American Civil Rights Movement, which garnered large support and public attention in 1960 and continued for the next decade is largely considered one of the most powerful and driving force behind significant changes that took place on both a social and legislative level within the United States. The movement itself took place in order to stop racial discrimination and racism against African-Americans that for years had run rampant throughout the country. Despite the Movement's categorization of being dominant in American culture from around 1960 to around 1970, the truth exists that the American Civil Rights Movement and its core values can be traced as far back as the 1783, which was the year that Massachusetts legally outlawed slavery within its borders (ThinkQuest 2010, pp.1). From then on, African-Americans, and their respective supporters rallied for change within the country, facing significant obstacles and set-backs along the way.
In viewing the history of the movement, including the travesties that led up to it, one can better analyze the significance of the American Civil Rights Movement on both the United States and the world as a whole. Further, one can begin to assess whether or not the belief under which the Civil Rights Movement was formed: "All Men are Created Equal" was successfully imparted into the minds of the masses with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
History of the Movement
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was a long, primarily non-violent struggle to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to all American citizens, particularly African-Americans. The movement has had a lasting impact on the United States as a whole, including in society, in its legislation and governmental policy, and the increased social and legal acceptance of civil rights. However, above all else, the movement's exposure to the nation and to the world has led many individuals both directly and indirectly affected to understand the prevalence of racism and its respective costs.
The American Civil Rights Movement existed in America long before the 1960s. The term itself actually refers to the political struggles and reform movements between 1945 and 1970 to end discrimination against African-Americans and other disadvantaged groups and to end legal racial segregation, especially in the U.S. South (Jackson 2011, pp. 1022). Since the Civil War, African-Americans were forced to endure exceptionally demeaning treatment by the government and within society, being consistently considered "less" than their white counterparts. For years, African-Americans were forced to endure segregation laws which stemmed from the post-Civil War Jim Crow laws -- allowed to only occupy specified and directed areas of everyday life that so many of us take for granted on a daily basis.
The American Civil Rights Movement as many know it today, stemming from 1960-1970 was largely influenced by the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision regarding the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in which the plaintiffs charged that the education of black children in separate public schools from their white counterparts was unconstitutional (Kelly 2011, pp. 1040). The opinion of the Court stated that the "segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group" (SCOTUS 1954, pp.1). Such a decision to overturn the existing statutes began the dissolution of the "separate but equal" standard that had remained present in the United States for years, but this incident was certainly not the end of the African-American struggle.
Many other individual instances led to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, especially before a recognized leader took over the cause. For instance on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, who has been deemed the "mother" of the Civil Rights Movement historically refused to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger. Parks was arrested, tried, and convicted of disorderly conduct and the violation of a local ordinance. Upon hearing of the conviction, nearly 50 African-American leaders gathered and organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott to demand a more humane bus transportation system (Hare 2009, pp. 1). This boycott was organized by a young Baptist minister who was president of the Montgomery Improvement Association who would later go down in history as the most recognizable figure in the Civil Rights moment -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
From this point on, the movement gained significant media attention, drawing thousands to align either for or against the reforms for which the movement called. Sit-ins, protests, demonstrations, rallies, speeches, and marches followed through the years, as African-Americans refused to back down to the old and outdated standards by which their own country viewed them. African-Americans wanted nothing more than what their Constitution promised them and offered on a daily basis to their white counterparts, and they were not going to back down without a true fight, no matter how long and hard the battles would be.
Through the years and through the activism, the government certainly did not remain ignorant to the cause at hand. President John F. Kennedy, for instance, greatly admired the work of the movement and worked diligently to pass reforms to alleviate the pains of the past. When President Kennedy was assassinated before he had the chance to pass his proposed civil rights legislation, President Lyndon Johnson made it his personal mission to carry out the wishes of the movement and the late president, despite significant disapproval from many Southern members of Congress. On July 2, 1964, after considerable parliamentary maneuvering and 54 days of filibuster from Southern Senators on the floor of the United States Senate, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, banning discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex or national origin" in employed practices and public accommodations (CRA 1964, pp.1). The bill authorized the Attorney General to file new lawsuits to enforce the law and additionally nullified state and local laws that required such discrimination in everyday life and practices in both government and broader society.
Despite this historical legislative achievement, incidents of segregation and racism continued to survive and flourish in parts of the country, especially in the South. Upon each new incident of this new law being broken, supporters and critics swarmed upon each other, oftentimes rioting, garnering police intervention, and therefore considerable media attention. Most notably, a day after delivering his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" sermon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, devastating many within the nation and sparking a series of riots that broke out in more than 100 U.S. cities in the days that followed -- most notably Chicago, Baltimore and in Washington, D.C. causing significant damage and destroying many black businesses (Jenson 2011, pp.776).
While many believe that this incident was the last significant incident of the Civil Rights Movement, others believe that it was just the beginning for an endless series of additional fights for equality, that despite government legislation, never truly came. The fact remains that since the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its counterpart the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (also known as the "Fair Housing Act"), things have gotten better within the United States in terms of racial equality, but the problem still remains to some extent -- especially in the American South in which racism against African-American citizens was essentially born and bred since times pre-dating the Civil War, and unfortunately, this mentality continues on in the South in some level.
In viewing the history of the American Civil Rights Movement, one can begin to assess these occurrences and the movement as a whole in a more theoretical approach to determine if the movement was truly a success. Unfortunately for American society, and many world societies, racism and discrimination will continue to exist and flourish in the areas in which it is nourished. Be these geographical areas in which government legislation regarding discrimination and the call for equality do not exist, or be they the individual minds of people who foster this type of hate and judgment -- the fact remains that in any location or arena where discrimination is allowed to exist, it will unfortunately flourish. While science and time have proven to us that all men truly are created equal, will this notion ever really resonate in the minds of the masses?
Some may believe that the notion that Americans remain segregated and that racism still exists on a large scale, are based in nothing but pessimism and doubt in the essential good of mankind. These individuals believe that the Civil Rights Movement within the United States truly did impart a greater sense of the notion that all men are created equal…