The American Civil Rights Movement

What was the civil rights movement?

The civil rights movement was a decades-long movement that was a challenging campaign for African-Americans to receive social justice, equal rights, and equal treatment.

The civil rights movement “began” in 1954 and “ended” in 1968. In actuality, there was never a specific starting point when African Americans started advocating for their rights. Even today, African Americans have to fight to be treated equally amongst society, just not as much.

The March on Washington D.C.where Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights movement members are seen marching on the capital for their rights (1963). (Image Source: AP Images)

The American Civil War and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially ended slavery, but they did not end racism against African Americans. The civil rights movement advocated for African Americans to receive equal rights, equality, and equity.

Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws

Black Codes were numerous sets of laws enacted in the former Confederate states to ensure white supremacy stayed in place. A Jim Crow Law is any law that enforces racial segregation.

An image of an African American drinking from a colored water fountain (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1939). (Image Source: Bettmann)

Black Codes were very detrimental to African Americans. Black Codes were put into place following the Civil War by the states that were formerly the Confederacy. This was done because, while the 13th Amendment to the Constitution does, in fact, end slavery, there is a loophole. Section 1 of the 13th Amendment states the following: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The loophole is that if an African American commits a crime, they can be legally forced back into slavery. Black Codes made many ridiculous laws that only applied to people of color. Even the most minor offense could cause a person of color to be forced back into slavery.

Jim Crow Laws were unfair laws that were put into place only for people of color. Thomas Dartmouth Rice inspired Jim Crow Laws’ name with a racist minstrel routine he performed in the early 1800s. In these performances, Rice supposedly was mimicking how slaves acted by acting like a baboon and going on stage in blackface. Eventually, Jim Crow became an offensive slang term for black men and a designation for segregation. Jim Crow Laws separated people of color from schools, housing, jobs, water fountains, public gather places, etc. All of this, plus the already existing racism in society, did not equal an easy time for African Americans.

Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws’ existence truly made life unfair for African Americans and are just some of the reasons why the Civil Rights Movement began.

Civil Rights Movement Figures

The Civil Rights Movement had millions of people involved. While we cannot recognize each and every single person, some notable figures deserve mention.

Harriet Tubman

An image of Harriet Tubman. Tubman sacrificed her own life and safety many times to help save others from their enslavement. (Image Source: The NewYorker)

Harriet Tubman was an African American political activist and abolitionist. Tubman was born into slavery but escaped in 1849. Tubman went back to the south 13 times to help around 70 people escape slavery. She accomplished this by using a massive network of anti-slavery activists (including some white persons) and safe houses amongst the Underground Railroad. Tubman was often referred to as the conductor of the Underground Railroad.

Rosa Parks

An image of Rosa Parks being fingerprinted by a Deputy Officer after refusing to give up her seat on a bus during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (Image Source: Blackpast)

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African American civil rights activist who is best known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Parks refused to give up her spot on a bus on December 5th, 1955, as she was a person of color and had to sit in the back. She was forcefully removed from her seat and fined $10 (equivalent to 250 modern dollars). Parks was called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement” by the Congress of the USA.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivering the famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. (Image Source: PBS)

Martin Luther King Jr. was an African American civil rights leader and Baptist Minister. King was seen as the leader of the civil rights movement, who helped inspire millions of Americans to make a change. King became the most visible spokesperson and leader during the civil rights movement. King is most famous for his “I Have A Dream” speech. The said speech helped pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was vital in inspiring all Americans.

Other Civil Rights leaders worth mentioning include, but are not limited to: Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X (who you can read more about here), and Bayard Rustin (who you can read more about here).


The Civil Rights Movement was successful due to the many figures that helped shape the movement and due to the care of the people. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous speech: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” While people of color still fight for absolute equality today, the United States would be a very different place if it weren’t for the civil rights movement.

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