Civil Rights Movements
Civil Rights Movements were struggles for social justice throughout the 1950s and 1960s for blacks to gain equal rights under the law of the United States. Slavery was abolished long ago but this didn’t stop the continuing discrimination against black people. The whites couldn’t quite accept that the people that had been slaves just some years ago had now risen to almost the same level in the society as they. The blacks suffered from severe racism, especially in the South. In addition, there was more than enough prejudice and violence against blacks. So, they formed various groups and started peaceful nonviolent campaigns, protests and social movements to accomplish their goals. Some of the main activists were, for example, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr.
The main problems were racism, racial segregation, lack of rights to vote (disenfranchisement) and overall discrimination.
In the end, they achieved recognition and protection under federal laws. The important pieces of recognition were, for example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which will be talked about later.
Brown vs. Topeka
Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka was a 1954 supreme court case that served as one of the cornerstones for the civil rights movements. This case proved that the “separate-but-equal” education and other such services were, in fact, not equal at all. As a result, the supreme court decided that the segregation of children in public school was unconstitutional. Before that, in a court case in 1896 the Supreme Court decided that racially segregated facilities are legal as long as the facilities for both blacks and whites are equal. The origin of the new case was that a black man named Oliver Brown sued the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in 1951 for not letting her daughter attend an all-white school. He said it’s a violation of the 14th Amendment (no state can “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”) and the so-called “equal protection clause”. The schools weren’t equal because, for example, Linda (the daughter) had a much longer distance to the school and also the government spent more money on white education: 38 dollars on a white kid and 13 on a black one. Problems of inequality may have arisen because of the fact that the schools were demanded to enforce the “separate-but-equal” policy but they were never really told how to do it or why.
Little Rock Nine
The Little Rock Nine was the nickname of a group of 9 all-black high school students who volunteered to attend a previously segregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Central High School themselves asked for students from the all-black school to attend their school. The Little Rock Nine were not welcomed there. They were met with an Arkansas National Guard (sent by the governor of Arkansas) and a threatening mob. The Little Rock Nine returned a few weeks later and made it inside only to be met with violence. They had to be removed once again for safety reasons. In the end, President Eisenhower personally intervened and ordered federal troops to escort the Little Rock Nine to and from the classes. Despite that, the 9 students still suffered a lot of prejudice and discrimination.
This case brought much-needed attention to the desegregation and fueled protests on the issue. In the end, Martin Luther King Jr himself even attended one boy’s graduation who was also apart of the Little Rock Nine.
The role of Rosa Parks
On December 1, 1955, a 42-year-old woman named Rosa Parks arrived from work and went on a Montgomery, Arkansas bus. She sat on a seat that was designated for the blacks in the back of the bus as according to the segregation laws. Then a white man arrived on the bus who couldn’t find himself a seat in the white section. The bus driver instructed Rosa Parks and a few other blacks to give up their seat. Rosa Parks refused and was arrested. She later explained why she didn’t give up the seat: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” What followed, was incredible. Rosa Park became the “mother of the modern-day civil rights movement”. The black community formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) which was led by Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. This role later placed him in the centre of the civil rights movement. MIA then organized a boycott against the Montgomery bus system which lasted for 381 days. On November 14, 1956, the Supreme Court decided that the system of segregated seating was unconstitutional.
NAACP, Jim Crow and disenfranchisement
NAACP is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It’s the oldest and biggest American civil rights organization. It was founded back in 1909 by white and black activists with the goal of advancing justice for African Americans. The organization played a vital role in the civil rights movement achieving many legal wins. The Brown vs. Topeka case in 1954 was one of them. They helped to organize the March on Washington (the next notion). During this era, they also successfully lobbied for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The NAACP received some criticism due to them trying to work through the judicial system to achieve their goals while other organizations preferred a more direct strategy of protest. The NAACP also at the same time suffered under harassment and violence. In 1962, Medgar Evers, the first NAACP field secretary in Mississippi, was assassinated outside his home in Jackson by a white supremacist.
Their purpose in a direct quote: “To ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”
The main founders of the NAACP were Moorfield Storey, Mary White Ovington and W.E.B. Du Bois (and others).
During the reconstruction of the South, many African Americans took leadership roles like never before. They achieved many rights with the 14th Amendment in 1868 (equal protection of the law) and the 15th Amendment in 1870 (the right to vote). Many whites were unhappy that the blacks who had just been their slaves were now more or less equal with the whites. To erase this progress of gaining many rights during the reconstruction, Jim Crow laws were enforced in the Southern states. This meant that blacks couldn’t use the same public facilities as whites. They couldn’t marry a white person, attend the same schools or sometimes even live in the same towns as whites. Many couldn’t vote because they couldn’t pass the voter literacy tests. The segregation laws gained even more ground with the Supreme Court decision in 1896 in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case when the “separate-but-equal” policy was introduced. Despite the laws not being introduced in the Northern states, African Americans suffered also there under vast discrimination at their workplace or while trying to buy a house or while trying to get an education. Some Northern states even limited the rights to vote. The name “Jim Crow” came from the main character of an act who had the same name. The character was a caricature of a clumsy, dimwitted black slave. The act itself was inspired by an insulting tune called “Jump Jim Crow”.
Disenfranchisement was the cancellation of the rights to vote.
March on Washington, the role of Martin Luther King
March on Washington was one of the most remarkable events in the civil rights movement. About 250 000 black and white people protested peacefully in Washington demanding job equality for everyone and civil rights legislation. The protest was organized by civil rights movement leaders like A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. The highlight of the event was King’s speech in which he continually stated: “I have a dream…” The speech soon became a slogan for equality and freedom. The speech was supposed to be 4 minutes but turned out to last for 16 minutes. Luther agreed to speak last though, at this time, it was more beneficial to speak earlier as later the crowd would be gone.
Loving vs Virginia case
Loving vs Virginia case was a Supreme Court case from 1963 to 1967 which, in the end, decided that the banning of interracial marriage was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The origin was that Richard and Mildred Loving were a white man and a black woman who wanted to get married but their marriage was deemed illegal according to the Virginia state laws.
This decision is often considered to be the watershed moment or the historic moment in dismantling the Jim Crow laws. Richard Loving died in a car crash in 1975. Mildred Loving was also in the car crash but survived and died in 2008. She never remarried.
Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an act initiated by John F. Kennedy before his death and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1965. The signing was witnessed by some civil rights activists, including King.
– Banned discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin in employment practises (equal employment for all),- limited the use of voter literacy tests,
– allowed federal authorities to ensure public facilities were integrated.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was an act also signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. By signing this act, he took the previous one even further.
– Banned all voter literacy tests,
– provided federal examiners in certain voting jurisdictions,
– as a result, led to the decision of declaring poll taxes to be unconstitutional. (Poll taxes were initially introduced to keep the African Americans from voting.)
Black Power movement, Black Panther Party
The Black Power movement was a political and social movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The movement believed in racial pride, self-sufficiency, and equality for all people of Black and African descent. They also demanded the creation of political and cultural institutions for African-American people. The movement grew out of the civil rights movement. They tried to create a change that the previous movement wasn’t able to achieve. Many of the leaders were killed at the peak of the movement’s success (the 1970s) which prompted many members to abandon the movement.
The Black Panther Party was a political organization founded in Oakland, California, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966 to challenge police brutality against the African American community. The party organized armed civilian patrols in Oakland and other US cities. The organization slowly declined due to internal tensions, deadly shootouts and FBI counterintelligence. Patrols were created to decrease the racist discrimination.
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr (born Martin King Jr.) (15.01.1929 – 04.04.1968) was one of the main activists of the civil rights movement. He was also an American Baptist minister. Martin Luther King Jr. was mainly known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. Some of his achievements:
- leader of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott
- in 1957 became the first president of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference)
- co-organiser of the 1963 March on Washington
- famous speech “I Have A Dream”
- won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964
- in 1965 the co-organiser of the Selma to Montgomery marches
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray (who was sentenced to 99 years in prison) while planning a national occupation of Washington to be called the Poor People’s Campaign. Many riots followed King’s death. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Some states established Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In 2011, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was also dedicated.
I chose Martin Luther King’s picture and decided to talk a little bit more about him because he was one of the key figures featured in the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement.
A Thought-Provoking Civil Rights Tale
“The Help” is a 2011 American film. The length of the film is 2 hours and 26 minutes. “The Help” features Emma Stone playing the main character named Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan who is in search of finding out the truth about the life of black maids in white households. The film is set in Jackson, Mississippi and depicts the Jim Crow law days in the 1960s. The film has received one Oscar for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson.
The overall response to the film is positive. The critics praise its level of acting, story and directing. One review describes the film like this: “It sparks discussion, teaches a history lesson, and makes everyone think about how we treat others.” (Chen, 2011) The ending has received some criticism “as the film ends it is still Jackson, Mississippi and Ross Barnett is still governor.” (Ebert, 2011) There are also some extremely critical reviews. One of them says that “this movie aspires to make you feel good. And it failed.” The only positive thing about this film is depicting good black actors. The same review has also brought out some historical inaccuracies, for example, taking on segregation like a sidebar and not showing the full extent of the assassination of Evers. The reviewer goes on to accuse the film in making us laugh over racism and making it look funny, though racism is still a massive problem in nowadays world. (Francois, 2011)
This film for me, personally, had a very emotional effect. There were times when I laughed and times when I felt how I am going to cry in a second. For the first time, while taking notes, I also wrote down my feelings and opinions while watching the film. So, I was cheering for Skeeter to find out the truth and wishing the other racist housewives to get absolutely intimidated because of their cruelty towards the maids. Eventually, Minny did intimidate her previous employer (Hilly Holbrook) with her “special pie” which, in my opinion, was the best and funniest scene in the movie, a true moment of revenge.
In the end, “The Help” has received an overall positive reception. There are many pros, for example, the story, acting and directing, but there are also some cons, for example, the ending and some historical inaccuracies. IMDb has given the film a high rating of 8.1 out of 10. I, personally, agree with this rating as I was deeply touched by this film.
1. Chen, S. A. (2011). ‘The Help’, common sense media. Available at: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/the-help (Accessed: 01.06.2019).
2. Ebert, R. (2011). ‘The Help’, Roger Ebert. Available at: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-help-2011 (Accessed: 01.06.2019).
3. Francois, D. J. (2011). ‘Film Review: How The Help Failed Us’, HuffPost. Available at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-help-film-review_b_926798 (Accessed: 01.06.2019).