Fight for Civil Liberties in the United States

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Updated: May 03, 2021
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In the year 1857, the Dred Scott case ruled that African Americans were considered property, and would not be granted the same liberties. Many believed they would never be given the right to consider themselves human beings in such a hateful society. Groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and White Nationalist were established to keep the mouths of African Americans shut during a time in which they wanted to be heard. Black codes were set in place to restrict the means in which they lived.

However groups such as the Freedmen’s Bureau and NAACP were established to give African Americans the optimism to continue fighting for their civil liberties. With the ratification of the 14th amendment in 1868, it was the first glimmer of hope given to the African American people to at last be considered citizens of the nation they called their home. Nonetheless in 1896 the Plessy v Ferguson case ruled the “separate but equal” doctrine and upheld the segregation laws set in place just as long as those segregated facilities were equal in their stature. This doctrine, “separate but equal” was a pivotal part in the case for civil liberties and freedoms being fought for in the Brown v. Board of Education case. Although many would argue that the brown v board case institutionalized systemic racism in school districts, the case indeed extended beyond the educational system and succeeded as a large step in the improvement of civil liberties for African Americans. The case provided African Americans a passageway to breakthroughs in the physiological thinking of themselves that had been further suppressed prior to the case. It led to further expansion in the fight for civic liberty in the United States.

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Scholar Lenneal J. Henderson declared that “Brown was the court’s clearest, most potent, progressive, and compelling ethical statement of the relationship of citizenship rights, the Fourteenth Amendment, and racial policy in the twentieth century”. It was much more than a “legal triumph” ; it prompted others to challenge segregation and speak about matters in race relations, school facilities, busing, parent choice about schools, and school funding. It was a statement of the rights of all citizens and the “‘ civic culture’” of how citizenship in applied in the daily lives of citizens. The case strengthened previous comparable cases, while also addressing the racial segregation within the school districts. The year following the decision, a period of hope and action struct the South, in which African Americans began to rally for their civil rights. For example, In Mississippi, during this period the NAACP established itself as a significant organization and an essential organizational growth took place as a result of Brown. It gave civil-rights leaders and activist a direct purpose and expanded membership within the organization.This new show of activism was not restricted to the school system; it increased Black voter registration and drove to desegregate public facilities.

Six months after the Brown v. Board decision, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, sparking the beginning of the action phase of the CIvil Rights movement. The outcome of Brown v. Board of Education progressed the recognition of civil rights of African Americans in the United States and prompted the commencement of the Civil Rights Movement. This movement first began after Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. Her arrest started a boycott on the buses in Montgomery, Alabama and protests continued to support their cause. A year later the Supreme Court ruled that segregated seating was unconstitutional, and the federal decision went into effect on December 20, 1956. In 1963, the Civil Rights Act was enacted by President Johnson to prevent racial discrimination in employment, voting, and the use of public facilities, and although controversial, the legislation was a victory for the civil rights movement. With this newfound movement arising people such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were symbols for the new nation that could emerge.

A new party, Black Panther Party, arrose to protect African American neighborhoods from police brutality, and launch numerous community programs that offered such services as tuberculosis testing, legal aid, transportation assistance, and free shoes to poor people. These programs were brought along to tend to the economic issues that concerned African Americans and provide assistance to them if needed. However, the Black Panthers’ socialist viewpoint, however, made them a target of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), who accused them of being a communist organization and an enemy of the U.S. government. Nonetheless the movement continued on with the rise of MLK Jr. and the march for freedom and equality that shook the morality of the nation. The Civil Rights Movement during this time period was successful in recognizing the rights of African Americans and allowing them the same liberties granted to most Americans. However, with the integration of African Americans into majority white schooling, the acts of bigotry, racism, and ignorance took over the angry South leaving the minority population in those areas to fend for themselves.

“For southerners, this decision did not just call for the end of segregated schools, it also threatened the foundation of white supremacy”. This outward negative reaction turned into a resistance and in May 1956, 101 congressmen issued the “Southern Manifesto” that declared, ‘“We pledge ourselves to use all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation”’. Southerners fought this decision, taking their opinion to the school board and state house of whatever state they resided. In Little Rock, Arkansas, nine black high school students caused a flash of angry mobs and threats, pushing President eisenhower to call for military action to protect the kids. As the case was in the public eye, southern officials were finding ways to deny the execution of desegregation or delay it as much as they could. In addition, the Ku Klux Klan, a group of white supremacists arose again in North Carolina during the start of the Civil Rights movement. This was the largest active Klan membership seen in the country, earning the title “Klansville–USA”. The South’s reaction to the case was indeed a negative one and sparked chaos within the South.

This rage however could not undermine the new development in the Civil Rights movement that came before it. Before the Brown v. Board of Education case many believed they would never be given the right to consider themselves human beings in such a hateful society. African Americans were forced to view themselves and their actions in a negative connotation for hundreds of years. Yet with the help of groups designed to better the lives of African Americans, they were able to voice their opinions in light of a close minded society. They pushed boundaries no one ever thought they could and caused the largest Civil Rights movement ever seen by the nation. The “separate but equal” doctrine ruled the way of life lived by African Americans was the same as that of a white person in America during that time period, yet separated them. The racist that surrounded the world could not overshadow an evolution in society. The Brown v. Board of Education case provided African Americans with a learning opportunity, that they took and used to their advantage. Although many would still argue that the case provided racism within the schools districts and chaos within the south, its outcome succeeded as a large step in the improvement of civil liberties for African Americans.


  1. Henderson, Lenneal J., Jr. “The civic meaning of Brown v. Board of Education at fifty.” National Civic Review 93, no. 2 (2004): 42+. General OneFile (accessed April 22, 2019).
  2. Significance of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision.” In American Social and Political Movements, 1945-2000: Pursuit of Liberty, edited by Robert J. Allison. Vol. 2 of History in Dispute. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1999.
  3. Global Issues in Context (accessed April 22, 2019).
  4. “Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed April 23, 2019.
  5. Ramsey, Sonya. “The Troubled History of American Education after the Brown Decision.” The American Historian. Accessed April 23, 2019.
  6. Herb Block (1909–2001). “And remember, nothing can be accomplished by taking to the streets,” September 6, 1963.
  7. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper. Published in the Washington Post, September 6, 1963. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (170) © 1963 by Herblock in the Washington Post
  8. “Four Black Panther Party members giving the Black Power salute.” In Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, 2nd ed., edited by Colin A. Palmer. Vol. 1. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. U.S. History in Context (accessed April 23, 2019).


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