How far was peaceful protest responsible for the successes of the civil rights movement in the years 1955-64?

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How far was peaceful protest responsible for the successes of the civil rights movement in the years 1955-64?

In the years from 1955 to 1964, there were a significant number of peaceful protests organised by civil rights groups such as the NAACP, SCLC, SNCC and CORE. During this period, the progress towards racial equality was significant as there were many legal changes and de facto changes which ended certain types of segregation. It can be said that peaceful protest was directly responsible for helping to push these changes through and help the development of the civil rights movement, but despite this there are many reasons to show that peaceful protests by civil rights campaigns had a different effect, and did not further this development, but hindered it instead. Furthermore it can be noted that there are many other reasons, not peaceful protest, which ensured such legal progressions and attitude changes were pushed through and achieved.

Many campaigns during this time period highlighted that peaceful protest was an effective way of achieving change and bringing in extra white support to push through legal battles. One such protest was the Montgomery Bus Boycott that occurred from 1955-56. This protest was significant because it not only brought Martin Luther King to the forefront of the SCLC (which was established as a result of the Boycott), it highlighted the large economic power that black people had This campaign showed that with careful planning and a wide scale protest, protests such as these ones could be forced onto a higher legal level, as one of the results of the Boycott was the legal battle of Browder versus Gayle, that challenged Alabama transport segregation laws, and managed to overturned them. The boycott is a prime example for showing the effectiveness of coupling peaceful protest with legal action to bring about change, as the boycott not only helped to change de jure transport segregation, the pressure put on the bus companies through media attention and loss of revenue helped to change de facto transport segregation.
 Peaceful protest also demonstrated that with great public support, they could secure Presidential backing and change segregation without a legal battle. The Greensboro sit-ins of 1960 inspired a variety of sit-ins all across the Southern states, many organised by the SCLC, and by the end of it 810 towns had desegregated public areas with over 7,000 black and white citizens taking part in the sit ins. The Greensboro is a significant example of peaceful protest as it highlighted the growing support for civil rights, as white southerners joined in with the campaign as well, which meant there was increased support. As well as this it showed that with a large scale progress, presidential intervention could be gained, so it proved that even a president with a view against helping civil rights, (Eisenhower thought that racial equality would come about in it’s own time, proved by his refusal of supporting the Brown case later on) could be persuaded to join the cause. This change of heart from Eisenhower may have been a result of a changing popular opinion, which again supports the fact that peaceful protest was effective as it forced the federal government into action. Another example of forcing the federal government into action is the Little Rock Campaign of 1957, earlier than the sit-ins. Eisenhower was forced to intervene by sending in Federal government troops to help the Little Rock nine to enrol in the High school. Again demonstrating that peaceful protest had the power to force intervention to ensure success. It is clear that without these campaigns, Eisenhower may not have paid attention to the views of those wanting racial equality. However it wasn’t just Eisenhower that was swayed by peaceful protest, Kennedy also remained to be convinced to draw up a significant civil rights bill until after the events of Birmingham in 1963 and the March of Washington 63, after which he threw his weight behind the civil rights bill, as it was clear to see that there was support for the bill, demonstrated by the large numbers of black and white campaigners present during the March on Washington. This again demonstrated that without mass peaceful protest, the civil rights bill may not have been supported and indeed this protest was key as after the march Kennedy risked his political career to support the Bill.

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Despite these reasons, it can be seen that peaceful protest was not responsible for the successes of the civil rights movement. It is evident in the fact that in some cases, there was too much white opposition for the campaigns to have any effect. Although Brown versus Board of education 1 and 2 helped to overturn Plessy versus Ferguson, it was noted that the campaign whipped up a lot more opposition than it did support, and the legal battle did not even have an effective outcome. Indeed the Brown case stirred up opposition on a congressional level, as a Southern ...

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