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Civil Right Movement

The American Civil Rights Movement

Updated: Jan 20

What was the Civil Rights Movement?


The Civil Rights Movement was the decades-long fight for social justice, equal rights, and equal treatment for African Americans.


Most would cite the 1950s as the "beginning" of the movement. 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 in society.


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


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.


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

Put into place following the Civil War, Black Codes were very detrimental to African Americans. This was done because, while the 13th Amendment to the Constitution ended slavery, there was 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.”

Because of this, if an African American committed a crime, they could be legally forced back into slavery. Black Codes included 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 further segregated people of color.


Thomas Dartmouth Rice inspired the name with a racist minstrel routine he performed in the early 1800s. In these performances, Rice supposedly went on stage and acted like a baboon while wearing 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 gathering places, etc. All of this, plus the already existing racism in society, created difficult circumstances 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.


Notable Figures


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. This speech helped pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was vital in inspiring all Americans.


Malcolm X


A picture of Malcolm X that is famously used with his saying: “Be peaceful, obey the law; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” (Image Source: Inquiries Journal)

Malcolm Little, better known as Malcolm X, was an African-American human rights activist and Muslim Minister who was a popular figure of the Civil Rights Movement. He was a supporter of Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X urged his fellow African Americans to protect themselves from white suppression “by any means necessary.” He labeled other civil rights leaders “stooges” of the white world and even labeled Martin Luther King Jr. as a chump.


Other Civil Rights leaders worth mentioning include Sojourner Truth and Bayard Rustin.


Conclusion


The Civil Rights Movement was successful due to its strong leaders and the dedicated work of people of color in America. 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.


 

References


History.com Editors. (2021, May 17). Civil Rights Movement. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-movement


History.com Editors. (2021, January 21). Reconstruction. HISTORY.https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/reconstruction


The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). black code | Laws, History, & Examples. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/black-code


Carson, C. (n.d.). American civil rights movement | Definition, Protests, Activists, & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/American-civil-rights-movement


The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (n.d.). National Constitution Center – The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment/amendment-xiii


Urofsky, M. I. (n.d.). Jim Crow law | History, Facts, & Examples. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Jim-Crow-law


Nobel Prizes 2020. (n.d.). NobelPrize.Org. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1964/king/biographical/


Nichols, C. (2020, February 4). Rosa Parks (1913–2005) BlackPast. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/parks-rosa-1913-2005-0/


History.com Editors. (2021a, January 19). Rosa Parks. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/rosa-parks


History.com Editors. (2009, October 29). Malcolm X. History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/malcolm-x.

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