The period between the 1950s and 1960s was established as a point for the progression of rights for African Americans. The involvement of all kinds of individuals, such as religious groups, students, Whites, and politicians (with questionable and deceitful intentions) helped to bring awareness to the efforts towards the end of segregation and racial prejudice by strides. The obvious successes, such as the introduction of equal job opportunities, the protection of Black voting rights, and desegregation of public facilities, brought forth a tremendous change that would benefit people of color within White society. However, failures, such as the violence towards people of color by law enforcement, false representation of the African American in the media, and the loopholes within segregation and voting rights legislation being practiced within the North and South, gave the period even more difficulty in the fight for Black equality. While these difficulties continued to peak within the 50s and 60s, Black movement groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Southern Christian leadership Conference (SCLC), radical groups such as the Black Panther Party (BPP), became committed towards direct action—nonviolent or violent. Yet, this commitment was not enough towards the progress of the movement.
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With the civil rights movement, its fight began through tumultuous tides. The media played a tremendous factor in the depictions of the movement. Through national news television coverage, individuals throughout the nation were able to witness the violence behind the pursuit of equality. Martha Biondi, in her work The Black Revolution on Campus, states, that with the introduction of the media into the affairs of Black civil rights, all the good and bad became spotlighted for all the world to see.
The explosion of Black student activism in 1968 took many observers by surprise. Earlier in the decade, the violence unleashed by whites on nonviolent protestors in the South riveted a national television audience. Now, television news gave daily coverage to African American college students assertively seeking social change, but the images were often unsettling: violent clashes between Black students and the police…
Additionally, while national television did assist in the transformation of the movement’s image to highlight its struggles and strengths, it was also often times dispiriting and villainizing of the African American image.. However, through this medium, the want for equality was not to be desired and advocated by just African Americans, but it became progressively mainstream for all individuals in the United States to want. With this, we see the succeeding of the movement through the legislature and judicial victories. This was made possible through organized rallies, like that of the March on Washington in 1963, and public figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., and students who organized sit-ins and voting right movements—such as Diane Nash. Through the case of Brown v. Board of 1954, in which the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of all public spaces, we see the battle taken by Blacks to upend segregationist policies within academia in the South—“Their refusal to compromise revealed that they were oppressive and that they did not care about the education for black people. Their unreasonableness highlighted the justice as well as the courage of blacks who dared to oppose them. Their unfairness was central, not only to the chain of events leading to Brown v. Board of Education, but also to the more militant civil rights movement of later years.” Moreover, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the banning of segregation in all public spaces, the upholding of fair and equal employment opportunities, and the protection of Black citizens voting rights were passed through legislative procedure. With these civil rights successes, laws, and judicial rulings it affirmed and set into place the ability for African Americans to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and create congressional impact throughout the nation, in the 1970s. Steven Lawson, in Running for Freedom, iterates, “blacks expected their faith in the electoral system to be suitably rewarded. Not only did they deserve to obtain the traditional spoils of victory—jobs and appointments—but they also sought to influence the setting of a public policy agenda…”. Through the policy of Affirmative Action, the special preference and reservation of jobs within academia, the government, and other numerous fields were geared towards people of color.
Although, with these successes also came among the failures. While the civil rights movement brought progress for African Americans, it simultaneously failed to bring progress in the Northern region of the United States, and failed to bring forth long-term advancement. Professor Theoharis, within her work A More Beautiful and Terrible History, discusses how the end of segregation and discrimination throughout academia fails to be enforced within Northern regions of the nation.
According to Batson, in the years following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ‘Northern states were very smug’ and did not think the decision applied to them. In the early 1960s, the Boston NAACP tried to persuade the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) to recognize the existence of racial segregation in Boston’s schools. But MCAD refused, claiming that racial segregation was not a problem in the city. While the existence of public commissions such as MCAD seems to attest to a more open racial climate in Massachusetts and did provide openings at other junctures for advancement, its unwillingness to investigate institutions such as the Boston Public Schools—and its proclamation that they were, to the contrary, not segregated—protected the city’s discriminatory practices.
While laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 essentially outlawed discrimination in all public accommodations, it only targeted the Southern regions. The North claimed to have no segregation occurring within its expanse. Whereas segregation seemed to be rid of within the South, it was (and still is) widely practiced by different means within the North. The effects of segregation within ‘liberal’ and Northern states “worsened in New York City schools in the decade after Brown, particularly in response to large-scale Black and Puerto Rican migration to the city… ‘It is alarming to observe that over so long a period of time, and in the face of so many resolutions, not a single Negro school in Brooklyn has been desegregated’”. In the North, with the lack marches, masked racial violence, and even the villainization of Black people by the media, such as the Harlem 9, it gave way for the North to not abide by anti-segregationist policies.
Furthermore, failure in solid Black leadership consequently led to the failing of the movement. The want for ultimate control by numerous civil rights groups, such as the SNCC, CORE, SCLC, and the NAACP, eventually led to the division within the ranks and the confusion on a single and clearer picture. Additionally, with the aid of governmental institutions, like that of the FBI and its counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), it helped to sow factions and discredit the Black cause within America—such as the BPP. Veteran protestor of the civil rights movement, and member of the NAACP and its youth corps during 1959 through 1965, states, “there were failures in the P.R., in that we did not get our message out clearly enough. There were failures in the leadership of the movement, because we had different groups taking charge, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership, and all were well meaning but confusing to the members of the movement. Finally, when SNCC insisted upon whites leaving the movement, it did not help but hurt in general. When Doctor King was murdered, many of us felt abandoned by the rest of the leadership.”
Despite the success of establishing legislation for economic and job opportunity, the Black civil rights movement failed in transforming the lives of African Americans, who were active participants in the struggle for freedom, long-term. Lawson states, after the election of Ronald Reagan, “Troubled by these political splits, African-Americans had even more to worry about in the hard times that had befallen many residents of their communities, Between 1975 and 1980, the median income of blacks…dropped three points to 58 percent…poverty among blacks was also greater than for whites, and the situation was deteriorating.” Despite the entrenched laws to promote Black success economically and politically, discrimination towards Blacks still continues to persist. Regardless of the decades of policies, marches, judicial decisions, and protests, the economic disparity still continues to define the majority of Black lives.
- Anderson, Patricia. “What Were the Failures of the Civil Rights Movement?” Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. Accessed May 18, 2019.
- Biondi, Martha. “Chapter 1: Moving toward Blackness: The Rise of Black Power on Campus.” In The Black Revolution on Campus. Berkeley: University of California Press, (2014).
- Lawson, Steven F. Running for Freedom Civil Rights and Black Politics in America since 1941. New York: McGraw Hill (1997).
- Patterson, James T. Brown v. Board of Education: a Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy. New York: Oxford University Press (2010).
- Theoharis, Jeanne. A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History. Beacon (2019).
 Biondi, Martha. “Chapter 1: Moving toward Blackness: The Rise of Black Power on Campus.” In The Black Revolution on Campus. Berkeley: University of California Press (2014), 13.
 Patterson, James T. “Brown v. Board of Education: a Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy.” New York: Oxford University Press (2010), 37.
 Lawson, Steven F. “Running for Freedom Civil Rights and Black Politics in America since 1941.” New York: McGraw Hill (1997), 193.
 Theoharis, Jeanne. “A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History.” Beacon (2019), 127.
 Theoharis, A More Beautiful and Terrible History, 118.
 Anderson, Patricia. “What Were the Failures of the Civil Rights Movement?” Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. Accessed May 18, 2019.
 Lawson, Running for Freedom, 199-200.
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