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The African American Civil Rights Movement History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The purpose of this paper is to inform the reader of the civil rights act and what it means to African Americans and the importance of it to our American history today. This movement changed our nation for ever.

The African-American Civil Rights Movement

The civil rights movement of the 1900’s started on December 1, 1955 which started with the Montgomery Bus Boycott which happened on this day. The Montgomery Boycott was a day that African Americans set aside to stand for what they though was right by sitting on buses in any seat that they desired because they had had enough of all the stuff with blacks going to the back of the bus the stood for what today is right. Some familiar faces of this boycott were: Dr .Martin L. King, Rosa Parks, she is one of the women who in the front of an almost empty bus sat down and that are how it all started. So after that day the tension grew even further between whites and black which led to the next event which was Boycotts the city of Montgomery, Alabama went boycott crazy were a lot of people were arrested or even killed. But the end result of it was a success, people actually started to see what was really going on in the south.


When the boycott began, no one expected it to last for very long. There had been boycotts of buses by blacks before, most recently in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1953. A one-day boycott, followed three months later by a week-long boycott, resulted in buses that were more desegregated but that still had some seats reserved for whites as well as some for blacks. On Thursday, December 8, the fourth day of the boycott, King and other MIA officials met with officials and lawyers from the bus company, as well as the city commissioners, to present a moderate desegregation plan similar to the one already implemented in Baton Rouge and other Southern cities, including Mobile, Alabama. The MIA was hopeful that the plan would be accepted and the boycott would end, but the bus company refused to consider it. In addition, city officials struck a blow to the boycott when they announced that any cab driver charging less than the 45 cent minimum fare would be prosecuted. Since the boycott began, the black cab services had been charging blacks only 10 cents to ride, the same as the bus fare, but this service would be no more. Suddenly the MIA was faced with the prospect of having thousands of blacks with no way to get to work, and with no end to the boycott in sight.

Then came about an organization called the MIA which stood for the Montgomery Improvement Association in which Dr. King was elected to oversee. This association was the mastermind behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott which consisted of an executive board in which seats were vacated by various preachers and ministers around the Montgomery area. Then, at the end of this era a Supreme Court judge ended up ruling that the segregation on buses was to be over and so the movement went on.


Also, some notable names that played a part in the Boycott were: we all know Rosa Parks, Fred Gray, Ralph Abernathy, Robert Graetz, Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King and Inez Baskin; they are the people that played the most important role in the boycott.


The next big movement was held in 1947, the Congress of Racial Equality planned a trip that was designed to test the Supreme Court’s 1946 decision in the Irene Morgan case, this declared segregated seating of interstate passengers unconstitutional. An interracial group of passengers met with heavy resistance in the upper South. This movement was the freedom rides. The freedom ride was a group of people that left Washington on May 4, 1961. They were supposed to arrive in New Orleans on May 17th, the anniversary of the brown decision. But while on the trip as the rides traveled through Alabama they split into two different sections to travel through the state at different times. The first ones to enter went through Anniston where they were met by a team of mobsters. They damaged the bus the freedom riders were riding. But, then they finally got away from the angry crowd.

Then, they made the wrong decision to stop to get some new tires, the worst was yet to come until the bus was destroyed by a fire bomb. Then the other group that came in through a different part of the state did not do much better it went through the same tragedy as the first group but that did not stop them from going forward they kept on pushing there way through the south. But, the freedom rides never made it to New Orleans a lot of them ended up in jail while the others got away.


On April 6, the police took 45 people to jail for marching from Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to city hall. The next day, Palm Sunday, alot people were arrested. In addition, two police dogs attacked nineteen-year-old protester Leroy Allen as a large crowd looked on. In response to the protests, Judge W.A. Jenkins, Jr., issued an order preventing 133 of the city’s civil rights leaders, including King, his friend and fellow SCLC leader Ralph Abernathy, and Shuttles worth from organizing demonstrations. But the Project C plan called for King to be arrested on Good Friday, April 12. After a few hours of debate, King told his staff, “Look, I don’t know what to do. I just know that something has got to change in Birmingham. I don’t know whether I can raise money to get people out of jail. I do know that I can go into jail with them.” King was arrested and put in solitary confinement. There, he read an ad in the Birmingham News, taken out by local white ministers, which called him a troublemaker. He responded to the ad, writing in the margins of the newspaper and on toilet paper. His response was eventually published as his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. (http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/civilrights-55-65/montbus.html)

“While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities “unwise and untimely” . . . . Frankly I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.”

( http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/civilrights-55-65/montbus.html)

During the 1960’s the poorest state in the nation was Mississippi and it had the worst voting record among blacks. Also, in Mississippi 48 percent of the population was African-American, so you can see where all of these complaints are coming from because only 5 percent of the population was registered to vote. A lot of blacks wanted a chance to vote. But, the government made blacks take super hard test that were impossible to pass that would determine whether or not they would be able to just register to vote. This test was so hard even a black man with a doctrine could not pass the test because it was made to be impossible to pass. The only reason that blacks were not allowed to vote was because of segregation of blacks in the south. In defense against blacks voting rights the NAACP came to Mississippi to lobby against the Mississippi government to prove that all of this was unconstitutional but they did not succeed. But the main objective of freedom summer was to establish the Mississippi freedom democratic Party and it was created to go up against the white democratic party, but all it did was lead to violence and a lot of innocent people were injured or killed. (http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/civilrights-55-65/)

The next big thing I want to talk about is the famous March on Washington which was a big key event in the civil rights movement. This courageous march happed on August 28, 1963. This march was not only about jobs and freedom but Dr. King also wanted our nation to be at peace with segregation. This humongous march made global headlines and was stream live on international tv stations and it drew almost 250,000 people and a majority of the people that showed up were white. It also went down as one of the most peaceful protest in the nations history, it also included a host of speeches and musical performances from big name people such as Bob Dylan, who did a musical performance and many other big name people. But the most significant speech was Dr. King’s I have a dream speech


Here is an exert from Dr. Kings speech:

” I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”


From that day forward Martin Luther King’s speech is still known as one of the most famous speeches in American history and that is why so many people still respect him today because it took a lot of courage for a man.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born in the presidency of John F. Kennedy who was elected president in 1960. His support of civil rights issue in previous years had been patchy – he had opposed Eisenhower’s 1957 Act to keep in with the Democrats hierarchy as he had plans to run for president as well as Johnson. The new president was faced with facts that were indisputable and came from the organization created in the 1960 Civil Rights Act  to analyze civil rights issue in America – the Civil Rights Commission. They found that 57% of African American housing judged to be unacceptable African American life expectancy was 7 years less than whites African American infant mortality was twice as great as whites African Americans found it all but impossible to get mortgages from mortgage lenders Property values would dropped a great deal if an African American family moved into a neighborhood that was not a ghetto. President Kennedy in a passionate public speech made these facts available to the American public. Constantly in the background was the poor treatment of people in Eastern Europe during the Soviet occupation of this area. The Cuban Missile Crisis took up a great deal of his short time in power. But aligned to this was the fact that few whites considered civil rights a particularly important issue – one poll put civil rights at the bottom of a list of “what should be done for America?” Kennedy also only won the1960 election by a very small majority (500,000 votes) so he did not have a popular mandate for doing anything too drastic. Also the Vietnam War. Was absorbing more time with what was American covert action in the region at this time. Kennedy’s assassination shocked the world. His vice-president – Lyndon Johnson – suddenly found himself sworn in as president on Air Force One. Johnson had done what he politically needed to do to stop the full implementation of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, but despite the fact he was a Texan, he realized that a major civil rights act was needed to advance African Americans within USA society. He also used the shock of Kennedy’s murder to push forward the 1964 Civil Rights Act, part of what he was to term his vision for America – the “Great Society”. The seeds of the 1964 Act were sown in Kennedy’s presidency. Johnson believed that he owed it to Kennedy’s life to push through this act especially as he was not an elected president. America had now moved on from the 1957 Act. Martin Luther King was now an international figure and Malcolm X was now proclaiming that a more militant approach could be used to gain civil rights. The apparent passive approach of the 1950’s was now gone. The northern city ghettos were now moving more and more towards militancy. Society had changed in just a few short years. Johnson realized this and wanted changed before potential civil unrest forced it through .The civil rights bill’s success in passing Congress owed much to the murder of Kennedy. The mood of the public in general would not have allowed any obvious deliberate attempts to damage “Kennedy’s bill”. Even so, the bill had to survive the longest attempt in Congress to seriously weaken it. Johnson played the obvious card – how could anybody vote against an issue so dear to the late president’s heart? How could anybody be so unpatriotic? Johnson simply appealed to the nation – still traumatized by Kennedy’s murder. To win over the Southern hard-liners, Johnson told them he would not allow the bill to tolerate anybody using it as a lever to have an easy life regardless of their color. By January 1964, public opinion had started to change – 68% now supported a meaningful civil rights act. President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act in July of that year.” Many Southerners were horrified by the extent of the act. Johnson probably only got away with the act because he was from Texas. Ironically, the African American community were most vocal in criticising the act. There were riots by African Americans in north-eastern cities because from their point of view, the act did not go far enough and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (a predominantly Black political party) demanded seats at the Democratic Party Convention to be held in Atlantic City as they believed that they were more representative of the people who lived in Mississippi than the politicians who would usually have attended such conventions. Johnson was dismayed at this lack of public support among the African American community.”




Cozzens, Lisa. “The Civil Rights Movement.” African American

History. http://fledge.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/

early-civilrights/brown.html (25 May 1998).

Juan Williams, Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1987) 62.




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