The Civil Rights Movement of the United States began as a challenge to segregation, which was the legal separation of whites and blacks. Segregation began as a method to control blacks because slavery was no longer permitted or accepted in the United States. To challenge this, civil rights activists used protest marches, boycotts and refusal to abide by segregation laws. The movement began with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and ended (supposedly) with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Movement has also been known as the Black Freedom Movement, the Negro Revolution, and the Second Reconstruction.
To protest segregation, some created new national organizations. The first was the National Afro-American League, created in 1890. The next was the Niagara Movement of 1905, and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) of 1909. The National Urban League (1910) was created to help African-Americans have an urban, industrial life. The NAACP became one of the most important black protest organizations in the twentieth century. Its legal strategy for civil rights was succeeding, even after World War II. At the time, it was led by Thurgood Marshall. In the case Sweat vs. Painter (1950), the Supreme Court decided that the University of Texas had to integrate its law school, In May of 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka which stated that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional.
As desegregation progressed, so did the KKK. The Ku Klux Klan used threats and violence against anyone who was even suspected of favoring desegregation or black civil rights. Their terror was widespread in the south in the 1950's and '60's, and included intimidation and murder. Emmett Tiff was a 14-year-old black boy slain in Mississippi in 1955 because he flirted with a white woman. The racism of southern whites was demonstrated when the men accused of the murder were tried and acquitted.
Segregation was soon challenged in other areas rather than education. Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama, was a member of the NAACP and told to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. She refused and was arrested. Martin Luther King, Jr. was president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization that directed the boycott. He took pity on the black bus riders who were mistreated by the white drivers, and was supported by over 50,000 blacks in Montgomery, The boycott was a success and made King a national figure.
The sit-ins, which took place from February through April of 1960, were protesting racial segregation by sitting at "White only" lunch counters, waiting to be served. Within weeks, sit-ins were taking place across the south. The SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) founded in Raleigh, North Carolina helped organize the student sit-in movement. King encouraged the SNCC's creation, but the most important early advisor to the students was Ella Baker, who was also part of the NAACP and SCLC.
The Freedom Riders, who were both white and black, traveled around the south in buses to test the effectiveness of the 1960 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The decision was that segregation was illegal in bus stations open to interstate travel. The Freedom Riders began their journey in Washington, D.C. though violence started in Alabama. One of their buses was burned and some riders were beaten. The violence brought national attention to the Freedom Riders and fierce condemnation of Alabama officials for allowing the violence. The Freedom Riders demonstrated to the public how far civil rights activists would go to achieve their goals.
The greatest contribution that the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) made to the movement was a series of highly publicized campaigns in southern cities in the early '60's. The purpose of these campaigns was to create such disorder that white officials and business men would end segregation just to return to the normal daily business activities. Hundreds and even thousands of protestors gathered as long as possible to achieve their goal and some were even arrested. In 1961, in Albany, Georgia, SCLC joined with the locals to end segregated public accommodations. In Birmingham, two years later, the organization built support for the national legislation against segregation.
The national civil rights leadership decided to keep pressure on the Kennedy administration and Congress to pass civil rights legislation by planning a march on Washington in August on 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. was there along with members of the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, The Urban League, and SNCC, as well as 200,000 civil rights supporters. He gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. As a result of the March, Kennedy proposed a new civil rights law.
For many civil rights activists, the Civil Rights Movement ended with the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Others said that it ended after the Selma March. Still, others say it is still not over and the goal of equality has not been achieved. Racial problems stiff exist in the U.S. The Civil Rights Movement did put fundamental reforms in place, and legal segregation was dismantled. Public institutions were open to all. Blacks can vote and these were giant steps toward racial equality.
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