African American Civil Rights Movement: Impact on the Current Culture

Abstract

Civil rights movements are common in the American nation, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Black Americans who believed that they were being racially differentiated organized these movements. The movements were conducted through observance of Gandhi’s non-violence principles of sit-ins, civil disobedience, peaceful marches, economic boycotts, and freedom rides. Even though these movements were met with unrelenting opposition and violence from the whites, the blacks emerged successful as they were gradually granted the freedom and rights for which they fought. This situation led to a total overhaul of the American culture as the attitudes and beliefs of the whites were changed. Conservative Americans began to realize the need to treat other people equally and thus began to challenge the government on issues of social injustices. The consequence was the emergence of other rights movements that protested against social injustice like the oppression of women, discrimination against other ethnic groups, and unfair wages and working conditions. In general, American culture has been significantly changed by the civil rights movements held by the blacks in the 1950s and 1960s.

 African American Civil Rights Movement: Impact on the Current American Culture

1.0 Introduction

The American nation has experienced several civil rights movements in its history that have in essence shaped and continue to shape the culture of the country (Hall, 2005). These movements advocated for the rights of different groups of people. For this reason, they have been occasionally classified as language rights movement, sexual equality movement, and minority rights movement. The civil rights movements were very popular in the early times since there was limited law or adherence to the law that protected the rights of the country’s citizens of color. This article provides an analysis and history of minority rights movements in America and their impact on the current American culture. As such, the article will focus on the movements by African Americans in their quest for freedom.

2.0 History of African American Civil Rights Movements

In the early history of America, black Africans were taken to America where they were sold as slaves. According to Hall (2011), the Africans were treated as animals as they were bought and sold as well as being mistreated by their masters. However, many of the black African slaves were freed by the time of the nation’s civil war in the 1800s (Fogle, 2013). Despite this, a good number of black Africans continued to work as slaves until the end of the civil war when slavery was declared unconstitutional by the then government.

Freeing of the black African slaves did not actually mean that they were granted their human rights. Hall (2011) reported that many of these blacks could not access good education, good jobs, and neither could they access good health care. They were all segregated and discriminated against. As reported by Biondi and Biondi (2009), what made the lives of black Africans in America worse is the fact that some government leaders and politicians introduced laws that segregated them. In doing so, the black people in the United States of America were denied their basic rights and the situation was even worse in the southern states. Even if the government put in place policies and laws to cater for the rights of the black, executing the policies and regulations was difficult since the White Americans could hear none of it. In fact, a report by Fogle (2013) indicated that the Whites themselves went to the streets to demonstrate against government efforts to make them equal to the black Africans.

The mentioned events and occurrences led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This organization, according to Jackson (2011), was formed by black Americans who had been fighting in World War II where they earned a lot of respect. This organization led the way in the development of civil rights movements. In the events that followed, more organizations were formed as the Black Africans sought to fight for their rights as American citizens.

3.0 Fight against School Segregation

School segregation was widely popular in the 1950s as separate schools were set up for blacks and whites. According to Jackson (2011), two out of every five American public schools were either all white or all black students even though the law said that all public schools were equal. In principle, white schools were far much better than black schools, for instance, they were equipped with more facilities than black schools. This meant that the black African child could not gain access to good education facilities meaning that their education was dismal.

To counter this, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took a case to the Supreme Court to help one Mr. Olive Brown in the city of Topeka, Kansas. This case was famously known as the Brown versus Board of Education in which Olive Brown wanted the government to do away with the segregation policy (Hall, 2011). The case, together with many other similar cases heard at the Supreme Court, made the government declare segregation unconstitutional. However, this decision was met with violent demonstrations among the whites who bluntly refused to share the same schools with the black students (Joseph, 2009). These riots led to the withdrawal of black students from the white schools and efforts by the government to return them led to the closure of some of the schools. Nevertheless, a notable positive outcome of this fight was seen when one, Mr. John Meredith, became the first black student to graduate from the University of Mississippi in 1962 (Hall, 2009; Fogle, 2013).

4.0 Fight for Equal Housing and Transportation

Many black Africans in the southern cities were only allowed to sit at the back of the buses. Furthermore, seats in the buses were reserved for the whites and blacks could only seat if there were vacant seats (Joseph, 2006). Failure to comply with this regulation saw the blacks arrested and prosecuted. In the light of this, Reverend Martin Luther King led the blacks of Montgomery in boycotting the buses for more than a year. Consequently, the bus company incurred great losses that forced them to illegalize racial separation in the buses (Lang 2013). Reverend Martin Luther King played a significant role in the attainment of this freedom through his tactics of non-violent demonstrations. According to Jackson (2011) and Lang (2013), the non-violent demonstrations were conducted through either sit-ins or freedom rides. In the end, some whites joined them in the demonstrations even though most of the whites attacked and beat the demonstrators.

5.0 Fight for Voting Rights

The black Africans’ fight for voting rights was one of the most violent movements in America. Even though the American Constitution gave the right to vote to all the citizens, Joseph (2006) reported that some states in the south created laws that barred the blacks from voting. In fact, a report by Lang (2013) revealed that two black men were killed as they tried to register black voters in Mississippi. Consequently, Reverend Martin Luther King led his supporters in demanding new legislation that would guarantee the blacks the right to vote (Theoharis and Woodard, 2003). The protests were held in Alabama State as well as the City of Birmingham. Protesters in the City of Birmingham were met with a very cruel attack from the security forces. As revealed by Lang (2013), the protesters were attacked with fierce dogs and high-pressure water hoses. The dogs bit several of the protesters, men, women, and children alike. However, this incident forced the federal negotiators to reach a compromise in favor of the protesters who were finally permitted to vote. Furthermore, the president (Lyndon Johnson) was forced to sign into law the civil rights bill in 1964 (Theoharis and Woodard, 2003). However, Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 in the state of Alabama by a white gunman.

6.0 Fighting Injustices in the Court

Following the decision by the Supreme Court that Segregation was illegal and unconstitutional, the black African citizens faced violent backlash from gangs of white men. According to a report by Jones (2009), the blacks were attacked by gangs of whites who executed beatings, lynchings, and burnings. The primary reasons for these violent acts of white men towards blacks were stealing food or talking back to a white person. According to Joseph (2006), a black person could be brutally beaten, burned, or killed just because of talking to a white person. Lynching was done mostly to blacks who had stolen food. To make matters worse, the juries in the courts were all white and thus were very notorious for refusing to convict the whites who committed these violent acts (Lang, 2013).

One of the killings that gained national publicity is that one of Emmett Till, a 14-year old boy from Chicago who had gone to Mississippi to visit his relatives. According to Joseph (2009), the teenage boy flirtatiously talked to a white woman before he was abducted by the woman’s husband and her brother several days later. Three days later, Emmett Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River, seriously mutilated with a barbed wire, one eye gouged out and a bullet in the skull (Lang, 2013). The boy’s forehead was also crushed on one side meaning he was subjected to a brutal death. When the murderers were taken to court and the evidence clearly given by an eyewitness, the jury consisting of all whites found them not guilty. This murder made the blacks to hold protests and it sparked a renewed fight for the rights of the black African citizens in the United States of America.

7.0 Impact of the Movements on the Current American Culture

The civil rights movement’s experiences in American history have affected America far beyond the racial justice and equality for the blacks that were being agitated. As Fogle (2013) would reveal, the principles, tactics, and strategies used by these movements have acted as an inspiration for American citizens. Furthermore, many demonstrations and protests in the America of today copy a lot from the actions of the protesters of civil rights in the history of America, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. The actions include sit-ins, peaceful marches, non-violence, and civil obedience among others (Biondi and Biondi, 2009). As such, many other ethnic groups including Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans as well as women and students of the Free Speech Movement emulated what they had seen in the civil rights movements (Lang, 2013). These groups and other similar groups can now challenge America’s beliefs on political, social, economic, and cultural institutions.

The civil rights movements by the black Americans are what significantly changed the attitude of the majority of Americans making them realize that all people are made equal in the eyes of the Lord. According to Jones (2009), the majority of American citizens currently despise racial discrimination, something that was unthinkable before and during the civil rights movements. As revealed by Hall (2011), most of the American citizens were living in the conservative way in the late 1950s and early 1960s as the blacks were not given legal equality, most people trusted the government and obeyed their parents, and women were not allowed to work outside their homesteads. However, the civil rights movements by blacks showed people that every American citizen was entitled to pursue the American dream. In the aftermath of these movements, the cultural beliefs of Americans have changed significantly. For instance, people are seen challenging decisions made by the government as depicted in calls for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam and Iraq (Hall, 2009). Many blacks now have the freedom to do what they want and move to wherever they want. In addition, laws and regulations passed by the government can now be enforced in the right manner, thanks to the civil rights movements (Lang, 2013).

Before the onset of the civil rights movements, most of the Black Africans in America had resigned and accepted their fate in society. Jackson (2011) indicated that many blacks especially those in the southern states had given up in seeking social justice and believed that their oppression would never end. However, the speeches of Reverend Martin Luther King served to encourage them and gave them new hope. Consequently, the blacks’ efforts in agitating for social justice were suddenly rejuvenated. Even some whites who initially believed they were superior to the blacks had to change their attitudes. In fact, Jackson (2011) reported that a significant number of whites joined the Negroes in their protests and demonstrations. In this way, the civil rights movements are seen to change the culture of many American citizens significantly.

The Negros’ struggle for their rights also made other American citizens to stand up against other social injustices. Lang (2013) revealed that the success of the Blacks’ Gandhian principles during protests formed the basis of women’s rights activists who opposed the oppression against women. Today, women are given equal opportunity for participating in the country’s activities. According to Hall (2011), men were forced to agree through non-violent demonstrations by the women leaders, that women have equal rights just as any other American citizen. Other rights that have been successfully fought for include freedom of speech, fair wages, and the fight against the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Economic boycotts are also being currently used in the United States of America to fight against government policies that touch sensitively on social issues (Jackson, 2011).

8.0 Conclusion

To sum it up, civil rights movements by the black Africans were very prominent in the 1950s and 1960s as the blacks fought against racial discrimination and segregation as well as racial violence geared towards them by the white Americans. The blacks used Gandhian principles of non-violence in the movements to change the attitudes of the white American citizens towards them. The black Africans in America faced segregation based on education, housing and transportation and they were denied voting rights. The blacks also could not get justice in the American courts that were full of all-white juries that rarely convicted whites. These principles include peaceful marches, sit-ins, economic boycotts, civil disobedience, and freedom rides. These movements were led by notable figures, such as Reverend Martin Luther King, ex-soldiers under the umbrella of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Robert F. Kennedy among others. Consequently, the blacks emerged successful at the end of these movements, earning equal rights just like any other American citizen.

The aftermath of the civil rights movements by the blacks has seen a great change in the current American culture. Unlike in the 1960s, the majority of Americans believe that all American citizens have an equal right to pursue the American dream. The civil rights movements also changed the attitudes of most American citizens who began to challenge the government’s stance on social, economic, political, and cultural issues. Many fights against social injustices in current America are borne out of the success of the civil rights movements by black American citizens.

References

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Jackson, T. F. (2011). From civil rights to human rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle for economic justice. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jones, P. D. (2009). The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee. Harvard University Press.

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Joseph, P. E. (Ed.). (2006). The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era. Taylor & Francis.

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Theoharis, J., & Woodard, K. (Eds.). (2003). Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940-1980 (p. 223). New York: Palgrave Macmillan