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The History of Civil Rights and People Protest

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Since the nation’s beginning, the painful process of maturing and evolving in every direction was essential for survival. Each time it went through a transformation the foundation was reinforced, improved and further built upon. The landscape after WWII was once again an opportunity for this. Only this time it hadn’t been shook to its core, only the surface. The rest of the world began to take notice that America had quickly grown to become a global power. With other country’s attention, America found itself with an opportunity to prove that Western democracy was in fact a better way than the Communist system of the East. The cold war would soon follow and Americans would be bombarded by a fear based threat of ideologies and conspiracies like they had never before encountered. It caused them to look to the government to resolve the conflict. The government’s response was something like, just do what we tell you to do and focus on your lives, the economy is prosperous. They built suburbs and watched TV and hoped that foreign affairs were under control. But not everyone was able to enjoy the same lifestyles and equality and now that people were looking again to the government to solve their problems a new form of demanding social change was about to take place.

People knew that the laws and policies in the Constitution and Bill of Rights were powerful in courts and protected their human rights. People experiencing or witnessing oppression moved to correct these areas in politics that did not reflect what those documents stood for. Similar to union strikes and riots in former times, protests rallies aimed to get the public and government’s attention about pressing matters. In some cases of hateful discrimination endangered people’s lives so for them, survival was actually on the line. Over the next 50 years movements in civil rights for African Americans and other minorities, women, people with disabilities and those with alternative lifestyles would take the nation by storm. Human rights are most closely linked to identity and self respect. It is because of this and the direct impact it plays on creating successful political change I would say that the Civil Rights Movement relating to equality in race, gender, disability and sexuality are the biggest motivating factors for people to protest.

There are many reasons people protest such as the Vietnam and subsequent wars and defense policies. Vietnam was the first time since the civil war that people would be forced to enlist by way of a draft. To make it worse many people did not agree with America being involved in Vietnam in the first place. However, Vietnam and other wars have dragged on despite protestors and the government does not appear to consider protesting when making decisions about war. Because of this I would not say that for many it is not the biggest motivating factor to protest. Public demonstrations are also choice methods for dealing with injustices in economic crisis. Workers protesting an individual company can be very effective in opening negotiations for better condition however on large scale protesting economic change does not seem to be very useful. One case was the Solidarity Day march which attracted around 260,000 people in 1981 after President Reagan fired 12,000 air traffic controllers who went on strike because of poor wages and wanting safer working conditions. Also in 1999 the over 40,000 people protested at a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in defense of antiglobalization of the world’s economy. We have seen it in more recent years with the bank bailouts outs and the “we are the 99%.” It just isn’t the best way to shift the economy.

One very common protesting topics are laws with moral implications such as euthanasia, death penalty, and abortion as shown in the 1990 rally for pro-life supporters that generated 700,000 people. Many of these issues come down to a ballot vote or Supreme Court ruling so although I believe that the decisions made are done so with careful consideration of those with strong morals values, I would not say it is the most effective and therefore not the most motivating. Environmental is a close runner up because protests have actually had direct impact on the laws in favor of the protestors. In 1970 Congress passed the National Environmental Act, Created the Environmental Protection Agency and 18 new laws including the Clean Air and Water Acts in large part because of protestors. People are aware that preserving the earth’s beautiful places and resources is important. Unfortunately scientific evidence is more convincing to policy makers than protestors on this topic. For these reasons I believe that protesting is a good tool but not the best tool for every situation and there is no other topic more appropriate or motivating for people to protest than basic human rights.

After WWII television provided a better awareness about big events in the country and people began to realize that it could be a vehicle to deliver important news and messages to the masses. More students than ever were becoming college educated and concerned about the injustices that remain to be solved. The civil rights movement was the first social change effort of it’s time to take place. African Americans were a driving force in large part because their discrimination was some of the worst. After integration laws began to be passed in the military and individuals like Malcom X gave a voice to the argument, African Americans began to feel empowered to seek the rights that all Americans were entitled to in the Constitution. One landmark case that changed law was in 1954 when the Supreme court ruled that Brown v. Board of Education was justified in demanding desegregation of public schools. Many more small events lead up to the larger rallies. In some cases it was as simple as a woman being arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus and riders boycotting the transit system until the city laws changed. In other cases it was demands for lynchings to stop by hate groups and law enforcement officers. In 1957 the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was passed and the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice was formed. At that time there were still people protesting for segregation and Eisenhower had to send troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to protect the black high school students. The most influential social activist may have been Martin Luther King Jr. who was able to uniquely unite the frustrated people under one banner of nonviolent civil disobedience. King meets in 1958 with President Eisenhower in Washington DC. Despite legal battles over false accusations and arrests for peaceful protests King continues to organize rallies and speak about combating injustices and not giving up hope. In 1961 the Freedom Ride activists began their travels to see if segregation laws were being enforced. They faced violent attacks and arrests but eventually the national guard got involved the Interstate commerce Commission was petitioned to enforce the interstate travel segregation ban. In 1962 James Meredith is the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi and riots cause President Kennedy to send 5,000 troops. 1963 King with others spoke for over 200,000 people at the March on Washington for jobs and freedoms. People marched from the Washington monument to the Lincoln Memorial and it was the largest demonstration of it’s time as it included all civil rights groups. King met with Kennedy and other important political figures while he was there. Every step of progress seemed to be met with opposition, at times involving senseless fatalities. In 1964 progress is made with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being signed by President Johnson prohibiting all kinds of discrimination and King won the Nobel Peace Prize. Demonstrations continued to go on as many local areas still exercised discriminatory practices despite the new laws. Unfortunately in 1965 Malcom X is assassinated but later that year there is success as the Voting Rights Act is passed. In 1967 the black power movement begins and later that year Thurgood Marshall is made the first black Supreme Court Justice. Martin Luther King Jr. is martyred on 1968. This caused many to reflect on the progress that had been made in his life and motivated some to continue the work through the 70s and 80s. By 1995 a Million Man March was organized to promote African American voting and unity and between 500,000 and 1 million people attended.

The momentum created by the African American community benefitted all other minority groups. In 1968 another Civil Rights Act was signed by President Johnson. This was commonly known as the Fair Housing Act which helped to prevent discrimination from happening in the housing market to any group of people. This also included measures for Native American tribes that guaranteed the protections in the Bill of Rights to apply reservations. In 1973, 200 Native American protesters seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, SD in the American Indian Movement. They wanted to reorganize the leadership of the reservation and demand the government reopen negotiations of several Native American treaties. In 1978, 17 Native Americans began what was called the Longest Walk from the West coast to the East coast to gather support to block congresses attempt to get rid of Indian sovereignty and also to encourage the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to pass. It took 5 months to get there but tens of thousands of people gathered in Washington DC to meet them.

In the 1960 sit-ins began in college campuses to protest the Civil Rights movement and it spread to140 cities.

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