African Americans continued to live as second class citizens in the 1950s and
1960s, especially in the South, despite the Fourteenth Amendment and the
Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited states from denying anyone the
right to vote due to race. States passed laws directed at separating the races
and keeping blacks from the polls. During these times, African Americans
and other Americans led an organized and strong movement to fight for
racial equality. The movement often met with strong opposition, such as in
Birmingham, Alabama, where police sprayed protestors with high pressure
In the early 1900s W.E.B. Du Bois established the NAACP, (National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People) which fought to end
segregation, the separation of people on the basis of race. In the case of
Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court struck down segregation
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress and an NAACP
officer, took a seat in the front row of the colored section of a Montgomery
bus. As the bus filled up, the driver ordered Parks and three other African
American passengers to empty the row they were occupying so that a white
man could sit down without having to sit next to any African Americans. The
leaders of the African American community, including many ministers,
formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to organize a boycott.
They elected the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 26 year old Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., to head the group. The boycott proved to the world
that common African Americans could unite and organize a successful
By 1965, the leading civil rights groups began to drift apart.
Constitutional and legal changes guaranteed the civil rights of all Americans
under the laws. Congress passed the most important civil rights legislation
since the Reconstruction, including the Civil Rights Act of 1968, a law that
banned discrimination in housing.
Other Civil Rights Acts of these two decades included, the Civil Rights
Act of 1957, which established federal commission on civil rights and a civil
rights division in the Justice Department to enforce civil rights laws; Civil
Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in most employment and in
public accommodation, enlarged federal power to protect voting rights and
speed up school desegregation, and established equal employment
opportunity commission to ensure fair treatment in employment; and the
Voting Rights Act of 1965, which eliminated voter literacy tests, and enabled
federal examiners to register voters.
The Civil Rights movement was remarkably successful in
accomplishing the repeal of many discriminatory laws. It succeeded in
securing for African Americans the civil rights promised by the Declaration
of Independence and the Constitution. The civil rights movement has also
been the foundation for gaining equal rights by other groups, including other
minorities, women and people with disabilities.
-The Americans by McDougal Littell
copyright 1998 by cDougal Littel Inc. All rights reserved.
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