Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
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Adam has a master's degree in history.
The Civil Rights Movement did not take long to gain momentum at the turn of the decade. In 1960, four African American males attempted to place an order at a diner located inside the Woolworth shopping center in Greensboro, North Carolina. The men were refused service due to their color, and they immediately staged a sit-in at the lunch counter. The action not only encouraged Woolworth to integrate its dining facilities, but spurred the Civil Rights Movement onward.
The year also witnessed the birth of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which attempted to alleviate racial discrimination in the South, and the Civil Rights Act of 1960 was passed. It guaranteed criminal penalties for obstructing an African American's right to vote.
From 1961 to 1963, the Civil Rights Movement continued to pressure the United States for an end to discrimination and racial inequality. The events of these years were the backdrop to the monumental years of 1964 and 1965, which will be discussed shortly.
In 1961, SNCC and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) formed the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregated busing in the South. In 1962, black student James Meredith attempted to become the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi. While opposition was raised by white southerners, President John F. Kennedy ordered federal marshals to the university, and James Meredith was registered for classes. You will see that this set an extremely important precedent, because in 1963, Kennedy sent more federal officials to integrate the University of Alabama after Alabama Governor George Wallace attempted to block African Americans Vivian Jones and James Hood from enrolling at the institution.
The year 1963 also witnessed two major marches in Birmingham, Alabama and Washington D.C. The latter, known as the March on Washington, was where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech.
Now, because of the Cold War, the United States was the figurative 'fishbowl' of the world, with every nation watching its moves. The violence and racism committed against both black and white civil rights activists and southern blacks in general (especially during the Birmingham marches) were magnified in international eyes. The United States realized that action needed to be taken.
Therefore, in 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which officially prohibited discrimination based on race as well as sex (yes ladies, you were a part of this legislation too). This was a watershed piece of legislation in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. It was then succeeded by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) gaining two at-large seats during the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. While the at-large seats were a compromise between MFDP members and President Lyndon B. Johnson, the success in the event was not in being recognized as a party. The real success for the MFDP came when it managed to magnify the violence against blacks, especially voters, in the South through the painful testimony of individuals such as Fannie Lou Hamer.
Then, in 1965, Congress acted again in order to prevent the United States' international image of 'protector of liberty and freedom' from being tarnished. During the early part of the year, Martin Luther King Jr. organized civil rights activists and marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama for the sake of voting rights. The non-violent activists experienced the utmost brutality and violence on their pilgrimage to Montgomery.
As a result, and largely due to the international response, President Johnson took it upon himself to pursue voting rights for African Americans. On August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, which prohibited literacy tests from being used to prevent voters from registering and casting a ballot. This was another landmark achievement for the Civil Rights Movement.
The successes of the Civil Rights Movement did not come without a violent response from white segregationists throughout the 1960s. In 1961 and 1962, 'Freedom Riders' were physically assaulted in states such as Mississippi and Alabama. Birmingham, Alabama, proved to be a mecca of race-related violence. In 1963, Birmingham police cracked down on nonviolent protesters during the SCLC's Birmingham campaign to integrate African Americans. Several months later, segregationists bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four African American girls.
The assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963 and the murder of three freedom riders in Mississippi the following year cast a black cloud over the monumental achievements of 1964. Similarly, in 1965, the assassination of Malcolm X, the violence against the voting rights marches and the police brutality against blacks in Watts, Los Angeles forced many to question whether the Civil Rights Movement was actually helping or hurting the United States.
The years 1966 to 1968 were plagued with violence and a division within the Civil Rights Movement. In 1966, James Meredith organized the March Against Fear campaign in order to register voters under the newly passed Voting Rights Act. During his march from Tennessee to Mississippi, Meredith was the target of an attempted assassination by a white segregationist. Fortunately, he was able to recover and continue his campaign.
The Civil Rights Movement faced a significant setback in 1966 when two groups decided to split from the non-violent campaign. Stokely Carmichael decided to withdrawal from the SCLC and formed the Black Power movement. Additionally, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale rejected non-violence and formed the Black Panther Party, which was a militant wing of the Civil Rights Movement. This change in direction came about due to the fact that the legislation of 1964 and 1965 failed to bring about widespread economic or social enfranchisement of African Americans, leading many activists to begin promoting a separatist approach. The fracturing of the Civil Rights Movement in 1966 significantly slowed the campaign for equality and racial justice.
Yet, for all that the Civil Rights Movement had endured, the most significant setback occurred in 1968. On March 29, Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis, Tennessee in order to support his black brethren at sanitation strikes that were taking place. Several days later, on April 4, 1968, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The death of King marked the end of a massive non-violent campaign for civil rights and sparked violent race riots and unnecessary fatalities throughout the United States, including those at the Orangeburg Massacre in South Carolina. The momentum the Civil Rights Movement had sustained up to 1968 was shattered by an assassin's bullet.
Small accomplishments were made after King's death including the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination in housing, and the federal adoption of Affirmative Action in the 1969 Philadelphia Plan. Yet, the decade of hope for the Civil Rights Movement fizzled into several decades of ambiguity. The greater movement for equality and racial justice is still being fought to the present day. Eventually, we as a people will reach the 'promised land' that Martin Luther King Jr. preached about so long ago.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s opened with a bang after four African American students staged a sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter in North Carolina. Freedom Riders eventually ventured south to challenge segregated busing and President John F. Kennedy used federal intervention to integrate the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama.
Both 1964 and 1965 proved to be two of the most important years for the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 officially prohibited racial (and sexual) discrimination in the United States. The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 barred literacy tests from being administered at polling stations. Both pieces of legislation were considered landmark and major successes for the Civil Rights Movement.
Yet, the momentum of the Civil Rights Movement began to waver by 1966. Internal divisions within the movement yielded the rise of two new advocacy groups: the Black Power movement and the Black Panthers. Both proved to be more radical and militant in comparison to the nonviolent ways of the Civil Rights Movement.
The quest for racial equality came to a sudden halt in April of 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr., the purveyor of nonviolence and leader of the Civil Rights Movement, was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. The nation mourned together at first, but then violence ensued over the death of King. Cities burned across the United States, and blacks and whites distanced themselves from one another. While the greater Civil Rights Movement fizzled after King's untimely assassination, the fight for racial equality still looms large today.
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Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets