A Moment in Time: How the 1900s Was a Turning Point for the African American Civil Rights Movement | Teen Ink

A Moment in Time: How the 1900s Was a Turning Point for the African American Civil Rights Movement

June 28, 2021
By Huda SILVER, Jamaica, New York
Huda SILVER, Jamaica, New York
7 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious … and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." (Walt Disney)

Following the Civil War, African Americans won freedom from slavery with the aid of the 14th Amendment, which considered all Americans to be American citizens, by law. Despite this, American society still lacked equality, especially between African Americans and whites. The ideology of white supremacy had been very strongly integrated within the roots of Southern American culture, as exemplified by Jim Crow Laws which prevented African Americans from being treated as American citizens. Moreover, the lynching of Emmett Till only strengthens the notion of white supremacy, as hate crimes against African Americans began to rise in numbers, rendering African Americans helpless against racism. The struggle of African Americans continued to mold according to America’s social, political, and social spectrum. Specifically, during the 1900s, the concept of African Americans not receiving “separate but equal” treatment encouraged both radical and non-radical views regarding an integrated black society, which ultimately contributed to the African American Civil Rights movement by spreading awareness of social injustice throughout America.

Segregation became a major issue following the abolishment of slavery. However, before delving deeper into the issue of segregation, it is important to understand the relationship between the Southern States of America and slavery. Slavery dominated the South’s economy because the South was reliant on an agricultural economy, compared to the North which was comparatively more industrialized and advanced. Slaves were needed to work on farms and the Slave Trade became popular and important. The abolishment of slavery caused a decline in the South’s economy due to a lack of workers and the end of the Slave Trade. Moreover, white supremacy, the idea of whites being superior to African Americans, became common in the South because African Americans were disregarded and condemned to being a white man’s slave, their lack of education labeling them as intellectually inferior to whites. Following the abolishment of slavery, white supremacy thrived because the ideology was a common norm, belief children grew up listening about. Utilizing fear and white supremacy as a tool, the Southern states established certain laws and rules which prevented African Americans from fitting into society. The most popular amongst these laws were the Jim Crow laws, a set of laws enforced by the state government to encourage segregation, and can be described as an act of de jure segregation, as segregation was approved by authorities. Segregation kept African Americans from being accepted into society. The Grandfather Clause, for example, prevented African Americans from voting in some Southern states by allowing people to vote without having to take literacy tests only if their family was allowed to vote before 1867. While segregation was prominent, African Americans began to speak out against segregation. The case of Plessy v. Ferguson is perhaps one of the most important cases in this aspect. When Homer Plessy refused to sit in an all-black car despite being partially black, the case went to Supreme Court, in an effort to recognize segregation as unlawful. However, the decision led to the “separate but equal” doctrine, which declared segregation as lawful and fair as long as the segregated accommodations were equal. By going to the Supreme Court, this case brought to light the trials African Americans struggled through, unable to live peacefully because they were not treated like proper humans by state governments. The doctrine was officially challenged in 1954, web the case of Brown v. Board of Education went to Supreme Court arguing that the doctrine was unlawful because the accommodations were not equal for African Americans and whites since African Americans struggled through poverty and were condemned to harsh living conditions. Brown v. Board of Education is also an example of the federal government versus state government since the government’s support of segregation violates the 14th Amendment, which recognizes the protection of all American citizens’ liberty and freedom. Furthermore, these landmark cases reveal how segregation and the “separate but equal “ doctrine became a major issue for the government because of its huge impact on society, allowing for support for the African American Civil Rights movement to grow with an increase in awareness. 


The great struggles that African Americans went through indicates the great mental growth that they endured. African Americans developed different groups to confront the whites, depending on their ideology regarding an integrated African American society, whether it was a radical or a non-radical perspective. For instance, the Black Panthers, founded in California in 1966, took a more violent approach as they had more radical views regarding black freedom, preaching for black nationalism and socialism. Civil Rights activists, such as Malcolm X, also had a radical perspective and believed in the notion of black separatism, argued for more black nationalism, and more self-pride to fight against the white superiority and stereotypes. In simpler terms, those with radical perspectives regarding an integrated African American society did not want African Americans to integrate with white society because African American culture and society would not truly develop with a strong influence of the white community. Others, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had a non-radical perspective and believed in a more humane approach and were less violent, instead of encouraging less violent protests that fought for a more integrated society with peace between whites and blacks. Those with a non-radical perspective wanted African Americans to be integrated with white society and represented all of the poor and underrepresented Americans facing social injustice throughout the nation, including segregation. Conflicting perspectives regarding an integrated society allowed for the Civil Rights movement to progress because the internal conflict between both groups, the radicals and non-radicals, drew attention to the efforts of the protesters. Recognition of segregation and racism as being a real and serious issue of social injustice allowed for support of the Civil Rights movement to grow.

Following the abolishment of slavery, the Southern states started failing economically because of their reliance on slaves and agriculture and believed more in white supremacy, which caused segregation in Southern society. Experiencing mental growth, Civil Rights activists grew conflicted over radical and non-radical perspectives regarding an integrated African American society, some arguing that black separatism would allow for African Americans to grow stronger while others focused on a more integrated and peaceful society with equal opportunities. Internal conflicts between Civil War activists and conflicts between state and federal governments allowed for American society to recognize the social injustice African Americans were condemned to and this allowed for growth in support of the Civil Rights movement. A harsh and defining moment in time, the era of the Civil Rights movement can be recognized as a turning point for African Americans being recognized as heroes in their attempt to gain social justice and freedom.

The author's comments:

This piece is inspired by the continuity in the ongoing fight for equality and justice for all, regardless of identity.  

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