes earlier. The subject was the pending Civil Rights Act of 1964, a measure that occupied the Senate for 57 working days, including six Saturdays. A day earlier, Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey, the bill’s manager, concluded he had the 60 votes required at that time to end the debate.” The reason Senator Byrd was making such a long speech was an attempt to stop the bill from going to a vote, this process is called a filibuster. If Humphrey did not have the 67 votes to end the filibuster, Senator Byrd and others against the civil rights bill could have spoken for as long as they wished. Wish means the bill would not have passed.
In July of 1964, the progressive movement many people wanted to see happened. Just before President Johnson signed the bill into law he made a television announcement. During his television announcement he said, “The purpose of the law is simple. It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so as long has he respects the rights of others.” This law was established, in order to end made racial discrimination in public places, such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, illegal. It also required employers to provide equal employment opportunities furthermore; it gave African-Americans a better chance at the American dream. Many people were worried that since President Kennedy was killed that the bill died with him; however, President Johnson took Kennedy’s bill and advocated that it got passed. When he became president most of his time he was focused on civil rights. Many people view him has a bad president because of the Vietnam War, It is upsetting to me that people only look at the mistakes he made and not the major changes he brought to society.
The civil rights act, was the only civil rights bill President Johnson passed. In 1965 President Johnson persuaded congress to pass the voting rights act. In a speech president Johnson said, “Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.” The Presidents view was everyone should have the right to vote regardless of their skin color. Politicians from the deep south opposed this bill because the majority of people did not want to extend voting rights to African-Americans. Although, many politicians were against the bill it still passed by a large majority. The House of Representatives voted 333 to 48 and the senate voted 77 to 19. Ultimately, this piece of legislation gave power to the United States Government to register those whom the states refused to put on the voting list. President Johnson knew there was going to be a large uproar against democrats in the south; however, he put the people for his party which we don’t see much in history.
Through these civil rights movements came great leaders one being, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. According to The Nobel Peace Foundation 1964, “In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles.” A majority of Dr. King’s life was fighting for justice to get minorities civil rights. He strongly felt America needs to leap forward and give the African-Americans the rights that everyone else had. During a demonstration in Alabama, he and many others were put in jail. During his jail time he wrote a letter called Letter from Birmingham Jail, in the letter one of the things he wrote was, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” In the letter, he encouraged people to come out and protest in a peaceful way. He wanted to see the movement grow because there would be more publicity with the media and television. If movements are small they will not get enough attention because not as mnay people would care about it.
One of the most remarkable speech’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave was, I have a dream speech in August of 1963. I listened to the entire speech and think it is one of the best speech’s I ever heard. He begins his speech talking about the emancipation of the slaves, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, and later mentions that after being freed from slavery, African-Americans were still not free. King claims all men were issued a check and a promise of freedom, yet for African-American men and women that check has come back with insufficient funds. King, along with his many supporters, demanded their freedom now. They no longer wanted to be treated like second class citizens. They wanted freedom like everyone else.
The 1960s had many assassinations, one being Martin Luther King Jr. During a trip to Memphis he was shot and killed by James Earl Ray, at the Lorraine Motel. When people heard of his death many riots broke out. People were very upset and sad that a leader, that did only good things for people was shot and killed for no legitimate reason. Perhaps if Dr. King did not get killed he would have made a presidential run. He was very popular especially among minority groups.
Another leader that paved the way for social changes was Malcolm X. According to Knight, “Malcolm X was arrested and sent to prison for committed grand larceny in the late 1940s proved to be a turning point for Malcolm X. He frequently commented that it was a good thing that his time spent as a wayward and confused youth landed him in jail, for that was where he was introduced to the Nation of Islam.” Malcolm X had a very hard upbringing his family was very poor and throughout his childhood many people told him he would not amount to anything because he is black. His got involved with drugs which led him to steal. Sometimes jail is a good thing. When Malcolm X went to jail he made a turn for the better. When he got out of jail he became an advocate for civil rights. According to Petin, “while critiquing the remnants of white
Supremacy, questioning civil rights and advocating black self-defense. Along with speaking to ethnically mixed audiences in public forums, Malcolm X participated in countless interviews and debates, which appeared on numerous popular television programs and in print media, such as newspapers and magazines.” Even though Malcolm X words could a bit radial his words still motivated people to demand change. He inspired people to stand up to injustice .
Robert Kennedy, the brother of President John Kennedy ran for president in 1968. He also advocated for civil rights. Before his assassination he said, “The United States would have a Negro president in 40 years.” His predication came true when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Still the Republican Party nominee John McCain won former confederate states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee; however Obama did manage to win Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, which were also confederate states. Many people feel the reason why his poll numbers are declining is because of his skin color. Many people also feel this is one of the reasons why the democrat’s did so poorly in the midterm elections. The United States clearly still has racism in it. We still have a long way to go, but we have come a long way.
There are still many forms of racism that exist today one being, employment of African-Americans. According to Haynes, “Unemployment for African Americans is projected to reach a 25-year high this year, according to a study released Thursday by an economic think tank, with the national rate soaring to 17.2 percent and the rates in five states exceeding 20 percent.” Since the number is so high I think discrimination is still occurring at a higher rate than what people think. According to Haynes, “Blacks as well as Latinos were far behind whites in employment levels even when the economy was booming. But throughout the recession, the unemployment rate has grown much faster for African Americans and Latinos than for whites.” Even when the economy was booming this problem was still occurring. There were plenty of jobs in the 1990s; however, minorities were often left in the dark, which meant they had a slim chance at making a decent life for themselves.
As one can see, society has come a long way. It is very hard to believe that the United States aloud slavery to exist. This country was founded on freedom; sadly, African-Americans did not get their freedom until the 1960s. When enough people stand up when harmful policies are enforced, the government might overturn them because so many people are protesting against them.