The civil rights movement was a socio-political movement that involved various actions and activities including riots, boycotts, and civil disobedience mean to secure equal rights for racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, mainly the African Americans who had historically suffered from racial seclusion, discrimination, and segregation (Foner 985). According to Hall, the movement was mainly a struggle against systemic inequalities, oppression, and the Southern slavery (1242). This paper advances and defends the thesis that even though the civil rights movement eventually lost momentum, it made significant achievements such as social, political, and economic equality and an end to racial suppression, discrimination, and segregation mainly due to the Brown decision and use of nonviolent strategies.
The Brown v. Board of Education Decision
In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States made a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas which many have considered by many as having been a watershed moment in the agitation for equal rights in the US by Black Americans. In this case, the apex court declared unconstitutional racial segregation in American schools and other public facilities. In a total departure from its earlier decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1986), the court rejected the separate-but-equal doctrine and henceforth guaranteeing all African Americans the equal protection of the law as provided for under the Fourteenth Amendment (Civil Rights Movement n.p.). One immediate impact of this decision was the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High School and the integration of Mississippi universities and colleges between 1956 and 1965. With this decision, the Civil Rights Movement got a significant boost in its fight for equal treatment and social justice. However, the fight for equality was not over yet.
The leaders of the movement went on with their push for equality on social, economic, and political fronts by adopting various strategies. Some of the techniques that the civil rights movement leaders including Martin Luther and Malcolm X used to send their message to authorities included freedom rides, sit-ins, street marches, nonviolent campaigns, boycotts, nonviolence training, voter registration drives, street riots, and grassroots mobilization (Civil Rights Movement n.p.). Using boycotts, the leaders urged African Americans to defy and refrain from using public facilities and services offered by government agencies. One of the most memorable boycotts in the history of civil rights movement was the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott in which Blacks living in Montgomery including Rosa Parks decided not to pay bus fare until they were allowed to take seats anywhere in the buses (Civil Rights Movement n.p.). The freedom rides were meant to test the willingness of the Federal government to implement and respect the Brown v. Board decision. The main freedom ride was first organized in 1961 by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and dubbed "the march on Washington" or a journey of reconciliation.
Nationalizing the Civil Rights Movement
One of the ways the civil rights activist brought the movement to national attention was by organization national boycotts, protests, and demonstrations. It was the ruthless manner in which the federal government responded to these protests that drew attention to the Civil Rights Movement and even made some Whites to join the struggle for equal opportunities and treatment. The leaders also brought the movement to national attention by using peaceful nonviolent means to highlight its grievances and by engaging the media to help further highlight their issues. The extensive media coverage of the street marches, protests, boycotts, sit-ins, police beatings, shootings, and arrest of innocent demonstrators also helped draw national attention to the Civil Rights Movement.
The Federal Government's Reluctance and Role
The main reason the federal government was reluctant to show full support for the civil rights movement was that it considered the movement to be an insurgency led by communists. To the federal government, the movement was a disguised way of expressing and pushing through communist ideologies which were anti-US domestic and foreign policy at the time. The movement was deemed as a threat to the government. According to Foner, President Kennedy was also keen on retaining the political support of the Southern voters most of whom vehemently opposed the movement and were pro-slavery and racial segregation (989). Eventually, however, the federal government bowed to pressure from the activists and played the role of passing key legislation such as the Voting Rights Act, Housing Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Civil Rights Act which addressed some of the grievances by the leaders of the movement.
Successes and Loss of Momentum
According to Weinblatt, some of the successes that were achieved by the civil rights movement included the desegregation of schools or public facilities and places, integration of colleges and universities, the right to take part in elections, and socioeconomic opportunities for Blacks (3). Other successes were an end to racial discrimination, black congressional representation, and access to fair and affordable housing for racial minorities (Weinblatt 3). However, in spite of these achievements, the movement eventually lost momentum due to the death of its key leader Martin Luther King and the emergence of tensions and discontent in the movement's grassroots leadership (Tyson 560). Black conservatism and the need to avoid being labeled as a community made some leaders of the movement quit. As a matter of fact, it was the rise in these tensions within the movement that led to the birth of the Black Power Movement in 1966 as a political ideology meant to bring about self-determination for African Americans.
To surmise, the civil rights movement's successes were mainly boosted by the decision in Brown v. Board banning racial segregation and the use of nonviolent means of airing concerns. The Black power movement also helped sustain the ideologies of the movement following disintegration. The movement achieved social justice, equality, opportunities, and humane treatment for African Americans.
"Civil Rights Movement." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 Apr. 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_rights_movement. Accessed 17 April 17, 2018
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History: Fifth Edition, One Volume, Seagull. W. W. Norton & Company, 2017
Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. "The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past." The Journal of American History, 2005, pp. 1233-163
Tyson, Timothy B. "Robert F. Williams, "Black Power," and the Roots of the African American Freedom Struggle." The Journal of American History, vol. 85, no. 2 (Sep. 1998), pp. 540-570
Weinblatt, Tyler. "An Analysis of the Success of the Civil Rights Movement." University of Maryland, 2016, pp. 1-115
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