A Giant Named Civil Rights

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In the 1950’s, a sleeping giant was brutally awoken and would continue to rage on into the 1960’s. Civil rights for African-Americans had been put into place approximately between seventy and eighty years prior to when the movement began in the 1950’s. Because a movement cannot take place over night, the 1950’s served as the crucial ground work for the monumental impacts of the events taken place during the 1960’s. By getting the attention of the government, provoking anger in other African-Americans thus inspiring them, and by leading up to the “boiling point” in the mid 1960’s, the 1950’s had to occur before the movement in the 1960’s had a possibility of happening.


One major reason that African-Americans were not granted the rights they had been given earlier was because those rights were not being enforced. It was not until the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1954 that the government finally displayed support towards African-Americans gaining their rights. White public schools clearly demonstrated unfair differences from black public schools. Black public schools were under supplied, not properly staffed, and older. Under these conditions, the black students were not given the same, or equal, opportunities as the white students were. The aim of the case was not just to desegregate schools, but more importantly to prove that the schools were not equal, thus violating the constitution. After the case, segregation in public schools become illegal, but some refused to follow acknowledge that. When the governor of Arkansas neglected to abide by the new rules, the government finally took action. On September 25, 1957, nine African-American students were escorted into a white public school by army troops, therefore showing America that the government was ready to enforce what they had started many years ago.

The government support carried on into the 1960’s. With America finally recognizing the injustice done to African-Americans, they realize this must come to an end. In 1964, the government put into place the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which stopped segregation and discrimination in public accommodations. Also in 1964, the Twenty-fourth Amendment was passed, eliminating poll taxes in every state. Finally, in 1965, the government gave African-Americans what had been promised to them in the Fifteenth Amendment, the right to vote no matter what race you were. By shining a light on the injustice of the 1950’s, the government was influenced to take continuous action in the following years in order to preserve the credibility of the constitution.

With the invention of the television and the increasing media in the 1950’s, people could now actually see how bad the racism was, and it made them angry. When Elizabeth Eckford attended a public white school by herself in 1957, the media was right there capturing all the events that followed, and what they got was not pretty. She suffered from physical violence and racial abuse. So what made these attacks any more shocking than all of the other physical and verbal violence on African-Americans? This was televised. Now they were not just reading about racism, they were seeing it. The rest of the world witnessed the brutality a young girl underwent just because of the color of her skin, and some were disgusted at it. The anger they felt turned into pure drive and determination. People were ready to start standing up for what they knew was right. People began participating in sit-ins, marches, and boycotts like the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Various groups supporting African-American civil rights formed during this time such as the NAACP, SNCC, CORE, and SCLC. People were gearing up for battle.
One specific incident that occurred in 1955, the murder of Emmett Till, is said to have inspired a great leader of the movement, Martin Luther King Jr. Emmett Till was inhumanely murdered by a white man for flirting with his wife. The mutilation of the young boy showed not only King, but many others, something needed to be done. In a way, Emmett Till sacrificed his life in order to give the movement the push it needed. Martin Luther King Jr. went on to lead many nonviolent protests geared towards civil rights. In 1963, he led the march on Washington, which 200,000 people attended, to display support for John F. Kennedy’s civil rights legislation. That same year, King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, instilling hope and brightness to the future for all.

In the beginning, African-Americans fight for their rights in a nonviolent way, strongly contradicting to the violent reactions they received from the whites. For example, while participating in sit-ins at lunch counters, African-Americans would be verbally assaulted, have food poured on them, physically beaten, or even arrested. To add on top of all of that, in 1964 a project called Freedom Summer began. The purpose was to long-time political disenfranchisement of African Americans. The problem was, many white volunteers joined the project and some of the African-Americans felt like they were trying to take over the whole thing. From enduring undeserved punishment in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, some African-American people had had enough. Three groups emerged due to frustration of the nonviolent approach; Malcolm X and his followers, the Black Panthers, and Black Power. All believed in the concept of “black power” which was obtaining pride and social equality by their own means. Malcolm X was even quoted claiming that they should fight for freedom by “all means necessary”. This included violence. The Black Panthers showed favoritism towards gun fights, in which people did die and get injured. Riots were generated by these groups, like the one in Watts that lasted a whole week. The city morphed into a war zone, the outcome being 34 people dead and $35 million dollars in damages. Nothing positive occurred due to the violent riot in Watts. Unsuccessful and nonviolent actions in the beginning of the movement influenced the frustration that drove many to take extreme measures.

Ultimately, the events of the 1950’s directly had an impact on what happened in the 1960’s regarding the Civil Rights Movement. The 1950’s laid down a vital foundation in which the events in the 1960’s built upon. Though both positive and negative results came from the 1950’s, they all contributed to moving the massive sleeping giant known as civil rights.





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