• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Why did a campaign for civil rights emerge in the 1950s? The civil rights movement is the title given to the concerted effort to gain greater social, political and economic equality

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

Lee Waring HIS301 Why did a campaign for civil rights emerge in the 1950s? The civil rights movement is the title given to the concerted effort to gain greater social, political and economic equality for black Americans which, it has been argued, emerged in its most recognisable form during the 1950s. To many, the civil rights movement was one of the greatest reform impulses of the twentieth century and its many victories have included such things as the Supreme Court decision in 1954 which declared segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-1956, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting rights act of 1965 (White, 1991, p.9). Nevertheless, the reasons behind the emergence of the modern civil rights movement in the 1950s have continued to be a subject of debate throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond. Many have seen the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision of 1954 as a watershed in both legal and political terms which provided the impetus for a civil rights movement to emerge during the latter half of the 1950s. Indeed, many contemporaries such as Mary Ellison saw the Brown decision as 'the avenging angel of a Gothic tragedy' (Verney, 2000, p.45) instantly casting aside decades of injustice. However, whilst this view does, perhaps, hold some truth and therefore deserves to be examined, what this essay will hope to show is that the Brown decision can not simply be viewed as a bolt of lightening from a clear sky and was not solely responsible for the onset of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. Indeed, an examination of other Supreme Court rulings which would at first appear to further the cause for Civil Rights, yet failed to instigate a modern civil rights movement would seem to suggest that there were perhaps other, more subtle reasons, underpinning the emergence of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. ...read more.

Middle

World War II provided new and unusual employment opportunities for African Americans, which was then sustained by post war growth. This meant that many African Americans were better placed to provide resources and leadership for organisations devoted to their cause (Heale, 2004, p.157). For example, in 1939 the NAACP only had 54 000 member, yet by 1945 this figure had grown to over 500 000 (Heale, 2004, p.160). At the same time these increases in industrial production created new job opportunities and between 1941 and 1946 over 1 million African Americans left the south for employment in the North. However, whilst it could be argued that this shift, in many ways simply mirrored that of the great migration of the First World War, the attitude of the black Americans to World War II was notably different and it is this change in attitude at a grassroots level which, perhaps, helps to explain why the civil right movement emerged in the 1950s, where it had failed to emerge in the past. In 1917, African Americans were mainly apathetic or at least supported America's entry into the War; however their entry into the Second World War saw greater signs of black militancy (Verney, 2000, pp.32-3). This heightened black assertiveness was expressed in a variety of ways during the war, for example in the 'Double v' campaign waged against Hitler abroad and discrimination at home. Capitalising on this grass roots mood, A. P. Randolph launched the March on Washington Movement (MOWM) which, when threatened, led Franklin Roosevelt to issue executive order 8802 which established the Committee on Fair Employment Practices. This action marked the first time that collective non violent direct action on the part of the black community had led the federal government into taking affirmative action on a civil rights issue. In this case it was simply to ensure that any company seeking defence contracts included a clause which ensured that they did not discriminate. ...read more.

Conclusion

To do so would ignore the previous decades during which concerted efforts were made to achieve an improvement in the civil rights of African Americans from both above and below. Arguably, had it not been for events such as the Cold War which, to go back to Fairclough's metaphor, eventually 'brought down the curtain on the first act of the drama' (Cook, 1998, p.9), the modern civil rights movement may well have begun during the 1940s or earlier. It is in this context that one should view the part played by the Brown ruling as, arguably, the Brown ruling played the leading role in the second act of the civil rights movement. In that respect Brown can, perhaps, help to explain why the modern civil rights movement emerged in the 1950s. However, notwithstanding some of the setbacks created by the Cold War, the many changes to the economic and political position of blacks which occurred during the 1930s and 1940s; together with the numerous court rulings which ruled in favour of civil rights issues; as well as the part played by veterans who came back from World War II to demand their citizenship rights, collectively helped to provide the inspiration for those who carried forward the struggle during the 1950s. Nevertheless, whilst events like World War II and the Brown decision were clearly important, and perhaps go some way towards explaining why the civil rights movement emerged during the 1950s due to the new contexts and new possibilities which they helped to create; one cannot ignore that the existence of favourable conditions does not necessarily guarantee that collective action will materialise. Indeed, 'whilst structural prerequisites may be conducive to collective action, without human agency such conditions will never be recognised, let alone exploited' (Chafe, 2003, p.172). Arguably therefore, the thread that linked all of these conditions, which happened to be present during the mid 1950s and was, perhaps, revitalised by the Brown ruling, was an awareness of the need for and potential strength of, direct action at a grass-roots level in order to facilitate change. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE USA 1941-80 section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE USA 1941-80 essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Who was to blame for the Cold War?

    4 star(s)

    support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures" (Avalon). The first "way of life" is democracy, and the second is communism. Truman is saying that it is the United States' duty to help those oppressed by Communism and to control the spread of it.

  2. Was the Civil Rights Movement Successful?

    However the success was limited by white racial attitude that threatened blacks if they voted. Kennedy also gave many high positions in the government, political and law areas to black people. The Voting Rights Act was eventually passed in 1964, allowing blacks to freely vote.

  1. Why did Black Civil Rights Movement Develop in the 1950's?

    By integrating and getting rid of segregation in education, white people's attitudes towards the blacks started to change and they began more relaxed about the black community. Whites attitudes also started to change towards the blacks during World War 2; blacks became equal on the battle field which made it

  2. To what extent did black Civil Rights improve in the years between 1863-1877?

    For blacks, this was another step backwards, and placed them in a situation painfully similar to that before the Civil War. The 'share-cropping' implemented by Radical Reconstruction was therefore designed by Northerners to prevent blacks being held by force. The plantations were divided into small plots and given to individual slave families.

  1. Why did the civil rights movement gain so much support in the 1950s and ...

    However, this did not stop all the verbal and physical abuse they received from racist Whites. Large numbers of protesters were arrested, with many beaten by police.

  2. The Civil Rights Movement Project

    So in 1963, Martin Luther King organised marches and demonstrations that ensured loads of television coverage. The local policeman was extremely anti-black, so set dogs on the demonstrators when the rest of the demonstrators refused to leave he turned the five hoses on them.

  1. Civil rights movement - questions and answers.

    'Promised Land' They both will always be remembered and used to show what a legend King really was. This also helped him attract sponsorship and money. King was good at using the media and all throughout he kept the white men in the wrong by using his peaceful protests.

  2. The importance of Lyndon Johnson in bringing about Civil Rights.

    The freedom riders were also an important factor in the Civil Rights Movement. They drove buses full of white and black people through different states to protest against segregation. In Alabama, a bus was assaulted by a group of racists who torched the bus and attacked the riders.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work