The Civil Rights Movement

The Civil rights movement (1955- 1965)

Civil Rights Movement in the United States, was apolitical, legal, and social struggle to gain full citizenship rights for African Americans and to achieve racial equality. The civil rights movement was a challenge to segregation, the system of laws and customs separating blacks and whites.

During the civil rights movement, individuals and organizations challenged segregation and discrimination with a variety of activities, including protest marches, boycotts, and refusal to abide by segregation laws. Some believe that the movement began with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and ended with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, there is still however some debate about when it began and whether it has ended yet. The civil rights movement has also been called the Black Freedom Movement, the Negro Revolution, and the Second Reconstruction.

Segregation was an attempt by white Southerners to separate the races in every sphere of life and to achieve supremacy over blacks. Segregation was often called the Jim Crow system. Segregation became common in Southern states following the end of Reconstruction in 1877.

By 1877 the Democratic Party had gained control of government in the Southern states, and these Southern Democrats wanted to reverse black advances made during Reconstruction. To that end, they began to pass local and state laws that specified certain places “For Whites Only” and others for “Colored.” Blacks had separate schools, transportation, restaurants, and parks, many of which were poorly funded and inferior to those of whites. Over 75 years, Jim Crow signs went up to separate the races in every possible place.

The system of segregation also included the denial of voting rights, known as disfranchisement. Between 1890 and 1910 all Southern states passed laws imposing requirements for voting that were used to prevent blacks from voting, These requirements included: the ability to read and write, which disqualified the many blacks who had not had access to education; property ownership, something few blacks were able to acquire; and paying a poll tax, which was too great a burden on most Southern blacks, who were very poor. Because blacks could not vote, they were virtually powerless to prevent whites from segregating all aspects of Southern life.

Conditions for blacks in Northern states were somewhat better, up to 1910 only 10 percent of blacks lived in the North, and prior to World War II few blacks lived in the West. Blacks were usually free to vote in the North, but there were so few that their voices were barely heard. Segregated facilities were not as common in the North, but blacks were usually denied entrance to the best hotels and restaurants. Schools in New England were usually integrated, but those in the Midwest generally were not. The most difficult part of Northern life was the intense economic discrimination against blacks.

Blacks fought against discrimination whenever possible. In the late 1800s blacks sued in courts to put an end to separate seating in railroad cars, states disfranchisement of voters, and denial of access to schools and restaurants. One of the cases against segregation was Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that separate but equal accommodations were constitutional.

To protest segregation, blacks created new national organizations. The National Afro-American League, in 1890; the Niagara Movement in 1905; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

The NAACP became one of the most important black protest organizations of the 20th century. The historian and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois was one of the early leaders of the NAACP.

In the postwar years, the NAACP's legal strategy for civil rights continued to succeed. They were now led by Thurgood Marshall. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on five cases that challenged elementary- and secondary-school segregation, and in May 1954 issued its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that stated that racially segregated education was unconstitutional.

No schools in the South were desegregated in the first years after the Brown decision. In Virginia one county did however close its public schools. In 1957, in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Governor defied an order to admit nine black students to Central High School, and President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce desegregation. The desegregation process did however proceed.

The struggle quickly moved beyond school desegregation. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks,a member of the NAACP, was told to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person. Parks refused to move, and she was arrested. The Montgomery bus boycott was an immediate success,.

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