13.4 The Civil Rights Movement
A decade after the Supreme Court declared that public school segregation was unconstitutional, most African American children in the South continued to receive education in segregated schools. In the Northern cities, segregation in housing and education was an established pattern. Indeed laws had been enacted by the Congress, injunctions had been issued by judges. Presidents had proclaimed executive orders and appointed commissions, yet African Americans could not buy a house where they desired, secure the job they required or find educational facilities for their children. Organizations, such as the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) established in 1909, fought to end discrimination.
13.4a Civil disobedience
By 1963, the struggles in the courts were supplemented
by a massive social, economic and political movements. A new dimension
was provided to the struggle for civil rights by the charismatic
leader, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. through his Southern Christian
Leadership Conference (SCLC) and his doctrine of nonviolent resistance.
This civil disobedience movement sought to fight against unjust
laws by deliberately breaking them. It originated in 1955 in Montgomery,
Alabama, when the Negro community engaged in a boycott of the city
buses to protest against segregation practiced on them. The protest
was successful and public transport was segregated within a year.
By the early 1960s there were sit-ins, freedom rides, live-ins, and mass demonstrations supported and sponsored by new organizational resources. A national crisis was created in the summer of 1963, by the forces of social discontent. A demonstration was held in Birmingham, Alabama, which was countered by the use of fire hoses, police dogs and mass arrests. It culminated in a march in Washington D.C., where over 100,000 people listened to King speak of his dream of the day when children "will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character." At the end of the summer, there was a demonstration, protest, or sit in almost every city, together with riots in same cities. Activists, both black and white, known as Freedom Riders, came to the South to participate in the civil rights crusade, which received extensive news coverage.
As a result of this direct action, civil rights ordinances were enacted in many cities. The existing legislation was broadened. More schools were desegregated. At the national level, President Kennedy urged the Congress to enact a comprehensive civil rights bill, in a dramatic address to the nation.
13.4b Civil Rights Legislation
After extensive debate, the Civil Rights Acts were passed by the Congress in 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1965. The Act of 1957 created a Commission on Civil Rights to investigate allegations of racial discrimination, appraise governmental policy regarding equal protection, and serve as a clearing-house for information. The provisions of the Acts of 1957 and 1960 aimed at strengthening the legal provisions and administrative machinery for safeguarding voting rights.
13.1 Slavery and Civil Rights
Segregation in the United States
13.3 Breaking down Segregation
13.4 The Civil Rights Movement
13.5 Civil Rights for Minorities and Women
13.6 Affirmative Action