Civil Rights Movement

By Elliott Cook

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Change to Come

The Civil Rights Movement was, and is, still one of the most influence and essential fights that went on in the U.S.. The black and white men and women involved fought to end the crippling and demeaning prejudice found all over America, and for years they fought with no great change. With persistence African Americans fought for their fundamental rights that were denied to them by their own country. The Civil Rights movement was the start to a long and difficult process beginning in the 1950's and (for the most part) ending in the 1960's with an outcome of powerful change. The movement gave the power to the people and a voice that rang out across the country. It set an example for future movements based on its tactics and accomplishments, as well as held the U.S. accountable for its morality and values of the state. The movement brought upon the destruction of segregating laws and some prejudice ideas as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but this is only the beginning.

Profound and incredible change came about from the Civil rights movement, but today the people of America can see that it was only the beginning. There is bravery and pride found in the people who were involved, but there are also holes and misconceptions still left in American culture. Many U.S. citizens of a different race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation have fallen victim to prejudice and bigoted ideas of the past. Today there are still individuals who still actively fight against the values of the Civil Rights Movement but many are just unaware or indifferent to the racism left behind in the U.S.. There is pride and hope that should come out of the Civil Rights Movement and an appreciation for the people who fought to end racism in American, putting their lives out on the line. We should use the Civil Rights Movement as a stepping stone and continue to fight for equal rights in all respects across the country until all people are seen as one.

Tactics and Strategies

The Civil Rights Movement had an influential, central figure that lead the people to very a specific non-violent strategy: Martin Luther King Jr.. He encouraged the Civil Rights activist to stand up with courage and pride for their cause without resorting to militaristic tactics. He believed that using words not weapons and practicing acts of civil disobedience would create the most change. The movement gathered an enormous amount of followers and respect because of this strategy. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in commitment, negotiation, and action as well as equality of all people and races. This non-violent strategy brought about several different methods of civil disobedience which brought attention to the movement based on the people and economy it affected.

One of the more memorable tactics used by Civil right activist was the boycott. More specifically the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 set off by an African American woman, Rosa Parks. In Montgomery Alabama African Americans protested the right to sit and board the public buses where they wanted to. Without violent protests or threats the activists simply refused to take public transportation to send a message to the government and their prejudice laws. This boycott inspired many more boycotts throughout the South, displaying the effectiveness of this tactic. This type of non-violent action, civil disobedience, sent a loud and clear message to the leaders of America through the voices of the Civil Rights activists.

Civil Rights activists also participated in "sit-ins" in different stores or establishments that were segregated by law. This strategy gained momentum in the 1960's with younger activist who, for example, would ask to be helped or served at segregated stores or restaurants. Some groups came from established civil rights groups with a precise thought out plan for action, always being respectful, quiet, and dressed nicely.This showed the vast contrast in the white hecklers using crude language and judgement who tried to disband the protesters. By actively disobeying a law the participants put their livelihood on the line but continued to do it anyways in hope to enact change. This specific strategy gained the community's, as well as the overall public's, attention to the institutionalized racism found in America.

Ella Baker: Leading Lady

As one of the most influential women in the Civil Rights Movement Ella Baker fought from the beginning for equal rights for all people. Baker graduated valedictorian of her class in 1927 and was inspired to make a change because of her grandmother who shared stories of enslavement with Baker. She moved to New York and immediately got involved with different Civil Rights organizations. In 1940 Baker became field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in 1946 she became national director of branches for the NAACP, the largest position for a woman at that time. She later resigned from her position but in 1957 at the request of Martin Luther King Jr. Baker joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference created to organize African American ministers and activists. Her leadership and strength spread to many more organizations including the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. She stayed with the SNCC for many years offering her support and counsel to student activists.

Joseph McNeil: The Greensboro Four

Joseph McNeil was a young college student in the winter of 1960 when he faced the harsh injustices of the south. McNeil was coming back from Harlem to Greensboro, North Carolina on a bus when he was denied service at a Woolworth's lunch counter. Back at school McNeil gathered three of his friends- Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., and Dave Richmond. On February 1st, 1960 the four protesters traveled to the Greensboro Woolworth's and devised a sit-in at the lunch counter. They wore their Sundays best and bought a couple items, then requested to be served food. They were denied service but continued to act respectfully and sit until the store closed. The next day they planned more sit-ins and protest, soon their effort inspired sit-ins across the south. McNeil knew change needed to happen and if he did not do something the prejudice and racism would have no end. On July 25th, 1960 Woolworth's integrated all of it's lunch counters due to the brave efforts of the Greensboro Four.

Top Five Events

  • Brown vs. Board of Education decision, 1954

The Supreme Court ruled segregated public schools as unconstitutional, reversing the Plessy vs. Ferguson court ruling. This was one of the first rulings that combat the institutionalized racism found in the South and won to bring momentum to the movement.

  • March on Washington, August 28th 1963

More than 200,000 black and white activists gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to protest segregation and prejudice where Martin Luther King Jr. made his "I have a Dream" speech. This march showed the support and attention given to the movement and the change that so many wanted to happen.

  • Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955-1957

African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama boycott riding the public bus system to protest segregation ignited by Rosa Parks and organized by Martin Luther King Jr.. The boycott brought great attention to institutionalized racism and the desegregation of the buses gave momentum to the movement.

  • Bombing of Birmingham church, September 1963

Four black girls were killed in a church by a planted bomb. This showed the hate and violence found in racist individuals opposing equality and Civil Rights.

  • Selma to Montgomery march, March 1965

Martin Luther King Jr. lead a 54-mile long march from Selma to Montgomery to support black voter registration despite the violent police attacks and Governor Wallace's interference.