The main events of the Civil Rights movement happened between 1945 and 1968. However black Americans did not suddenly start campaigning for better rights in 1945, organisations and campaigns had existed before then. And also the Second World War encouraged black Americans to campaign more vigorously.They had fought alongside whites and also fought against the racism of Hitler.
The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) took a number of cases to the Supreme Court to challenge educational segregation. The most famous case was Brown vs. Topeka, Kansas. Linda Brown had to walk several miles to attend an all black school, when her nearest school was just a few blocks away. On 17 May 1954 Chief Justice Earl Warren ruled that ‘in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place’. He also said that schools should move towards integration ‘with all deliberate speed’.However, because no definite time line was laid down, many states strongly resisted integration. In some places ‘White Citizens’ Councils’ were formed to block it.
In December 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her place to a white man and was arrested.Her arrest became the focus of a massive campaign. Black leaders met to decide what to do and chose Martin Luther King to be their leader.And In December 1956 the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery bus segregation was unconstitutional and the Montgomery bus company had to integrate their buses.The campaign had been a success.
The Montgomery protest inspired others to take action.Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s civil rights groups organised marches, demonstrations, boycotts, sit-ins and freedom rides. All of these were done using non – violent methods.The sit-ins were started by the student civil rights movement. (The SNCC – Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) They sat at whites only lunch counters waiting to be served. When they were arrested, another group of multi-racial students were waiting to take their place. The students trained themselves to resist the taunts of white racists who would shout at them and abuse them.
The freedom riders were mostly organised by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) .They protested against the segregation of long distance buses.They would board a bus in one state and travel to another, refusing to abide by the racial segregation rules of the bus companies.Freedom riders were often met with violence when the buses stopped.Martin Luther King and the SCLC ( Southern Christian Leadership Conference) campaigns and demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. This was still a very segregated city. The local police commissioner, Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor was very racist and used dogs and fire hoses against the demonstrators.
In 1963 Martin Luther King organised a massive march on Washington DC,this is actually where he made his famous "I have a dream" speech.And The SCLC organised a campaign in the summer of 1964 to try to encourage black Americans to register to vote.This became known as ‘freedom summer’.Then Martin Luther King organised a march in 1965 through Selma, Alabama. However the marchers were attacked and King backed down.He was criticized for this by the younger, more radical black activists.
JF Kennedy won the majority of the black vote in the 1960 election by promising to support civil rights. However once in power progress was slow.Kennedy did appoint a number of black Americans to leading positions and mixed socially with more black people than ever before. Kennedy also intervened to enforce Supreme Court decision in the Southern States – for example in 1962 he sent government troops to protect a black student – James Meredith at the University of Mississippi.Kennedy also planned a Civil Rights Bill to outlaw discrimination, but this was not passed during his presidency.And Lyndon Johnson came to power promising to take Kennedy’s work further. He achieved a lot for black civil rights.The Civil Rights Act was finally passed in 1964, which outlawed discrimination.Then in 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed which outlawed any discriminatory tests. He also appointed the first even black Americans to the White House cabinet and the Supreme Court.
As the 1960s went on some black Americans became frustrated with the slow progress of the civil rights movement. This was particularly true of younger, more radical activists.And these young radicals argued that non-violence was not necessarily the best tactic and that is was not assertive enough.Some also argued that integration was not necessarily a good thing and that black people should support separatism.But these views were promoted by the Black Muslim group the Nation of Islam and most famously by Malcolm X. Malcolm X felt that non-violence simply encouraged white racism. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965.
Even more militant were the Black Panthers.They were an armed group who wanted to force white people to grant equal right.And from the mid 1960s the civil rights movement began to split.
In 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated and this provoked more riots and the civil rights movement found it difficult to carry on in an effective way after Martin Luther King's death and Vietnam became a more dominant issue for protest movements.
And Stokely Carmichael was a student leader who became a leader of what was called the Black Power movement. He said that blacks should take control of all aspects of their lives.