The Civil Rights Movement Essay

LISA R. BROWN HIS303: THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT INSTRUCTOR: TAMMI CLEARFIELD June 7, 2010 Thesis: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. ” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, during the civil rights movement, Dr. King’s dream moved us a little closer to that reality. But in today’s society we still strive for our civil rights.

By exploring the civil rights movement this essay will show that Dr. King’s dream still has a long way to go before mankind no matter race, creed, or color can live in the same world with the same civil and equal rights. And only then will the civil rights movement, will have accomplished it’s goal. From the beginning, race has been at the heart of the deepest divisions in the United States and the greatest challenges to its democratic vision.

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Africans were brought to the continent in slavery. Taken from their own country unwillingly to serve man in the ruthless, unbearable, and harden conditions, People of color stripped from their way of living, to be brought to a country to be ruled by an unjust and cruel stiff hand. During the course of the slave trade, millions of Africans became involuntary immigrants to the New World. Some African captives resisted enslavement by fleeing from slave forts on the West African coast.

Others mutinied on board slave trading vessels, or cast themselves into the ocean. In the New World there were those who ran away from their owners, ran away among the Indians, formed maroon societies, revolted, feigned sickness, or participated in work slow downs. Some sought and succeeded in gaining liberty through various legal means such as “good service” to their masters, self-purchase, or military service. Still others seemingly acquiesced and learned to survive in servitude.

The European, American, and African slave traders engaged in the lucrative trade in humans, and the politicians and businessmen who supported them, did not intend to put into motion a chain of events that would motivate the captives and their descendants to fight for full citizenship in the United States of America. But they did. When Thomas Jefferson penned the words, “All men are created equal,” he could not possibly have envisioned hoe literally his own slaves and others would take his words.

African Americans repeatedly questioned how their owners could consider themselves noble in their own fight for independence from England while simultaneously believing that it was wrong for slaves to do the same. Africans and their American-born descendants used every method to resist enslavement, as well as demand emancipation and full participation in American society. Their strategies varied, but the goal remained unchanged: freedom and equality. Black and white abolitionists in the first half of the nineteenth century waged a biracial assault against slavery.

Their efforts proved to be extremely effective. Abolitionists focused attention on slavery and made it difficult to ignore. They heightened the rift that had threatened to destroy the unity of the nation even as early as the Constitutional Convention. Although some Quakers were slaveholders, members of that religious group were among the earliest to protest the African slave trade, the perpetual bondage of its captives, and the practice of separating enslaved family members by sale to different masters.

As the nineteenth century progressed, many abolitionists united to form numerous antislavery societies. These groups sent petitions with thousands of signatures to Congress, held abolition meetings and conferences, boycotted products made with slave labor, printed mountains of literature, and gave innumerable speeches for their cause. Individual abolitionists sometimes advocated violent means for bringing slavery to an end. Although black and white abolitionists often worked together, by the 1840s they differed in philosophy and method.

While many white abolitionists focused only on slavery, black Americans tended to couple anti-slavery activities with demands for racial equality and justice. Abraham Lincoln’s election led to secession and secession to war. When the Union soldiers entered the South, thousands of African Americans fled from their owners to Union camps. The Union officers did not immediately receive an official order on how to manage this addition to their numbers. Some sought to return the slaves to their owners, but others kept the blacks within their lines and dubbed them “contraband of war. Many “contraband” greatly aided the war effort with their labor. After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was effective on January 1, 1863, black soldiers were officially allowed to participate in the war. The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed African Americans in rebel states, and after the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment emancipated all U. S. slaves wherever they were. As a result, the mass of Southern blacks now faced the difficulty Northern blacks had confronted—that of a free people surrounded by many hostile whites.

One freedman, Houston Hartsfield Holloway, wrote, “For we colored people did not know how to be free and the white people did not know how to have a free colored person about them. ” African American Odyssey: Slavery—The Peculiar Institution (part 1) from www. http://memory. loc. gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aopart 1. html retrieved on June 7,2010 The abolitionist movement used the Civil War to press first for the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, freeing slaves in the Confederate States, and then for the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery throughout the United States in 1865.

A program of Reconstruction under occupation by the Union army protected the right of freed slaves to vote, and radical governments including black officials took office. The Freedmen’s Bureau coordinated efforts to set up schools for blacks and establish a system of free labor for their employment, but efforts at land reform were cut short and a sound economic foundation for free blacks was not achieved. The Panic of 1873 and subsequent depression undercut the economic revival of the South.

Bargaining for a majority in the Electoral College after the indecisive presidential election of 1876, Republican Rutherford Hays agreed to withdrawal of federal troops from the South in 1877, assuring a return to white supremacy. The Reconstruction era constitutional amendments (the 13th,14th and 15th) were insufficient by themselves to guarantee the protection of rights to Southern blacks. Independent black institutions—churches, clubs, benevolent societies, schools—survived, but gains in civil rights were rolled back after 1877 as the “Jim Crow” system of legal segregation was tightened in the South.

Mob rule was commonplace; there were 4,742 documented cases of lynchings in the United States between 1882 and 1964—3,445 blacks and 1,297 whites (most of the whites were lynched before 1900). Lynchings didn’t drop below 10 per year until 1936. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 endorsed “separate but equal” as the legal basis of segregation. Two contrasting approaches to black development were advanced by Booker T. Washington (1865-1915) and W.

E. B. DuBois (1868-1963). Washington advocated uplift of Negroes through education and industrial training, acknowledging the strength of systematic segregation by avoiding efforts for political and social equality in the South. Washington interested Northern white philanthropists in supporting his programs, including Tuskegee Institute, and appealed to the Southern planter- industrialist class to see common interests in preparing blacks to work in Southern industry.

Washington’s ideas influenced the founders of the National Urban League (NUL) in 1910, established to provide assistance to blacks in Northern cities, and would find echoes in later movements for black separatism and black nationalism—including the rapid rise and fall of Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association in the 1920s and both Leftist nationalist and black Muslim movements from the mid-1960s forward. DuBois rejected accommodation and urged protest and agitation for political and social equality.

In 1905 he organized the Niagara Movement to restore black Americans’ political and civil rights, under attack since the end of Reconstruction, and counter the vocational self-help programs of Booker T. Washington with a movement for equal rights. DuBois was a co0founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, the first editor of its magazine The Crisis, and organizer of the first Pan-African Congress in 1919. Both the NAACP and the NUL were creations of the progressive era.

The progressive white co-founders of the NAACP and the NUL, living primarily in New York, were often from families with an abolitionist background. Many would become prominent leaders of other progressive era organizations, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the American Civil Liberties Union. To an extent, the NAACP and NUL reflected political and economic alternatives, but they also represented a division of labor within a broader vision of political, social, and economic equality—the NAACP emphasizing political agitation and legal action for racial equality, and the NUL emphasizing employment opportunities.

The NUL not only promoted vocational guidance and training, it strongly supported an end to employment discrimination. For the first half of the 20th Century, the primary vehicle for the continuing black freedom movement was the NAACP, which conducted a three-decade campaign against lynching and began the legal work that would culminate in the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1955 that overturned Plessy’s “separate but equal” doctrine and set the stage for the civil rights movement of the mid-1950s and 1960s.

Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge,1986) The vast migration of nearly 5 million African-Americans from the South to the North and West between 1910 and 1960 opened a new window of political opportunity for the civil rights movement. Blacks went from being non-voters in the South to voters in the North, and under the influence of Roosevelt’s New Deal began to switch allegiance from the Republicans to the Democrats with the election of 1936. Reflecting this growing political influence, A.

Phillip Randolph (a socialist and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) brought together several black civil rights groups in his March on Washington Movement in 1940. The threat of the March prompted Roosevelt to issue Executive Order No. 8802 in June 1941, banning discrimination in defense industries and in government, and also setting up a Fair Employment Practices Committee- just in time to open up defense industry jobs to blacks during World War II.

After the war, Randolph saw an opportunity to end segregation in the military itself. He threatened to lead a movement among blacks to refuse military service, angering President Harry Truman but convincing him to issue Executive Order 9981, ending segregation in the armed services. Black voters subsequently made the difference in several key states—including Illinois, Ohio and California—for Truman’s upset victory in the presidential election of 1948.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown in 1954, the border South states began desegregating school systems, but the Deep South waited to see what the federal government would do about enforcing the ruling. The civil rights movement began with the Montgomery bus boycott, initiated when Rosa Parks was arrested for not surrendering her seat to a whit passenger. Parks had been a state and local NAACO leader for several years, and had recently attended a workshop at the Highlander Folk School where participants discussed what they could do to foster change in their communities.

Her associate in the Montgomery NAACP, E. D Nixon (a sleeping car porter and member of Randolph’s union) helped mobilize local ministers while Jo Anne Robinson, president of the Women’s Political Council and teacher at Alabama State College, mimeographed leaflets calling for a boycott. Local ministers formed the Montgomery Improvement Association, and selected newcomer Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as president. The year-long bus boycott ended only when in November 1956 the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the federal district court in Browder v. Gayle that Alabama’s law n racial segregation in busses was unconstitutional. This victory sparked the organization in 1957 of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an association of ministers committed to furthering the civil rights movement. In the fall of 1957 the attention of the world was drawn to the effort to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Arkansas NAACP president Daisy Bates led the legal strategy resulting in nine black students entering the school, protected from mobs by federal troops dispatched by President Dwight Eisenhower.

Tactics for the next stage of the movement were being developed by James Lawson and Glenn Smiley, two ministers on the staff of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, who began working with King and the SCLC in 1958 to conduct workshops on nonviolent direct action. Independently of each other, groups of black college students in Greensboro and Nashville began lunch-counter sit-ins in early 1960, and the movement spread quickly.

The SCLC’s staffer Ella Baker called a meeting of students involved in the sit-ins, and some 300 showed up at Shaw University in Raleigh over Easter weekend in 1960, and ended up forming an independent organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The three legs of the civil rights movement in the South were local NAACP chapter network, the black churches, and the black colleges. Each had its own organizational form—the NAACP, the SCLC, and SNCC. But other organizations also played important roles, particularly the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), led by James Farmer.

CORE and FOR had sponsored an integrated bus trip through four upper South states in1947, called the “Journey of Reconciliation. ” Reviving that idea, Farmer decided to challenge segregated transportation by a “Freedom Ride” through the deep South in 1961. In Birmingham the Freedom Riders were attacked by a mob, with police complicity, in an event that received international press coverage, but Freedom Riders persisted throughout the summer. As Southern resistance to integration stiffened, A.

Phillip Randolph led a coalition of civil rights groups that called for a March on Washington for Jobs and Justice in August 1963 to demand passage of the Civil Rights Act. Randolph’s colleague Bayard Rustin—who had worked on the staff of FOR, SCLC and the War Resisters League—served as the deputy director of the March, which drew a quarter-million people to the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Mississippi proved to be a heartland of segregationist resistance. President Kennedy had to federalize the state National Guard to protect James Meredith, who enrolled at Ole Miss in 1962.

In June 1963 the NAACP’s state field director Medgar Evers was assassinated at his home in Jackson; President Kennedy was killed in Dallas in November. The NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, and CORE worked together under the umbrella of the Conference of Federated Organizations (COFO) to conduct a Freedom Vote mock election in 1963 and sponsor the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964. Freedom summer began with the kidnapping and murders of project volunteer Andrew Goodman and two civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney.

President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in July 1964. The Mississippi volunteers persisted, and the summer ended with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s widely-publicized unsuccessful challenge to the regular white delegation to the Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City (future delegations would be integrated). It took further demonstrations, violence by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and the march from Selma to Montgomery early in 1965 to build pressure for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act.

A watershed event in the civil rights movement occurred with the 16-day “walk against fear” from Memphis to Jackson announced in June 1966 by James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Meredith was shot from ambush and hospitalized on the second day of his march, and SCLC and SNCC leaders agreed to take up his march. At evening rallies and during the march, Stokley Carmichael raised the slogan “black power,” SCLC and SNCC led competing chants of “Freedom Now! ” and “Black Power! Separatist sentiment in SNCC pushed young whites out of the movement—back to campuses and the anti-Vietnam War movement. The rise of Black Nationalism strained relations between black movement leaders and old allies, including many Jews who had long been strong civil rights supporters. Women were prompted to reexamine their roles in the civil rights struggle—reflections which gave a powerful push to the emerging women’s liberation movement. Several of the organizations that emerged in the 1950s and 60s—including CORE, SCLC, and SNCC—either failed to survive the next decade or continued with diminished influence.

CORE and SNCC both moved entirely to Black Nationalism, SNCC disintegrating and CORE reduced to marginality. Indeed King’s program had floundered when he entered the North, with his Chicago campaign out maneuvered by Mayor Richard Daley. The Poor People’s Campaign attempted to address the roots or poverty, but ended in disarray, After King’s assassination in Memphis in 1968, SCLC never regained more than regional influence. Core: A study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968 (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1973) by August Meier and Elliott Rudwick. The civil rights movement that spanned the years following the Brown v.

Board of Education decision of 1954 through the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 marked a watershed period that accomplished far more than the elimination of racial barriers; it led to the overwhelming transformation of American social, cultural, and political life. Changes to prevailing notions about the citizenship rights of blacks, for example, coupled with a redefinition of the role of the government and courts in protecting these rights, continue to bolster the human rights of all Americans, regardless of their skin color. The words civil rights often conjure images of Martin Luther King Jr. elivering his soul-stirring “I Have a Dream” speech before the nation’s capital. On a darker note, many recall television footage of peaceful marchers beset by fire hoses and snarling police dogs, or the resolute faces of black college students as they waged their sit-in campaigns at southern lunch counters. Certainly one of the most trenchant set of images- and perhaps representing the nadir of the movement – are the photographs or four young black schoolgirls who were killed when a bomb ripped through the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where they were attending Sunday School.

These and other images are testament to the intense burst of black activism- and the resulting whit backlash—that characterized the civil rights movement to the mid—twentieth century. In conclusion, African Americans have always struggled for their rights. Many consider the civil rights movement to have begun not in the 1950s but when Africans were first brought in chains, centuries earlier, to American shores. In particular, those blacks who fought their enslavement and demanded fundamental citizenship rights laid the foundation for the modern civil rights movement.

The legacy of the civil rights movement nevertheless left a permanent mark on American society. The most overt forms of racial discrimination came to an end, and racial violence declined immeasurably. Today, African Americans can freely exercise their right to vote, and in communities where blacks were once barred from the polls, blacks are elected to public offices. Millions of blacks, too, have been lifted out of poverty as a result of the many economic opportunities created by the civil rights movement.

More importantly, the civil rights movement served as a model for the advancement of other minority groups, including women, the disabled, gays, Hispanics, and many others. Despite these gains, the civil rights movement fell short on many counts, and the fight for equality is far from over. Yet the black freedom struggle achieved something enduring: It profoundly changed people’s attitudes and made the promise of America if not a reality, at least a possibility. The Civil Right Movement, from http:// www. notes. com/civil-rights-article//print retrieved on June 7, 2010 References: Perspective on Race and Ethnicity: Michael Omni and Howard Winant offer a new synthesis of racial and ethnic theories in Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge, 1986). For the ethnicity paradigm, see Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, Ethnicity: Theory and Experience (Harvard Univ. Press. 1975); and the thematic essays in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Harvard Univ. Press, 1980).

African Americans: For an overview of the African American Freedom movement, see Vincent Harding, There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981) Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution. 1863-1877 (Harper & Row, 1988) is the definitive study to date on this crucial period. The gradual introduction of segregation following the Compromise of 1877 is traced by C. Vann Woodward in The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 3rd revised edition (1955; Oxford Univ. Press, 1987) The special role of women’s leadership is analyzed by Belinda Robnett, How Long?

How Long? African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights (Oxford Univ. Press. 1997). The long tradition of black women activist is traced in Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994 (W. W. Norton, 1999), and Lynne Olson, Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 10 1970 (Scribner, 2001). The movement in Mississippi is the subject of several studies. On the 1964 summer project, see Doug McAdam, Freedom Summer (Oxford Univ. Press, 1988).

See also Freedom is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Ed. By Susie Erenrich (Cultural Center for Social Change, 1999) African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, The exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship showcases the incomparable African American collection of the Library of Congress. Explore black America’s quest for equality from the early national period through the twentieth century. www. http://memory. 1oc. gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aointro,html retrieved on June 7, 2010

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