Civil Rights Movement from WWII Until 1968



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Civil Rights Movement from WWII Until 1968

Many people today refer to the civil rights era as the period between 1950s and 1970s. However, this is but a glimpse of the historical context of the civil rights era. By the early-19th Century, the presence of civil rights movements was already felt in America. This was mainly in the form of the struggle for racial equality, which was experienced during this era. Therefore, the civil rights movements witnessed in the mid-19th Century are a continuation of the struggle for equality, which had begun in the early 19th Century and even earlier than that. Nonetheless, the civil rights movement comprised various African-Americans, who led in the struggle for racial equality, since the blacks in America were entitled to less privileges compared to the whites. This essay focuses on the civil rights movement from WWII until 1968, this therefore, is the period between 1938-1968, with special attention on major events, which indicate struggle for racial equality by African-Americans, and whether they won or lost in their different struggles for equality.

Although the Civil Rights Movement is associated with the African Americans only, this was important for both African Americans and the whites. After the civil war, which was detrimental to America, the country was left with many national issues to address in order to ensure stability of the nation and its people.  It was during this period, after the civil war, which is also called the reconstruction period that major civil rights movement were experienced. During this era, America had a considerable number of its population comprising African Americans. These were former slaves, who upon being freed, needed to find land, build homes, settle down, and live a free life, like any other white person. Therefore, the American governments had a responsibility of addressing the needs of the former slaves in order to ensure there entry back into the society, as free people. However, when the government failed to address the issues of the African Americans in a fair way, these would rise up and demand for fair treatment and fair legislation, which did not deny them of the privileges the whites were entitled to. Therefore, this continued struggle for racial equality is what gave birth to the modern civil rights movement.

Before the WWII, the American government, starting the late 19th Century, had used the legislation to enable the integration of African Americans back in the society as free people. Although the government based its decisions and legislation on the doctrine of “separate but equal,” there were vast elements of racial discrimination, as the African Americans were not free to share public space or enjoy the privileges of same legislation with the whites. Public places and amenities such as restaurants, schools, bus and railroad stages, among others, were separated between the whites and African Americans. Facilities belonging to African Americans were of poor quality, and inferior, compared to those of whites. This was one of the situations, which would result in the civil rights movement.

In 1938, one major incidence that showed struggle for equal rights was experienced in one of the Southern states. In these states, there was a high level of inequality of the African Americans, compared to other states. Southern states did not allow for the admission of African Americans in institutions of higher learning, but referred them to institutions of higher learning in the northern states. However, in 1938, one African American student, who was denied admission to the University of Missouri Law School, filed a case in court, since he wanted Law in this particular university, as others did not offer law. Nonetheless, the courts ruled that the student be admitted in the university. This is one of the incidences, which portray the struggle of African Americans to gain equal opportunities with the whites in America.

During the WWII, African Americans were still discriminated against, and treated unequally, based on their race. In 1943, when the WWII was ongoing, there occurred the Detroit race riots, where 25 African Americans died. These riots mainly involved attacks between the whites and blacks. In addition, many African Americans were forced to take up different tasks, including construction, and transport, among others, where they worked in segregation from the mainstream population. It was also during this period that African Americans were forced to give up railroad care sears to the Nazi Prisoners of War. In addition, African Americans were denied their right to the GI Bill, which comprised benefits for those people who served in war. This is because local authorities at that time were even driven by racial discrimination. In Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), there was no black student admitted, until in 1962, when one Olivia Woods was admitted. In 1944, Gunnar Myrdal published An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, which explained race relations. In this book, Myrdal showed optimism that democracy would rule over racism. Nonetheless, in future, this was used as a basis for development of policies, which addressed racism.

In 1944, there was the enaction of “The Economic Bill of Rights,” which would grant equal rights to all American population. This was emphasised by Roosevelt, who also participated in drafting the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” in a UN committee. However, acts of racial discrimination persisted even after these two legislations. A major incidence occurred in 1955 when a 14-year old black in Mississippi was murdered when he whistled at white women.

To act on discrimination, which had become elaborate, Rosa Parks in 1955-56 led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to act against discrimination on transport, and buses. This event saw the rise of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a leader in the civil rights movement. This led to the Supreme Court to rule against segregation. However, most Southern congressmen in 1956 signed the “Southern Manifesto,” which showed their opposition to desegregation. Nonetheless, Martin Luther King in 1957, formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an African American civil rights organization, which adopted non-violence to resist racial discrimination.

Additionally, in 1960, students in Greensboro, NC formed student resistance to discrimination against blacks. This spread to other cities, including Nashville. In the film “Ain’t Scared of your Jails,” students in Nashville, Tennessee, are shown to employ the non-violence resistance to discrimination, and engaged in a wave of demonstrations, following their arrest. In the same year, students formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was a student branch of the larger non-violent activists’ body.  In 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched “freedom rides” to act against segregation in buses and bus terminals.

Further struggle by Martin Luther King (MLK), is evident in the 1963 Birmingham marches, which later turned violent, leading to the arrest and jailing of MLK. He wrote “Letter from Birmingham’ in the same year. Most whites in Southern states were opposed to desegregation. In 1963, Alabama Governor showed his opposition to a move to desegregate the University of Alabama. Nonetheless, in June the same year, President Kennedy called for the nation to embrace civil rights legislation. However, in the same night, a member of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) murdered Medgar Evers, an African-American activist. Evers pushed for desegregation at the University of Mississippi. Nonetheless, his death resulted in increased actions by civil rights movements, including films, music, and works of art, which protested against increased violence for the blacks.

The year 1963 was an important year in the civil rights movements, as this year saw increased cases of violence and discrimination aimed at blacks. In August, activists marched to Washington, led by Philip Randolph, but organized by Bayard Rustin. It was on this day in Washington, when MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The documentary “Four Little Girls” was inspired by the death of four small girls in the basement of a Birmingham church, due to an explosion that was aimed at African-Americans. Finally, in November 1963, the assassination of President John f. Kennedy happened.

In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, meant to end segregation in America. In the same year, SNCC and CORE organized the Mississippi Freedom Summer, which was an election campaign attended by both white and black activists. The following year, MLK lead close to 8,000 nonviolent demonstrators in the Selma to Montgomery March, in a voting rights campaign, where the SNCC and SCLC also participated. This march was successful as the Congress passed Voting Rights Act in the same year, which would eliminate all discriminations against black voting. This was a success for the nonviolent activists. However, discrimination and violence against blacks persisted, and in 1968, MLK was also assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. This was quite a blow to nonviolent activists, since MLK played a great role in the civil rights movement. Nonetheless, even after the assassination of MLK, the struggle for equality for the African-Americans continued in the years that followed.


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