Civil Rights Movements

American history has been a constant struggle for fighting individual rights. In this modern time, it can be said that America surpassed those struggles and its citizens enjoy the privilege of American rights and freedom. Civil Rights Movement became the active participant in pursuing equality and advancing the rights of the society’s underdogs. Throughout the course of American history, this movement served as a catalyst for change. The civil rights movement was able to address the needs that the government cannot provide the people, as such, this movement served as the people’s voice.

Perhaps the most productive civil rights movement which changed the American society is the one focusing for the equal rights of the African-Americans. So far, the American society has overcome the huge gap between the whites and non-whites, as evident by the election of President Barack Obama. However, being the largest country which hosts a million of immigrants, the issue of discrimination is still under heated debate especially in the smallest sector of society. Addressing the issue of racial discrimination which mostly pertains to colored people is led by civil rights movements who represent the cries of the discriminated.

In the following texts, the origins of the civil rights movement will be discussed. From the events which triggered to the formation of the African-American movement to the struggles it experienced to gain recognition. The movement for the welfare of the African-Americans has definitely created an impact on the American society.

Before immersing into the discussion of the African-American civil rights movement, it is essential to know the definition of civil rights. According to Mark Newman, civil rights is aimed to pursue equality under the law so that people will enjoy equal access to and an equitable share in basic needs such as education, economic prosperity, and political life while instilling an assured sense of self-worth.[1] This aim has consistently been pushed in the early 1950s even prior to the establishment of civil rights factions.

The 1950s is the starting point where the African-American sector started to appeal for equal treatment against segregation. Segregations on public facilities are legally implemented. These segregation laws stated that separate but equal facilities should be allotted for the whites and nonwhites and it is further extended to discriminatory situations such as shop owners refusing to hire African-Americans. When segregation reached the educational system, matters to pursue equal rights for African Americans started to attain legal venues.

In 1909, the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP has been formed. It is the first organization which actively files lawsuits against any unfair treatment of African Americans and since some of its members are lawyers, they also defend and represent black people in courts. The famous case which has been handled by the NAACP is the Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka. This case is about 17-year old Linda Brown who wanted to attend high school but due to her skin color, she got rejected.

Attorney Thurgood Marshall who is a lawyer of NAACP filed the lawsuit and defended Ms. Brown. Mr. Marshall and the rest of NAACP believed that education is a key factor to freedom and the inequality in the academe harms African American children causing damage to their confidence and how they view themselves within the community.[2] The case of Ms. Brown won and the verdict stated that segregation in schools is considered unconstitutional; therefore, this has prompted to start establishing equality within the basic sectors of society.

The fight for the rights of the African Americans does not end there. It is essential to take note that the struggle for equality started as early as Abraham Lincoln’s administration. The fight for the African American rights is continuous since the results of the early efforts of groups like NAACP have not been felt drastically. The most brutal eye-opener for the emergence of the African American civil rights movements would have to be the murder of Emmett Till on the 28th of August 1955. A 14-year old, who was newly transferred to Money, Mississippi has been murdered after being kidnapped by two white men.

Till was accused of insulting or sexually harassing Roy Bryant’s wife, the owner of the grocery store which Till and his cousins visited. Till’s body has been discovered after four days and it was weighed down by seventy-five-pound cotton gin fan that was looped around his neck with barbed wire, the entire body was brutally beaten before he was shot.[3]

Emmett Till’s murder incurred shock, hatred, and anger around the world most especially after the suspects – Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam – were acquitted by an all-white Jury in trial in Mississippi. This event is considered as the first widely publicized incident with regards to civil rights issue. Till’s mother bravely continued to uphold human and civil rights after the death of her son. She was quoted saying, “My son was a sacrificial lamb. He was sent to play a special role and I don’t think he died in vain.”[4]

The public hype stirred by the murder of Emmett Till is further sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks in December 1, 1955. Her story famously refers to her refusal to give up her seat to a white man. Though Till’s murder ignited the fight against discrimination, segregation is still widely implemented. Transport segregation is a common thing during those times where black people are forced to be seated at the back and if seats are full by the time a white person ascended into the bus, a black should give up his or her seat.

Rosa Parks refused to do so and the consequence of her refusal resulted for the bus driver to call the police for her to be arrested. Her arrest finally prompted the rise of civil rights protests across the United States. Like Rosa Parks, the discrimination became a turning point for the African Americans that they have had enough of it. Civil rights protests are primarily non-violent in nature and some have drawn out their inspiration from the peaceful demonstrations of Gandhi.

One prominent protest is the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was led by Martin Luther King Jr. A reverend that was only new in town, he was called by his colleagues to organize the boycott in the hopes of destroying the segregation policy that has been discriminating the African Americans. A decision was made - after the local leaders and ministers held a meeting at Dexter Church – that a boycott would officially take place on Monday, December 5, the same day of Parks’ trial.[5] After the success of the boycott, King and his co-leaders decided to create an organization for the continuity of the movement.

He was elected as the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and successfully inspired lots of people to participate. His leadership skills, as he propagated the bus boycotts, are deeply admired by the public that made him an international figure.

The success of the boycotts became the first established civil rights movement. As the world is informed about the injustice deeds the segregation caused, the goal of King and the MIA to achieve equality became validated. This resulted to the formation of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 where segregation and discrimination is considered illegal. The African Americans enjoyed a short-lived victory when this law was passed. Expectations are high because the law is expected to bring a drastic change in the lives of the colored people. However, practicing the law proves to be more difficult than penning the law itself.

Discrimination is still present especially within the confines of the society. There was still the issue of discrimination in the South and it became harder for the black people to establish their lifestyle as more white people moved to the suburbs. The problem is found on the difficulties of some states to accept the Civil Rights Act. Though in this present time it can be said that the discrimination against colored people is greatly subdued, blacks are still in struggle. Nonetheless, civil rights movements continue to participate in the never-ending battle of discrimination.

Bibliography

Newman, Mark. The Civil Rights Movement. Machestter, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.

Banting, Erinn. African American History Civil Rights Movement. New York: Weigl Publishers, 2009.

Boyd, Herb., Davis, Ossie., and Ruby Dee. We Shall Overcome. Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2004.

McElrath, Jessica, and  Dale P. Andrews. Martin Luther King Jr. Book. USA: Everything Books, 2008.

[1] Mark Newman, The Civil Rights Movement (Machestter, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2004), 1. [2] Erinn Banting, African American History Civil Rights Movement (New York: Weigl Publishers, 2009), 11.

[3] Herb Boyd, Ossie Davis, & Ruby Dee, We Shall Overcome, (Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2004), 10. [4] Ibid, 16. [5] Jessica McElrath & Dale P. Andrews, Martin Luther King Jr. Book, (USA: Everything Books, 2008), 75.