African Americans have been forced to fight for the same rights that are held by all Americans, since the very beginning.
Although laws have been passed since the Civil War, many of the states refused to offer racial equality to the African American community, placing barriers in the way to deter them for everything from jobs and home purchases all the way to voting abilities.
The Civil Rights Movement typically refers to the peaceful protests that occurred during the 1950’s through the 1960’s, sparked by the strength of the iconic Rosa Parks and led by inspirational leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
The continued efforts of non-violent protest led to the passing in 1964 of the Civil Rights Act.
Pre and Post Civil War
A majority of the reason that the Civil War happened was due to the topic of slavery. While many Northern/Eastern states had outlawed slavery, the southern states depended on slavery for their very existence and refused to offer the same freedom and rights to Black Americans.
Prior to the Civil War, there was a movement to end slavery that was led by “abolitionists.” These individuals expressed their dislike for slavery and wanted it to be stopped throughout the country.
President Abraham Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War that freed all slaves and when the Civil War ended the country added the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so that slavery was illegal.
Southern States Push Back
Slavery was part of a lifestyle in the southern states and even after the Civil War ended and the 13th Amendment was passed, many southern states refused to change.
Their poor treatment of African Americans extended to passing individual state laws that created segregation.
These were called “Jim Crow Laws” and required African Americans to have separate restrooms, water fountains, schools, restaurants, hotels, and transportation from “white” people.
Additional laws were passed in some states that required fees and/or the ability to read/write to vote.
The southern states did everything that they could to continue to treat African Americans in a class below the white citizens.
The Founding of the NAACP
By 1909, the Jim Crow laws of the south had pushed African Americans to the breaking point and this led to many of their leaders joining together to found the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
Leaders such as Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Du Bois began the crusade in the formation of the first organization devoted to the rights of Black Americans.
These efforts were reinforced by other Black leaders such as Booker T. Washington to assist in the creation of schools for Black Americans so that they could be more educated and elevate their social status with improved knowledge and jobs.
Segregation Prompted a Movement
The continued segregation that existed in the southern states caused a legal battle of Brown v. Brown of education.
The Supreme Court made a ruling in that case that it was illegal to have segregation in schools.
The situation peaked when Federal troops had to be called in to a white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas to allow what was called “the Little Rock Nine”, a group of Black American kids, to safely attend a previously all-white high school.
Black Americans were always forced to sit in the back of transportation as well as give up their seats to white Americans.
In 1955, Rosa Parks, a Black American woman, was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for not giving up her seat on a bus to a white person.
This upset Black Americans so much that they created the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Black Americans and white Americans that supported the cause, refused to use the bus system and this situation lasted for over a year.
It was at this time that the movement was being led in non-violent protests by Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. and it included the famous gathering to form the Birmingham Campaign and the March on Washington. It was here that Dr. King gave his inspirational speech: “I have a dream.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964/Voting Rights Act of 1965
While Black Americans were offering peaceful and non-violent protests around the country, they were not being met well by white people and the police.
As Black Americans refused to fight or cause problems, they were hit with high pressure water hoses, dragged into police wagons, beaten with clubs, and the police even instituted attack dogs.
Most of the country watched on the news on the televisions and it was clear that it was time for a major change.
President Lyndon Johnson finally signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made it against the law for any discrimination based on race, national background, and gender.
This was the first step to empower organizations such as the NAACP so that they had the ability to fight against discrimination in the court system.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed making it against the law to deny any citizen the right to vote based on race as well as outlawing literacy test and any fee to pay to vote, known as “poll taxes.”
Facts about the Civil Rights Movement:
- King almost didn’t give his speech “I have a Dream.” However, Mahalia Jackson, beloved gospel singer and follower of Dr. King’s, prompted him on stage at the March on Washington “tell them about your dream.”
- John F. Kennedy originally proposed the creation of the Civil Rights Act.
- The Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, is now the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee
- Known as the Fair Housing Act, the 1968 Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate in the sale or renting of housing.