On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, and was arrested for disobeying a law that regarded African Americans inferior to whites. This was the start of something big, and a period of nonviolence, mass activism, and civil disobedience represented not only by African Americans, but women and other minorities as well. This was a time when activists sought to change the status quo all in the name of freedom and equality. They faced intense resistance from both white protestors, legislatures, and police officers, who were happy with what America embodied at the time. Starting in the 1960's there was an era of great accomplishment and struggle that helped African Americans and women to advance within society, gain the same rights as their white counterparts, and bring recognition to their struggles.
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America has been symbolized as the land of the free ever since we split apart from Great Britain 250 years ago, but we know that history doesn't exactly resonate with that idea. Even today we are still struggling with the injustices and inequalities that some members of society are still facing. But we have gained the most progress towards absolute equality over the past fifty to sixty years. The start of this progression happened in 1963 when congress passed the Equal Pay Act, which banned discrimination of wages based on sex. Then in 1964 the Equal Rights Act banned discrimination based on sex, race, and religion. Foner further states that, "the sixties came to be blamed for every ill, real, and imagined, of American society, from crime, drug abuse, and teenage pregnancy to a decline of respect for authority." (Foner 305)
One of the major struggles that the African American community is still facing today is the criminalization that law makers set upon them. After the War many people started to leave urban city centers and towns and after that there was quite a decline in economic investment. As time went on these cities became distressed with inescapable poverty, but these communities were made up of mostly African Americans. This is because most of the whites had moved to the suburbs through the use of the G.I. Bill, which gave veterans low interest rates and mortgage rates so they could buy houses. This bill did almost nothing for African Americans and was almost exclusively for whites. Since they were unable to attain these mortgages they had to remain in the city and continue to live in poverty. Since many of these African Americans lived in such dangerous and harsh neighborhoods they would use drugs to cope. And leading up to the 1970's drug use was beginning to become a serious problem in the U.S. and that's when Nixon formally announced the War on Drugs. This was when these urban spaces started to be criminalized by the government.
African Americans started to face a real threat to their lives once Nixon imposed these strict measures, such as mandatory prison sentencing for drug related crimes. Heather Thompson explain in The Journal of American History that African Americans, "became subject to a grow- ing number of laws that not only regulated bodies and communities in thoroughly new ways but also subjected violators to unprecedented time behind bars." This led to police officers and drug enforcement agencies to discriminate against black communities by unfairly targeting them and harassing them. This painted the picture that all African Americans were criminals and that whites weren't. In the documentary The 13th, a statistic came up on the screen and it said, "In 1970 the prison population was 357,292. In 2014 the prison population was was 2,306,200."(13th, 15:13) The majority of the people in prison are African Americans from inner cities arrested for drug related crimes or some sort of violation. Even though Marijuana has been legalized both recreationally and medically in some of the states, there are still people serving life sentences for selling it in those states.
African Americans aren't the only ones who have faced struggles in the past fifty years, women have made huge advancements in regards to sexual, economic, and body rights. All the way up until 1973, when Roe v. Wade was ruled, one of the biggest fights that second wave feminism was fighting was the right to access a safe a legal abortion. Many women across the country were resorting to unsafe abortion methods, like using a sharp object, to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. In the book All in the Family, by Robert O. Self, he mentioned that, "In New York, one study of low-income women found that as many as one in ten had attempted a self-induced abortion and more than one-third knew someone who had."(O. Self 140) The biggest opponent of the reform and repeal of abortion rights was the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church saw abortion as the murder of an infant and fought it at every turn. Up until that point women had been arguing from the standpoint of a woman body is caring the baby, so its her choice if she wanted to keep it. They started to realize that this wasn't really gaining momentum with legislatures, but it also didn't help that the people who were arguing for them were men. They switched to a different argument centered around the negative right of privacy, which was the most influential legal argument that they could give. Then in 1969 when the California Supreme Court ruled, in People v. Belous, that the states preform abortion law was unconstitutionally vague, and that a right of privacy included a woman's fundamental right to choose whether or not to bear children( O. Self 147) and thus lead to the Supreme Court's ruling in 1973. The right to privacy was the connection that they drew to the struggle for reproductive rights.
Abortion wasn't the only thing that women had to fight for control of their fertility. In the late 1860's a devout Christian by the name of Anthony Comstock, began to see advertisements for contraception devices. He was afraid that contraception devices promoted sex and he decided to target them. He came up with legislation that banned the mailing of any "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" books, including contraception information and devices, and took it to Washington.
(Paluzzi 397) From the Comstock Laws went into affect and they lasted all the way until 1965. As they got into the era of fighting for reproductive rights, women began to take on these laws, and were tired of being the ones responsible for pregnancy. But once again the Catholic Church opposed all forms of artificial contraception and saw it as a sin, even though a majority of Catholic women didn't agree. Many states barred the sale of contraception, even to married couples. But in 1960's, they used the right to privacy to gain access to contraceptives, and in 1970 they expanded the right to underage women.(Paluzzi 398) Even then they were still struggling with the fact that a lot of low income families and underage women were still having unwanted pregnancies. This pushed them deeper into poverty and made them rely more on government assistance. A solution was created when Nixon signed Title X into law, which prevented millions of unwanted child births through funding of reproductive health services. The history of the United States has been chock-full of struggles that mainly African Americans and women have faced. The cause is mainly from the disparities of the white men that have been in power for decades, and their refusal to give others a say. To this day we are still dealing with the certain class disparities, but we have came a long way over that past fifty or so years. The American Dream wasn't always given as promised, and many people have first hand experience of the dark side of that dream.
DuVernay, Ava, director. 13th. Netflix, 7 Oct. 2016, https://www.netflix.com/watch/ 80091741?source=35.
Foner, Eric. The Story of American Freedom. Media Production Services Unit, Manitoba Education, 2012.
Paluzzi, Patricia. "Reproductive Rights: A Call to Action." Journal of Midwifery & Womens Health, vol. 51, no. 6, Dec. 2006, pp. 397–401., doi:10.1016/j.jmwh.2006.07.004.
Self, Robert O. All in the Family: the Realignment of American Democracy since the 1960s. Hill and Wang, 2013.
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