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It looks as though Afro-American revolts of the 1950s and 1960s had no grounds. The times of slavery were long gone and it seemed that former slaves ought to be satisfied with the reality. Formally, Afro-Americans were equal with whites, but it is always easier to proclaim laws than translate them into reality. Blacks had reasons to remember about slavery since there were still many instances of segregation and humiliation.
Problems that the Civil Rights Movement Sought to Address
American Blacks had fresh memories of the struggle against their White brothers during World War II, protecting the ideals of their country. At the same time, in civil life their children studied separately from the Whites, living in ghettos and receiving much less payment. It was a norm to see Blacks working at low-paid and hard jobs. Besides that, Afro-Americans were greatly impressed by the grandiose upsurge of the liberation movement in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Power-structure that the Civil Rights Movement Had to Face
In order to improve the situation, the Black population of America had to face the power system of the USA that officially declared policy of racial equality, but did not hurry to take effective measures to achieve this goal. In 1946, President Truman created the Committee of Civil Rights that recommended Congress to pass laws against voting discrimination and lynching as well as some laws designed to remove racial discrimination at the workplace. Congress did not support these initiatives. Truman had enough power to wipe out racial discrimination by own efforts. A set of laws passed in the 1860s and 1870s, as well as the 14-th and 15-th amendment, allowed him to do this, but he preferred to achieve visible results by small actions. There were some steps taken by the Supreme Court to recognize cases of Black seclusion from voting, but the problem was that principles proclaimed in the Constitution were not executed.
Changes Taking Place in the United States from 1900 to 1950
The origin of the Civil Rights Movement has a long prehistory. The end of the 19-th and beginning of the 20-th century are marked by the destruction of the southern agriculture system and intensive urbanization. Many Afro-Americans were attracted to cities by the possibility to find jobs, and this migration changed the racial geography of the country. Migration to cities was not easy and was faced with much resistance on the part of the White population. It was a common practice for Black men to obtain very hard work that was poorly paid. Women were mostly used in households and had a very significant mission of making social networking and keeping the Black community together. From the very beginning, Black migrants encountered different forms of discrimination and segregation that were a result of governmental policies. Such an attitude was especially spread in the South that was still governed by the local oligarchy. African Americans were denied access to decent jobs, proper living conditions, and a good education. When in 1935 unemployment insurance was instituted, agricultural and domestic workers were not considered as full-time breadwinners. As a result, 55 percent of Black men and 87 percent of Black women were deprived of the benefits. The substantial growth of segregation was outlined in the postwar period. At that time, there was a broad campaign to resettle the population in suburb areas. The Afro-Americans were unable to afford new standards of living and were often denied credits in banks. The considerable part of schools and business structures also moved to suburbs, and this increased the distance from the Black population that remained in the cities. This distance increased so much that Whites began to fear Black districts. It was a time when Black workers started to take an active part in the trade-union movement. The result of this activity was the creation of a new movement, known as “civil rights unionism” or “Black Popular Front” in the 1940s. It united Black and White radicals, laborites and civil rights activists, many of whom were influenced by Communists' ideas. This movement fused race and class conceptions. Civil rights unionists considered racism a part of economic exploitation and drew parallels between Nazi`s crimes against the Jews and the position of Blacks in America. These ideas were so popular among Black workers that half a million unionized Afro-American workers entered a new movement in the 1940s. The “Double V” campaign organized with an aim to overcome fascism abroad and racism back home, pro-workman policy of Roosevelt administration, booming economy that substantially increased Black people earnings and return of Black veterans created a favorable psychological climate for the new movement. Black women started to play a significant role in labor feminism. National War Labor Board and the Wagner Act helped to eliminate the power of corporations. There were many other victories that helped to lessen segregation. Progress was faced with fierce opposition from the northern business groups and southern conservative Democrats. The new struggle was organized under the banner of anti-communism. Mainly, efforts were directed against the New Deal labor law in order to save the employer`s right to fire and hire at will and conduct hiring practices according to quotas. According to the anti-communist program, conservatives in Congress pushed the Taft-Hartley Act. The result of this act was that a lot of social programs were stopped. These measures paved the way for subsequent protests.
Major Organizations in the Civil Rights Movement
There were four main non–governmental organizations that took an active part in Civil Rights Movement: Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Southern Christian. NAACP is the oldest one as it was founded as early as in 1910. This organization includes the largest number of members. It originated after the race riot in Springfield and was initially managed mostly by Whites. Its main objectives were education and legal action. Later, it changed its course and started taking active measures for the sake of liberation. It was the NAACP that brought cases of segregation before the court in 1954 and this time is considered the onset of the Civil Rights Movement. CLC was organized in 1957 as a result of the bus boycott in Montgomery. Martin Luther King himself was chosen as its leader. Other leaders also mostly belonged to church organizations, representing views of religiously inclined communities in the South. The main purpose of CLC was to lead the struggle against segregation. Principal methods were civil disobedience and nonviolence. Its tactics were to attract maximum attention to its protests in order to show the world atrocities of the ruling power. SNCC was formed by student leaders after a successful demonstration in Nashville in 1960. It used tactics similar to CLC and manifested itself by organizing actions of disobedience and nonviolent protests. It was a new generation presented with new leaders, including James Lawson, John Lewis, Marion Barry, and Diane Nash. SNCC challenged the government to protect them against the attacks of Klansmen and segregationists. CORE is known by the organization of “Freedom Rides” when Blacks and Whites traveled in the buses and agitated against segregation patterns. Both SNCC and CORE became one of the leading forces in the struggle against segregation in the South and were often involved in united actions.
Central Leaders in the Civil Rights Movement
It can be stated for sure that a central figure of the Civil Rights Movement was Martin Luther King. He was at the forefront of arising protests. His fervent appeals led to the full-scale development of this movement. He was humanist, and his ideas were considerably influenced by another great humanist Gandhi. As a priest, he strongly adhered to nonviolence and this attitude was very attractive for churchgoers. It won the sympathy of millions of Blacks and Whites all over the world. His opinion concerning love made a huge impact on the minds and souls and drew thousands of new members to the movement.
Nonviolence was not a new phenomenon for Afro-Americans. The first consideration of Black nonviolent protests was made in 1924 at the symposium in the NAACP journal, The Crisis. In this journal, some Afro-Americans discussed whether nonviolent experience of Gandhi may be imitated in America. In 1930, Nieburh expressed an opinion that nonviolence would be the best way for Afro-Americans. In 1942, Asa Phillip Randolph announced that protests of oppressed groups would be conducted in the form of mass demonstrations. There was not only theoretical consideration of nonviolence but also practical measures in a form of sit-ins, marches, and boycotts that were organized by Powel in 1930. Gandhi`s ideas transfigured into a new Christian form that became very appealing to Black Americans. For example, Rev. James M. Lawson, who was one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, had been a missionary in India for three years and became a devotee of Gandhian philosophy. Other leaders, including Marion Barry and Ezell Blair, also studied his philosophy.
Not all participants of the Civil Rights Movement agreed with King`s nonviolent position. For example, the president of the local NAACP, Robert Williams believed that Afro-Americans should defend themselves with the help of guns. When Klansmen attacked the home of one of the NAACP leader, he and his friends fired back. There were reported many cases of violence against peaceful protestants. Civil rights activists were often jailed and beaten. Federal anti-racist laws were constantly violated. The position of people like Robert Williams was best expressed by words of Malcolm X: ”Any Negro who teaches Negroes to turn the other cheek in the face of attack is disarming that Negro of his God-given right, of his moral right, of his natural right, of his intelligent right to defend himself”. He also proclaimed that no matter how people call you, if you are firm enough in your position and have enough people with the same views beside you, you will be free.
Basic Strategic Orientation
While King`s position had mainly economic issues, including guaranteed annual income, stopping the war in Vietnam and, the retribution of national wealth, Malcolm X had much more revolutionary views. He was against the White supremacy in the world and proposed uniting the struggle with the liberation movement in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Martin Luther King was still respected, but he was gradually substituted by other leaders, such as Huey Newton, a member of Black Panthers. This organization had guns and said that they ought to defend themselves.
Freedom Budget for all Americans
Civil Rights Movement is remembered not only for the struggle against segregation and attempts to set equal rights for the Black population, but also for having some economic issues that were related to ensuring the welfare of society. Some of its leaders were eager to establish economic justice for all people in the USA. They considered it more acceptable for the production to be aimed at social use rather than profit. Their views were expressed in the document that was called “Freedom budget for all Americans”. King together with his allies proposed an alternative budget customized for a more just society. It went beyond Johnson’s War on Poverty and comprised a balanced step-by-step plan calculated for ten years. This document pointed out that one-third of the American population lived in poverty or on the brink of it. There were defined seven main objectives. In the first place, it proclaimed the establishment of full employment. Next tasks were to provide decent wages and install high living standards. It aimed at getting rid of slums and establishing adequate medical care. Its aims included economic growth and making air and water cleaner. It planned to do all this without raising taxes and a work-making job. This document comprised a calculation of average revenues for each citizen at that period. It was ready to invest 200$ and spend them on the creation of new jobs and proper living with the aim of earning even more income in the future. It considered that the federal government ought to fulfill these plans. It also included social programs of supporting people who could not work. “Freedom budget for all Americans” demonstrated that some civil rights leaders were more radical in their views than it was believed. It displayed that many of them were influenced by democratic social ideas. There was a lot of evidence that leaders of this movement had connections with American socialists. For example, A. Philip Randolph was the central figure both in the labor and Civil Rights Movement. Thus, the Civil Rights Movement was not just “black”. It had a more global social perspective.
Achievements and Failures
It cannot be denied that the Civil Rights Movement had some success. The reaction of Congress on Black revolts was a series of laws passed in 1957, 1960 and 1964. They promised employment and voting equality. However, they failed to implement these changes. Thus, President Johnson proposed law, and Congress passed a new Voting Rights Law in 1965 that ensured even more protection of rights. The effect of this new law was overwhelming. By 1968, the percentage of Afro-American voters in the South became equal to the percentage of White voters. The federal government tried to take the situation under control and used its usual tactics of turning a fight into balloting boxes. They were frightened by the mass character of the movement and tried to act in advance. Such massive action as March on Washington was turned into a friendly assemblage in 1963. Something that was planned at the beginning as radical measures with demands to Congress, Senate and White House ended with actions entirely controlled by the government. It was not the end of the struggle, especially because there were more attempts to intimidate the Black population by making bomb explosions in churches for Blacks. Afro-Americans were not so easily calmed down when one-half of Afro-Americans lived in poverty. It was not enough to have a right to vote when they still lived in slums. There were more outbreaks over the whole country. The nature of protests changed. They became more hostile and appealed to the problems of poverty in Black ghettos. The peak of violence took place in 1967. Eighty free people died, most of whom were Afro-Americans. The government responded to this upsurge, delivering the Civil Rights Act in 1968. It was intended to intensify the Black population’s protection against the violence, but ironically the first victim of this act became the Black leader of SNCC.
Despite some success, the Civil Rights Movement did not achieve its central goal, namely the economic equality of Blacks and Whites. It was a very difficult task since the government of the USA made everything possible in order to prevent it. While Congress made concessions, the FBI tried to make maximum confusion in the ranks of the movement, at least to the militant groups. Leaders of the movement were under constant surveillance, and there were a lot of attempts to hinder and intimidate them. After the murders of King and Malcolm X, the movement was practically eliminated, since these figures played a very important role.
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