Freedom and equality in the 20th century


The Civil Rights Movement saw African-Americans designing strategies that they deemed suitable in helping them fight the discriminative laws (segregation) in the United States. One of the most successful strategies included Boycotts; this includes refusing to use or pay for something. The most significant boycott in the history of the Civil Right Movement was the Montgomery Bus Boycott that was carried out of anger following the arrest of an African-American woman named Rosa Parks after failing to stand up and allow a white passenger to occupy the seat she sat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama (Button, 2014). As a result fellow African-Americans gathered and organized themselves to stop using the public bus until the segregation laws which promoted unequal treatment of blacks and whites was repealed. The Montgomery Bus boycott is the longest in the History of the United States and it lasted for a period of 381 days until the public bus segregation laws were repealed (Lawson, 2014). The boycott was successful mainly because the bus system was heavily dependent on the African-American riders and when they stayed off, the buses were left to be of no value.

The other successful strategy that was applied in the fight for racial equality as one of the main goals of Civil Rights Movement is non-violence protest. This strategy was mainly influenced because it had been successfully applied by the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi who led the King’s non-violent movement (Lawson, 2014). Majority of African-Americans took to the streets in peaceful protests and were also involved in other acts of disobedience. Major non-violence protest in the United States was the 1965 voting rights march in Alabama where a large number of African-Americans took to the street to seek a right to vote in elections just like the whites and the marching day is termed as “Blood Sunday.” The protest involved the media and brutality from the police would be broadcast over the world especially those images capturing police using fire hoses and attack dogs to disperse protestors.

The Civil Rights movement had objectives of achieving equal rights for Black Americans as those that were enjoyed by the whites. The movement was to counter the widespread segregation where African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens. During the 1950s, two events did occur that catalyzed and brought the civil rights squarely to the limelight

Brown v. Board of Education: this was a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court on the issue of segregation in the education system. In 1951, African-American students from Virginia staged a protest against the widespread segregation in the education system that was characterized by unequal status between white students and the black students of Africans who were previously slaves (Morris 1986). Notably, Moton High School students protested over being subjected to overcrowded and failing facilities. Even though the local leaders of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) did try to sway them from protesting against the segregation laws championed by Jim Crow, the leaders finally joined them later and also proceeded with five other cases to the Supreme Court.

In 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in what is known today as Brown v. Board of Education that the Jim Crow laws were unconstitutional and concluded that the segregation laws had a detrimental effect on the colored children and separating of the races was aimed at portraying Negro group as inferior. The lawyers of NAACP argued that the segregation was actually putting the future of African American children at risk as it is only through education that human beings mental, moral and physical abilities are developed and nurtured. The case set a course of overturning the “separate but equal” belief and Greensboro became the first city to publicly announce to comply the ruling of the Supreme Court (         Button, 2014).

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott: This was another catalyzing event that really catapulted the Civil Right Movement in the United States. The event occurred on December 1, 1955, an African-American woman named Rosa Parks was notoriously arrested for allegedly refusing to stand up and allow a white passenger to occupy the seat she was using on a public bus in Montgomery Alabama (Morris, 1986). This happened coincidentally when civil rights leaders had so much concern for the excessive segregation laws in Alabama. When Rosa Parks was arrested she received a nationwide publicity and is referred to as the “mother of the civil rights movement.” After the arrest, African-Americans came together and agreed to boycott the Montgomery Bus until their demands of having a bus where all passengers would be treated equally irrespective of their skin color (Button, 2014). NAACP was backed by a majority of the African-Americans in Montgomery and the boycott did go on for a period of 381 days. The boycott did manage to achieve the desired results as eventually the segregation laws of unequal treatment in public buses were removed in 1956 following an order from a federal court. The Montgomery Improvement Association was born and Martin Luther King Jr became the president of the movement.

The civil rights movements had a number of goals that it wanted to achieve. The achievement of the goals was slow because of the opposition of the whites who still viewed Africans as second –class citizens who should enjoy fewer rights than them. The struggle aimed at creating an environment free from discrimination and inequality. The minority groups in the United States worked together in securing anti-discrimination measures such as voting rights and equal employment opportunities as the whites (Lawson, 2014). The last few years of 1960s saw collective efforts being undertaken by the Black Americans, Latin Americans and Asians conducted joint campaigns that sought better and equal treatment of all the citizens of the United States. Black American students in campuses formed what is termed as “Third World Coalitions” that worked on acquiring ethnic studies programs and equal admissions to colleges and universities.

Other mainstream civil right groups and feminist groups sought equality and non-discrimination in the treatment of women of color; white women were receiving treatment with sterilized medical equipment as compared to women of color who were subjected to the same equipment without being sterilized first (Button, 2014). This was promoted by the fact that majority of the medical specialists in the United States were mainly white and therefore favored white women and the admission of Black or Latin students into the medical profession was slow. Activists from different classes came together with other feminists inclusive of whites in attempts of ending sterilization abuse and also sought a range of reproductive rights and maternal health care and many black women joined the movements as opposed to the male-led civil right groups.

The other main goal of the Civil Rights Movements was access to jobs and housing. The road to achieving equal inclusion of African-American into the working class of the United States was not an easy road and it encountered a number of roadblocks (Lawson, 2014). Industries in the mid-1960s that started employing African-Americans did maintain some occupation segregation that was supported by the leaders who were mainly white and this led to minorities being employed in low paying jobs and none of the of African-American was allowed to supervise whites. The situation did change as more African Americans were being educated and when the black males were allowed to be voted for office changed the existing laws to allow African-Americans take management and supervisory jobs in industries. It needed more time to get rid off of the marks of restrictive covenants and the red estate red-lining which were very rampant in the South that demanded ever-higher levels of education. The “wealth gap” between the rich and poor systematically hindered the low-earning generations from being able to buy homes in neighborhoods where the value for houses kept increasing.

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  1. Button, J. W. (2014). Blacks and social change: Impact of the civil rights movement in southern communities. Princeton University Press.
  2. Lawson, S. F. (2014). Running for freedom: Civil rights and black politics in America since 1941. John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Morris, A. D. (1986). The origins of the civil rights movement. Simon and Schuster.
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