The struggle for African American equality played out in all parts of life including schools, public life, and political office. This struggle was ingrained in American culture and it proved to be extremely difficult to escape. Until the 1940s, segregation, inequality, and violence was the norm for African Americans.
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In the late 1940s, African Americans began to see an opportunity for true freedom and that gave them the fuel to take action to demand change. Change was made through various peaceful protests by activists which led to court decisions and laws passed that drastically improved the lives of African Americans.
The main grassroot strategy used by activists was nonviolent protesting. In Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he stated, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred” (Baker, Griffith 2006). This speech set the standard for activists to hold themselves to a higher standard. In 1949, parents in Clarendon, South Carolina petitioned to the school board about the segregation of children in schools. Their biggest concerns were the fact that the schools that African American students were able to attend lacked building safety, sanitation, and adequate teaching staff (Baker, Griffith 2006). In 1961, seven black and six white people boarded a bus in Washington D.C. and headed southbound. At each stop, they would enter the waiting rooms meant for the opposite skin color and would refuse to leave. Throughout the journey, the group was faced with extreme violence including one man being beaten and having a bus set on fire (Isserman, Kazin 2011).
The petition to the school board in Clarendon, South Carolina eventually led to the Supreme Court case, Brown vs. Board of Education. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregating students is unconstitutional and separate does not mean equal. Previously, when students were separated, white students were given many more resources to further their education. On July 2nd, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. This act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race and banned segregation in business and public entities. This Act allowed for integration between races a
The biggest limitation on meaningful societal change is that there was always some type of resistance from people in positions of power. For example, from 1963 until his death in 1968, the FBI had a campaign against Dr. King. They made every effort to destroy his reputation through discrediting him amongst various churches, universities, and other entities that he was affiliated with. The FBI even used surveillance to obtain private information about Dr. King and his colleagues (Baker, Griffith 2006). In addition, Barry Goldwater was one of eight senators who voted against the Civil Rights Act (Isserman, Kazin 2011). Goldwater ran against Johnson for President and had he been elected, it is likely that the Civil Rights Act would not have passed.
The Civil Rights Movement carved a path to a better nation. It resulted in laws passed and court decisions that have drastically improved the quality of lives for minorities. This movement became a model for creating a positive change in legislation in order to continually improve the rights of minorities.
Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin. America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, (2011).
Robert Griffith and Paula Baker, editors. Major Problems in American History since 1945,
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