Civil Rights Movement

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Updated: Jun 17, 2021
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“During the times of the Civil Rights movement, many people helped to contribute to all the things that the movement stood for. Formally, the Civil Rights Movements was a series of political movements for the equality of all persons in the United States and more commonly in the South. In many cases, they were typically nonviolent protests, speeches, or peaceful demonstrations. But who helped to shape the Civil Rights Movement? Who were the political figures and common people that made the movement into what it was? What events helped shape the Civil Rights Movement?

One of the most significant trials in United States history was Brown vs. Board of Education (1954). This trial became a landmark United States Supreme Court case because it ruled that state laws establishing segregation of blacks and whites in public school settings to be unconstitutional. This court ruling overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which allowed state-sponsored segregation. This directly affected public education. This was a huge step in the right direction for the Civil Rights movement. There were multiple reasons as to why it was such a success. One of them being that over one-third of states segregated their schools by law. At the time of the Brown v. Board of Education, 17 Southern and bordering states, along with the District of Columbia, required their public schools to be racially segregated. An additional four states allowed local communities to put segregation into action. These states included Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, and Wyoming. The theory and idea behind this were everyone in public school and the local communities were “separate but equal”. These laws were meant to give equality, but they were far from it. Another reason as to why it was a success is that Thurgood Marshall argued the case for the plaintiffs. Marshall was the great grandson of a slave and he attended Howard Law School prior to becoming the NAACP’s chief legal counsel. Within the field of education, Marshall’s cases primarily focused on the inequalities between black and white schools. In 1950, he moved to eradicate segregation entirely.

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In the case of Brown v. Board of Education, Marshall said that state-imposed segregation was emotionally damaging as it was equally discriminatory. To beef up his case, Marshall cited several studies by psychologists including one that found that black children preferred white to brown colored dolls. After the court ruled to his favor, Marshall said, “I was so happy, I was numb.” Marshall later became the first black justice on the Supreme Court, he served from 1967 to 1991. Lastly, another reason it was a success is that the United States government largely backed Supreme Court Justice Marshall’s position on the case. The United States Department of Justice rarely shows bias on Supreme Court cases that do not involve the federal law but, it did in face make an exception for the Brown v. Board of education case. They filed a friend-of-the-court brief that maintained “separate but equal” facilities were unconstitutional. President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the other hand, was not so supportive. While the decision was still being considered, Eisenhower told Chief Justice Earl Warren that Southern whites were not bad people. After the court had ruled that segregation was unconstitutional, Eisenhower was reluctant to use his executive authority to enforce the decision.

One woman became a national icon for the Civil Rights Movement. By refusing to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama city bus in 1955, Rosa Parks helped launch the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The leaders within the local black community organized a bus boycott that began the day that Parks was convicted of violating the segregation laws. This boycott was led by a young reverend. The reverend went by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The boycott that was began by MLK lasted more than a year. Within the thirteen months that the boycott took place, Parks lost her job and moved to Michigan. The boycott did not end until the United States Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional. Over the next half-century, Rosa Parks became a nationally recognized symbol of dignity and strength in the struggle to end racial segregation. After the boycott, Parks received continuous threats and harassment. She then decided to move to Detroit, Michigan to live with her brother. In Detroit, Parks became and administrative aide in the Detroit office of Congressman John Conyers Jr. She worked this post until her retirement in 1988. In the years after her retirement, she traveled to lend her support to civil rights events and causes. She wrote an autobiography detailing her experiences titled, “Rosa Parks: My Story.” In 1999, Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor the United States bestows on a civilian. When Rosa Parks died on October 24th, 2005, she became the first woman in the United States history to lie in state at the United States Capitol.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a social activist and Baptist who played a key role in the American Civil Rights Movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. King wanted equality and human rights for all African Americans. He saw African Americans as economically disadvantaged and as victims of injustice. He was the main driving force behind the events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington. These events helped bring landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and is remembered each year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This became a United States federal holiday and has been a holiday since it was declared in 1986. Martin Luther King Jr. had worked with several civil rights and religious groups to organize what we know as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedoms. The March on Washington was a peaceful political rally that was designed to make light of the injustices African Americans faced across the country. The March on Washington was held on August 28th and attended by some 200 to 300 thousand people.

This specific event is widely regarded as a big moment in the history of the American Civil Rights movement and is also known to be a factor in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This movement led to Kings’ most famous speech known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, a call for equality and peace within the United States. King gave the speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The reason being was to honor the President who brought down the institution of slavery in the United States. King shared his vision of a future in which “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’”. This speech and the march had made the path to Kings reputation in his hometown and across the United States of America. Later in the year following these events, King was named “Man of the Year” by TIME magazine and in 1964 he became the youngest person to ever receive a Nobel Peace Prize. On the evening of April 4th, 1968, MLK was assassinated. He was shot while standing on the balcony of his motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King had traveled to Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike. During his death, an enormous wave of riots erupted across major cities in the United States.

The events discussed were all huge parts of the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was a nasty and terrible time for African Americans. Death, turmoil, lynching’s, murders, and more happened across the South. During these times and after the Reconstruction period, whites still looked at African Americans lesser. All the events and people mentioned all played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement. These events and people were essential to African Americans gaining equality. The events and the people that had participated and held their ground during this time helped the United States evolve into what it is today. Racism is still in issue, but there are laws and regulations against discriminating against others due to the color of their skin. I believe that the United States would not have these protections today if African Americans had stayed complacent. All the people that influenced and the events that had happened in the Civil Rights Movement was influential into what has made America what it is today.”

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Civil Rights Movement. (2021, Jun 17). Retrieved from