Although slavery was abolished after the Civil War (1861-65), and African Americans were made citizens, and given the right to vote, injustice and violence against them in the society didn’t stop. By the mid-twentieth centuries, African Americans as well as some white Americans mobilized and began an extraordinary fight for equality known as Civil Rights Movement. Civil Rights movement is the decade-long struggle made by African Americans and their supporters to gain equal rights. Segregation and discrimination can be indicated as the main reasons for Civil Rights Movement.
Key Areas Covered
Key Words: African Americans, Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow Laws, March on Washington, Racial Segregation, Rosa Parks
What is Civil Rights Movement
Civil Rights movement is the decade-long struggle for equality and justice for African Americans that took place during the 1950s and 1960s, nearly a century after the abolition of slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery in the United States in 1865. The Fourteenth Amendment in 1867 granted African Americans equal protection under the law while the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 gave African American males the right to vote. However, African Americans continued to face social, economic, and political discrimination in the United States despite these legal protections.
In the late 19th century, the Southern States established laws to enforce racial segregation; these laws are known as Jim Crow laws. The facilities for black and white people were supposed to be ‘separate but equal’. Black people couldn’t use the same public facilities as the white people; they couldn’t go to the same school; most blacks couldn’t vote because they failed voter literacy tests.
Although these laws were not established in the North, black people in the North also faced discrimination in education and employment.
Reasons for Civil Rights Movement
Several incidents and phenomenon acted as triggers to the Civil Rights Movement:
- Brown v. Board of Education (1954) – a landmark court case where the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional
- Emmett Till’s Murder (1955) – A 14-year-old African American boy was brutally murdered for offending a white woman at a grocery shop.
- Rosa Parks (1955-1956) – Rosa Parks is an African American woman in Alabama who refused to give her seat on a bus to a white man and was arrested. This incident incited a year-long boycott of the bus system.
- Little Rock Nine (1957) – nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, who arrived at Central High School to begin classes were prevented from entering the school by the Arkansas National Guard and a threatening mob.
- Woolworth’s Lunch Counter (1960) – Four college students took a stand against segregation when they refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter without being served. Hundreds of people joined this protest within the next few days, boycotting all segregated lunch counters.
- March on Washington (1963) – This is one of the most well-known incidents in the history of Civil Rights Movement. On August 28th, 1963, more than 200,000 people (both black and white) assembled in Washington, D. C. for a peaceful march. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech “I have a dream’ was a highlight of this event.
When we look at each of these events and incidents carefully, we can come to the conclusion that racial segregation and discrimination were the main reasons for the Civil Rights Movement.
1. “Little Rock integration protest” By John T. Bledsoe – Library of Congress, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “WhiteTradeOnlyLancasterOhio” By Ben Shahn (1898–1969) – Library of Congress: Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Photographers; Location: F-9063; Reproduction Number: LC-USF33-6392-M4 (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia