Stockman's History Extravaganza

We Shall Overcome

The Civil Rights Movement

It Begins....

Following WWII, African Americans still endured racial discrimination. In the South, state laws continued to sanction segregation (separation by races). In northern states, whites often looked down on and segregated themselves from blacks even though they didn't have to. Most African Americans resented unjust segregation laws.

Many expressed outrage that African Americans had fought valiantly for the cause of freedom overseas, only to be treated as second class citizens once they returned home. This movement featured African Americans fighting for their constitutional rights.


In the early 1950's, the NAACP sued the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas because it would not let a black girl, Linda Brown attend an all-white school near her home.

In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court reversed the Plessy decision and ruled that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. The Court found that separate facilities were unequal because they did not present minority students with the same opportunities that were offered in white schools.


In this decision, the Supreme Court went even further in dealing with segregation. The Court ruled that Congress could use its authority to regulate interstate commerce to outlaw segregation in private businesses. Although many considered the court’s reasoning a stretch, it represented another step towards striking down state sanctioned segregation.


Despite the Court’s decision in Brown, many Southern leaders were determined to maintain segregation as long as possible. In 1957 nine black students were prevented from entering school at Little Rock Central high. Eisenhower used the 101st Airborne to enforce the court’s decision to allow them to enter. Resistance also occurred at the college level when the governor of Mississippi kept James Meredith from enrolling. He was finally allowed after JFK sent federal authorities to deal with the situation.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Nonviolent Protests


Segregation laws required African Americans to sit in the rear of public buses. Blacks also had to give up their seats to white passengers is the bus was crowded. On December 1, 1955, a bus driver ordered Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white passenger and she refused,

Rosa was taken to jail and her arrest quickly united the black community of Montgomery. A young Baptist minister named MLK lead them in a boycott of city buses. It lasted almost a year and cost the city of Montgomery a large amount of money. The Supreme Court ruled the buses must be integrated. This was a major victory.


Dr. King was an intelligent man and a gifted public speaker. He became recognized as the leader of the Civil rights movement. King was greatly influenced by his religious faith and the philosophy of Gandhi. Gandhi believed in non-violent protest and civil disobedience. King was killed by gunman in April 1968 as he stood on a balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.


On February 1, 1960, four black college students at North Carolina A&T University protested racial segregation in restaurants by sitting at a white’s only lunch counter. When management asked them to leave, they peacefully refused. In April 1960, students met and formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

These students devoted themselves to the use of non-violent protests to demand civil rights. In 1960, the Supreme Court ruled segregation was illegal in bus stations open to interstate travel. In 1961, the Congress of Racially Equality organized Freedom Rides to test the court’s decision.


Civil Rights protests continued in the South through 1962 and 1963. Wanting to keep pressure on JFK and the Congress, national civil rights leaders planned a march on the nation’s capital.

On August 28, 1963, MLK stood before the Lincoln Memorial and spoke to a crowd of more than 200,00 civil rights supporters. In his most famous speech, King spoke of his dream that the U.S. would become a desegregated society. He challenged his listeners to envision with him one day when white and black people would live peacefully together.

Malcolm X and the Rise of Black Militant Movements

Malcolm X was another famous leader. He opposed the non-violent approach. Malcolm X preached that blacks should use any means necessary to secure their rights.

After going on a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia he witnessed black and white Muslims praying together. This caused him to have less militant views. The softening of his views meant that many black militants now considered Malcolm to be a traitor.

On February 21, 1965, three African American men shot and killed Malcolm X while he spoke at a rally. The militant faction took over leadership and called for black power. In 1966, the Black Panthers emerged. This group advocated African Americans leading their own communities and demanded the federal government take action to rebuild the ghettos.

Legislative Changes Brought About by the Civil Rights Movement

After the march on Washington, President Kennedy proposed new civil right laws. After the assassination of JFK, President Johnson strongly urged congress to pass these laws.

Despite serious opposition from southern members of Congress, Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 1964 was the year that the states ratified the 24th amendment to the constitution. This served to protect blacks voting rights by making the poll tax illegal.

Congress passed the Voting rights Act in 1965; it authorized the President to suspend literacy tests for voter registration.

Civil Rights and the Cold War

The Cold War impacted the U.S. civil rights movement. The Soviets pointed out to the leaders of developing nations the hypocrisy in U.S. ideology. They argued that all the U.S. talk about freedom and democracy was just words. MLK and others used the Cold War to their advantage to put pressure on the federal government to support civil rights.

Civil Rights and the Media

Civil rights leaders also understood the power of the media. Beginning in the 1950's and into the 1960's, more and more U.S. citizens owned televisions. Average people saw much of the civil rights movement unfold as they watched in their own living rooms.

People were able to witness the beatings and arrest of peaceful demonstrators. Many whites found the violence appalling. The media helped expose the brutality of southern officials. As a result, many people flocked to support the civil rights movement.