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Although the Supreme Court passed the “separate but equal” doctrine in 1954, the battle by African Americans for equal rights in the United States had been bubbling under the surface for quite some time. Towards the end of the Civil War when abolition of slavery was being discussed, the question about former slaves rights came to light, resulting in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments which gave former slaves freedom, citizenship, and the right to vote (Salem). While this was a step in the right direction, African Americans were still being treated unequally. With the help of brave leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., tireless African Americans asserted themselves against the white majority and the U.S. government, giving the Civil Rights Movement enough momentum to weigh somewhat in their favor, resulting in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Unfortunately, African Americans in the United States still face discrimination today. This essay will bring to light important details on the Civil Rights Movement with emphasis on the long, tedious journey African Americans had to go to in order to gain the rights of U.S. citizens. This essay will also explain African American economic movements that also took place during this time, as well as the influence the Civil Rights Movement had on American politics today.
A general definition of civil rights are “positive government actions undertaken to protect members of minority groups against forms of discrimination leveled at them because of their membership in those groups” (Salem). When the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments proved to not be enough when it came to upholding African American rights, Congress began implementing “a series of civil rights acts that spelled out other, more specific, rights and empowered the federal government to enforce them” (Salem). The federal government, however, not only denied minorities these rights, but also sat back in the comfort of their own privileged homes and took no action as African Americans were continuously treated as unequal citizens. Some may be surprised to know that the time period that was just described was very recently, but minorities are unable to ignore it, as it happened to their grandparents, parents, and is even happening to them today.
Brown v. The Board of Education was an important Civil Rights milestone in which the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of minorities, allowing desegregation in public schools. This occurred in 1954, which is generally the time period thought of as the Civil Rights Movement. But even this did not occur with minorities in mind, only the government’s best interests at heart. “Racial segregation had an adverse effect upon our relations with other countries” (Nimtz). On December 1, 1955 a woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama prompting a widespread strike against bus segregation. Protesters could be seen in the streets advocating for their basic human rights as citizens, and not stopping even when violence was employed against them. “The Montgomery Bus Boycott used the collective strength of black buying power as a weapon” (Ezra). Blacks banded together to make it known that whites could not afford segregated buses if they were not on them. “But African Americans did not simply want to ride buses alongside whites; they also wanted to drive buses and own bus companies” (Ezra). These protests occurred all the way through 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. recited his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech to protesters congregated near the Lincoln Memorial. “The political and social gains made by the Civil Rights movement were won through relentless campaigning by Americans who refused to be denied rights on the basis of their membership in racial and ethnic groups” (Salem). Although the government had the final say on what laws are made to protect minorities, these laws were the result of years of struggle on the minority’s part, not governmental philanthropy.
Peaceful protest, however, was not the only way of the Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm X employed a more violent, threatening, just as effective, if not more, way of doing things. “It is no accident that Blacks, who served in World War II ostensibly waged for democracy against a blatantly racist regime, were often in the forefront of the fight against Jim Crow in the communities they returned to” (Nimtz). It was unfair that blacks were expected to build America, protect America, and support capitalism in America by playing the role of consumers, yet not benefit from any of the rights of being citizens. Under Malcolm X’s lead, “African American soldiers seized the promise of democracy (along with their training in the use of deadly force) and almost as one around the world decided that they were not going back to the plantation” (Nimtz). The synergy of non-violent protests by MLK and violent threats under the lead of Malcolm X earned results, making these two men some of the most important leaders of the movement.
It is no doubt that the results of the Civil Rights Movement were monumental in the history of the U.S. It ended segregation, allowing white and black students to attend the same schools, drink from the same water fountains, ride the same buses, and live in the same neighborhoods. Before this opportunity was given to minorities, it was easy for white people to see them as inhuman, because they were never able to interact with them fully. Desegregation gave African Americans the chance to intermingle with whites and show them that they really were equal. This gave African Americans the right to employment, resulting in many positive strides in technology, medicine, and space exploration. Barack Obama became the first black president in United States history in 2009, the peak of the various positive results of the Civil Rights Movement. “But economic disparities between blacks and whites remain significant. African American per capita household wealth, for example, is about one-twentieth that of whites. The unfinished agenda of the civil rights movement primarily is economic” (Ezra).
In response to African American economic disparity in 1958 came the “Operation Breadbasket”, made public by a minister in Philadelphia named Leon Sullivan. “Its mission was to negotiate a more equitable employment practice by area businesses toward African Americans” (Ezra). Sullivan used his extensive research of local businesses to single them out and boycott them into allowing black employment at their establishments. “The organization was successful in Atlanta and in the South and by 1967 had won jobs that brought in $25 million a year in new income to the black community” (Ezra). The fact of the matter was, America could not survive economically without the participation of blacks in consumerism, and boycotts showed this. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. even got involved with this operation, stating, “if the company generated profits through black customers, those same black customers have earned the right to work for the company” (Ezra). These protests, strikes, and boycotts carried out by African Americans showed their unwillingness to trust the government to provide them with equality. African Americans really asserted themselves during this time period, making the Civil Rights Movement one of the most important movements in the history of the United States.
In conclusion, the Civil Rights Movement aimed at generating equality throughout the United States, for African Americans helped build the country upon which white men ruled. A lot of effort was put forth in the name of racial equality, and only a few of these efforts are mentioned throughout this essay. Operation Breadbasket was a specific effort to gain employment for the black community, and it used black economic power to show white employers that they were unable to survive economically without African American business and/or employees. Dr. Martin Luther King stated, “the basic conflict in America is positioned around race and the only way to eradicate, or at least to come to grips with, this conflict is to change or rearrange the understanding of the conflict” (Sunnemark). The changing and rearranging the understanding of this conflict was done in many ways during the United States Civil Rights Movement, and though African Americans are still fighting for equality today, the Civil Rights Movement, boasting influential leaders like Leon Sullivan, Rosa Parks, and MLK, is a solid foundation to future success.
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