The Black Civil Rights Movement
Progress in Civil Rights
Racial discrimination was a common feature of everyday life in the USA before the Second World War. Black Americans experienced segregation and discrimination in all walks of life. When war broke out, there was increased optimism that things would change. After all, if the USA was fighting fascism and racism, how could it continue to discriminate and deny civil rights to large sections of its own population? By the early 1960s some positive changes had occurred, mainly in education and transport - but there was still much to do.
Revision: What was the work of the NAACP and CORE? What were the key developments in education in the years to 1962? What was the importance of Brown v. Topeka and Little Rock?
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
In December 1955, thousands of black residents of Montgomery began a boycott of city buses to protest against racially segregated seating. After 381 days of taking taxis, carpooling and walking, black Americans eventually won their fight to desegregate seating on public transport, not only in Montgomery but across the whole of the USA. The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 if often viewed as the defining protest of black Americans. Peaceful protesting, the use of the economic weapon that almost bankrupted the bus company, and the powerful eloquence of Martin Luther King, all secured a definitive victory.
Revision: What were the causes of the Montgomery Bus Boycott? What were the events of the Bus Boycott? What was the role of Martin Luther King? What was the importance of the Bus Boycott?
Martin Luther King and Progress and Problems, 1958-1962
Though Brown v. Topeka, Montgomery and Little Rock were clear successes in the civil rights movement during the 1950s, there remained much to be done. Many states resented the legislation and, where possible, delayed integration. Moreover, there were many areas in which inequality remained, such as employment opportunities, housing and voting. It seemed as though it would take many years before these inequalities would be eradicated. The years 1958-1962 saw some progress, but there was little in the way of legislation to cement any change. However, there were at this time many public protests that prepared the way for the huge developments that occurred after 1963.
Revision: What part did sit-ins play in civil rights? Who were the 'freedom riders'? Why was the work of the SNCC? What progress had been made by 1962?
Peace Marches in 1963
The 1960s saw tremendous gains for black Americans. Suddenly, it seemed as if the issue of civil rights could no longer be ignored. The profile was raised by a number of marches that gained worldwide publicity. It was these marches that brought Martin Luther King to worldwide prominence and led to the legislation of the mid-1960s.
Revision: Why was the Birmingham March of 1963 so important? Why was the March on Washington so important?
Martin Luther King and Civil Rights Legislation
The mid-1960s saw the passing of the two most important pieces of legislation of the whole civil rights era - the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). However, the passage of these two acts did not come easy. The Civil Rights Act followed on from dreadful events in Birmingham and the assassination of President Kennedy. The Voting Rights Act came after yet more deaths, marches and demonstrations in Alabama. In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated and many US cities experienced riots in black areas, clearly showing the continued dissatisfaction black Americans felt about their lives.
Revision: What role did President Kennedy play in civil rights? Why was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 important? Why did voting rights became an issue in 1965? What was the impact of King's assassination?
Malcom X and Black Power
The 1960s was a strange and paradoxical decade for the civil rights movement. There was support from presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Legislation such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act removed the major areas of discrimination. Moreover, Martin Luther King had raised the profile of injustices that black Americans had to endure. On the other hand, the USA saw its worst racial violence and rioting during the years 1965-1967. It also saw the rise of militant leaders such as Malcolm X, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, and the formation of the paramilitary Black Panthers. And, by the end of the decade, the issue of civil rights had been overtaken by the war in Vietnam.
Revision: What role did Malcolm X play in the civil rights movement? What was Black Power? What was the Black Panther movement? Had progress been made by the end of the 1960s?