American Civil Rights Movement
The American Civil Rights Movement was a more than a century-long struggle for the African Americans and other minorities of the USA to gain the fundamental human rights enjoyed by the white Americans. Examples of civil rights include the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, the right to government services, the right to public education, and the right to use public facilities. Lasting from 1954 to 1968, this political movement aimed to abolish institutional racial segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement throughout the United States.
Though slavery was abolished and former slaves were officially granted political rights after the Civil War, in most Southern states African Americans continued to be systematically disenfranchised and excluded from public life, leading them to become perpetual second-class citizens. There was no improvement in life for ordinary black people in America
- ‘Jim Crow laws were passed in the southern states denying black people equal rights. Black people were not allowed to use ‘whites only’ public facilities such as schools and parks.
- The Ku Klux Klan was formed during the reconstruction of the South after the Civil War in 1865. It aimed to promote ‘white supremacy’ by intimidating, attacking and lynching black people.
- In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was set up to oppose discrimination by challenging it in the courts.
- In the 1920s and 1930s, the Harlem Renaissance led to black Americans look into their history and begin to connect to their African roots. Black writers such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston wrote books and poetry that explored and celebrated black culture.
- In 1942, James Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to challenge segregation by non-violent direct action.
- In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to fight for civil rights through peaceful marches and demonstrations
Main Features of the Movement
The main features of the Movement were as follows
1. Bottom-up Movement: No doubt, Martin Luther King galvanised it, the Civil Rights Movement was basically a ‘bottom up’, movement. It relied on the actions of thousands of individuals from local churches, trade unions and community organisations as well as significant individuals, based mainly in African American churches and colleges of the South. Most of these efforts were local in scope, but the impact was felt at the national level
2. Non-violent Movement: By and large, the Civil Rights Movement was non-violent although it did witness sporadic bouts of violence. By the 1950s the marginalization of African Americans, forced its participants to become extreme. During the 1950s and ’60s, it broke the pattern of public facilities being segregated by “race” in the South and achieved the most important breakthrough in equal-rights legislation for African Americans since the Reconstruction period (1865–77).
3. Inter-sectional Movement: Coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, a renowned legal scholar and civil rights advocate the term “intersectionality” described the notion that all injustice and oppression (including racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, and speciesism, among others were are interconnected. Thus, realising the overlapping systems of bias and discrimination oppressing Black women, the Civil Rights Movement built successful alliances with different kinds of other activist movements such as environmental protection groups, labour unions, Indigenous Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino Americans organisations etc. Its alliance building with feminist movements after the 2nd WW gave it a big push in terms of acceptance and public participation.
4. Comprehensive Movement: Although overwhelming a Black people’s movement, a fairly large segment of society sympathised with the cause; in fact, quite a large number of its activists were white people belonging to the left politics. It involved all types of protests-marches, boycotts, and extensive efforts of civil disobedience, such as sit-ins, as well as voter education and voting drives.
5. Different from Civil Liberties Movement: While the white people were demanding civil liberties, which are freedoms that are secured by placing restraints on government, this movement aimed for civil rights to be secured by positive government action, often in the form of legislation.
6. More than Civil Rights Movement: Many historians now often refer to the Civil Rights Movement as ‘the Black freedom struggle’, to more accurately describe how ideas about black liberation have always involved more than a focus on the legalities of civil rights, as important as they are.
Drivers of the Movement
Like any movement, the Civil Rights Movement of the USA had several drivers
1. Institutionalised Discrimination: Though slavery was abolished and former slaves were officially granted political rights after the Civil War, in most Southern states African Americans continued to be systematically disenfranchised and excluded from public life, leading them to become perpetual second-class citizens. The civil rights movement became necessary because of the failure of Reconstruction (1865–77), which, by way of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments, had provided constitutional guarantees of the legal and voting rights of formerly enslaved people.
2. Societal Discrimination: It was not only the state institutions that were discriminating against the African Americans based on duly passed laws and using due process but the white segment of the American society was handed in glove with this racial discrimination. Although slavery had been banished, the blacks were treated as if there the serfs. They were never invited to all-white social functions, not to speak of engaging them in private gatherings. This discrimination at the individual level was one of the most critical drivers of the Civil Rights Movement as it forced even those to join the campaign who had not to have much interaction with state institutions.
3. Conflicts, Crisis, and Wars: America’s growing role as a superpower led to its involvement in global conflicts, crises, and wars that needed manpower. Thus the blacks who had shown their mettle during the Civil War were recruited in greater number in the American arm. In the Second World War, black Americans fought for the USA. In 1948, the US military finally allowed black and white soldiers to serve next to each other. However, the war caused many black Americans to question why they would fight overseas against a racist power like Nazi Germany for freedoms they did not enjoy at home in the USA. When they came back, they were the most ardent advocates of civil rights for their compatriots.
4. Industrial Development: As the USSA developed industrially, it needed more labour force, not only in the industries but also in the related service sector. Opening the doors of even middle management to coloured people resulted in their acceptance as human beings. Their hard work convinced the white people that the productivity of a person has nothing to do with his caste creed or colour
5. Global Opinion: Although the Americans are not much bothered about the global public opinion about their internal affairs, this treatment of the blacks and minorities had a negative backlash. It became difficult for them to treat their blacks inhumanly while lecturing the Third World about the high moral values for which they solicited their support. Some historians have paid more attention to its international context, including the Cold War, decolonization, and campaigns against racism in places like South Africa, Brazil, and Britain.
6. Identity Politics: Racial discrimination against the blacks marginalised them to such an extent that a black belonging to any tribe considered himself/herself as belonging to one community what Benedict Anderson calls an “imagined community”
7. Increasing Awareness: With modernisation, there occurred attitudinal and behavioural changes in American society. Ease of travel and the explosion of print and electronic media created greater awareness among the public, forcing them to change their perceptions.
Consequences of the Civil Rights Movement
- In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr won the Nobel Peace Prize for his use of non-violence and his social justice work for black Americans and oppressed people around the world. The third Monday in January in America is Martin Luther Jr King Day, a national holiday.
- The Civil Rights Act (1964) outlawed segregation in schools, public places and jobs.
- The Voting Rights Act (1965) made it illegal to do anything that might limit the number of people able to vote. Some states had used a poll tax or a literacy test to try and prevent black people from voting as many black people had limited access to education.
- The Fair Housing Act (1968) banned discrimination in housing.
- The Equal Opportunity Act (1972) sought to ensure African Americans were better represented in certain industries.
- In 1964, 100 African Americans held political office, by 1992 the number had reached 8,000.
- In 2008, a black American, Barack Obama, became President of the United States.
- Civil rights did not bring prosperity or jobs to most black communities. Many black Americans remained poor and frustrated by persistent discrimination, police harassment and low standards of living.
- The basic rights that had been promised to many black Americans were not realised in practice.
- As a result, groups such as the Black Panthers sought to move the Civil Rights Movement to another level by encouraging black communities to become self-sufficient by setting up food, housing and education schemes, as well as policing their communities.
- The Black Panthers also saw violence as a justifiable and effective way to bring about political change.
- In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. This led to a wave of riots that destroyed many black communities across American cities. Some of these communities never recovered.
- To this day, poverty, violence and discrimination against black people continue.
Thank you very much for reading the article
If you liked it, kindly express your appreciation by clicking the clap icon below as many times as you like
Why not share it with your friends on social media? Knowledge is a common heritage of us all
And, kindly, do follow me as well as subscribe to my newsletter
You may like to read also
1. International Relations: Definition, History,& Scope
2. Modern Nation-state: Origins, Features, & Prospects
3. National Interest: Definition, Components, Determination
4. Islamophobia: Genesis, Challenges & Response
5. Globalisation: Challenges & Response
6. Eight Drivers of Globalisation
7. Global Terrorism: Challenges & Response
Global Terrorism: Challenges & Response
Terrorism is a historical as well as a universal phenomenon, practised by every type of organisation, religious or…
8. Arab Spring: Causes, Consequences, & Lessons Learnt
9. Why did the USSR enter Afghanistan 1979?
10. Vietnam War: Causes of American Defeat
11. Afghanistan War: 8 Causes of American Defeat