The Civil Rights movement was a period of time when blacks attempted to gain their constitutional rights from which they were being deprived. The movement has occurred from the 1950’s to the present, with programs like Affirmative Action. Many were upset with the way the civil rights movement was being carried out in the 1960’s. As a result, someone assassinated the leader of the movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many blacks were infuriated at this death so there were serious riots in almost 100 cities. President Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission to study the civil rights movement. The commission concluded that we are a two race society which was separate and unequal.
The civil rights movement was a result of the blacks lack of representation politically. Before the movement, blacks had almost no political power due to the laws designed to prevent blacks from voting, like poll taxes, literacy tests and the Grandfather clause. Also, when some blacks would go to vote, people simply would not let them register. Due to the lack of voting ability, no blacks were elected into office and therefore, blacks had no say in the government. Also, blacks were not allowed to serve on juries, yet they were almost always found guilty in court, even if the evidence was clearly against them. It was so bad that a boy who got arrested for stealing ice cream got three years in jail instead of the standard community service hours just because he was black. However the civil rights movement was a success in giving blacks their political freedoms. The 24th amendment outlawed the Poll tax, the Civil Rights Act of 1965 ended literacy tests and let the federal government register voters to make sure that they are not discriminated again. This gave blacks the political power to elect other blacks to represent them and a power that blacks have never seen before. With blacks now having political power there was little that their white opposition could do to stop the movement.
Another technique the blacks used to gain their freedom was through sit-ins, freedom rides, and a march on Washington. One “sit-in” which is probably the most famous involves one woman in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Rosa parks was a member of the NAACP and on December 1, 1955 she refused to give her seat up to a white man on the bus. Parks was arrested and found guilty of breaking a local city ordinance, but she knows she did the right thing as she states: “I felt it was just something I had to do” (Henretta 802). The incident would be heard nationwide and spark the Montgomery bus boycott to bring about one of the most decorated leaders of the civil rights movement Martin Luther King Jr. King and other clergyman founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or the SCLC based in Atlanta. The church had always been the center for blacks social and cultural life. The SCLC would be a center for great inspirational speakers and would be strong moral support for the movement. The SCLC would grow to join the NAACP as one the major advocates for Civil Rights.
Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, and Whitney Young of the National Urban League, and the black socialist Bayard Rustin would organize a march on Washington. Martin Luther King Jr. would make one of the world’s most memorable speeches on August 28, 1963 to about 250,000 black and white demonstrators. King would ask the demonstrators to fight for civil rights not out of violence, but on a more political level. King made his optimisim felt throughout the crowd that day by letting them feel his vision: “ I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the Americn Dream” (Boller 231). This I have a dream speech would be felt not only by the demonstrators, but by whites throughout the country that would join the movement. King would conclude the speech with a powerful phrase to let freedom ring as he says: “Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring” (Boller 232). Many whites could relate the civil rights movement to the fight for independence from England with the phrase let freedom ring.
With the movement finally being heard nationwide and many white politicians listening to the activists word, it would take strong legislation to make the civil rights dream a reality. In june of 1964 the Civil Rights Act passed and became a landmark in American History with race relations. The basis of the Act title VII would outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex. The act would enforce desegregation of public facilities, but blacks still were handicapped when it came to voting. King and other leaders would call for a march in Selma, AL to protest the murder of a voting rights activist. The march was halted by state troopers, which attacked the marchers with tear gas and clubs. President Johnson would go on national television and persuade congress to pass the pending voting rights bill. He would make his message heard by using a popular slogan at the time: “We shall overcome” (Henretta 818). That act was passed on August 6, 1965 and the results were seen immediately. In 1964 39% of eligible blacks were registered to vote, by 1971 that number had risen to 71%. A Mississippi farmer who risked his life in 1964 to vote was quoted as saying: “It won’t never go back where it was” (Henretta 819). This sums up the future for the civil rights movement and how Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is slowly becoming a reality.
The major opposition to the Civil Rights movement was the Ku Klux Klan or KKK. This group was founded in the South by Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Klan was most popularly known for their lynchings. Black men were lynched for doing the slightest thing wrong as looking at a white woman. The Klan’s main objective was to strike fear into the Blacks to prevent them from desegregating the nation and retaining their equal rights as American citizens. One reason for the Klan’s success was their extensive members. They had members in the police and other powerful positions, which made it very difficult for blacks to find justice. Another group against civil rights was the White Citizens’ Councils which objective was to prevent integration into schools and other prevent other civil rights measures. In 1956 the White Citizens’ Councils had 500,000 southerners sign up denouncing the Brown decision. Some whites would take measures so far into their own hands that reached levels as low as the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920’s. These groups did everything in their power to prevent the civil rights movement, but in the end they failed to accomplish their objectives.
There were many people and organizations involved in the Civil Rights movement throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was the actions of these people that would gain national attention and gain the attention of politicians to take some action. From the Supreme court case of Brown vs. The board of education and the Civil Rights Act the future for blacks in America was starting to look bright.