The Civil Rights Movement



1865: Congress approves the Thirteenth Amendment. Slavery would be outlawed in the United States by the Thirteenth Amendment, which Congress approved and sent on to the states for ratification on January 31. 

1868: The Fourteenth Amendment. On June 13, Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing due process and equal protection under the law to all citizens. The amendment would also grant citizenship to blacks.

1870: Fifteenth Amendment approved. On February 26, Congress sent the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution to the states for approval. The amendment would guarantee black Americans the right to vote.

1877: The end of Reconstruction. A deal with Southern Democratic leaders made Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican) president, in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South and the end of federal efforts to protect the civil rights of African-Americans.

1890: African-Americans are disenfranchised. The Mississippi Plan, approved on November 1, used literacy and "understanding" tests to disenfranchise black American citizens. Similar statutes were adopted by South Carolina (1895), Louisiana (1898), North Carolina (1900), Alabama (1901), Virginia (1901), Georgia (1908), and Oklahoma (1910).

1896: Plessy v. Ferguson. The Supreme Court decided on May 18 in Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" facilities satisfy Fourteenth Amendment guarantees, thus giving legal sanction to Jim Crow segregation laws.

1909: The NAACP is formed. On February 12 -- the centennial of the birth of Lincoln -- a national appeal led to the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an organization formed to promote use of the courts to restore the legal rights of black Americans.

1947: Truman appointed Civil Rights Commission 10/47 - 2/48--concluded that blacks were still treated as second-class citizens, led to the following changes:

          a. Federal Fair Employment Practices Act

          b. Legislation to protect the right to vote, do away with poll taxes, and  prevent lynching

          c. Housing issue would help blacks

          d. eliminate aid to segregation

          e. increasing number of blacks given government positions - U.N. Ralph Bunche - Nobel Prize

          f. Ordered end to federal government discrimination

          g. Desegregated the army - 1948 - Executive Order 9981

 I. In the midst of the Red Scare, the US Supreme Court quietly unleashed a movement that would dwarf anti-communism in its significance for American society. It was a decision in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas) (1954). 

A. The decision was the culmination of a long legal campaign initiated by the NAACP.

1. The decision over-turned the 1896 decision in Plessey vs. Ferguson, in which the Supreme Court held that states could have segregated facilities for blacks as long as they were equal to those of whites. 

2. In Brown vs. Board, the court ruled that in the field of public education, separate educational facilities were inherently unequal. 

3. The court ordered all states and all communities in the United States to desegregate their schools as soon as possible. 

B. In some communities, desegregation occurred without much controversy—in Washington, D.C. for example. But throughout the deep South, the ruling was widely ignored. 

C. For the next 25 years, the ruling pitted the federal government against many state governments, and the President against the Governors, Mayors, and even the police forces of many states and cities. 

1. The Supreme Court would have to re-visit the issue time and time again in order to force compliance. 

2. The President, on many occasions, was forced to send federal troops into various cities to force the integration of schools. 

3. The first “battle “ in the struggle for integration occurred in Little Rock Arkansas. 

          i. After the court order the integration of Central High School in Little Rock (1957), Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus order the state National Guard to intervene to prevent integration. A federal judge rejected the use of the National Guard for such a purpose, so the Governor called them off. They were replaced by an angry mob that was determined to prevent the entry of black high school students. Eisenhower finally responded by sending federal troops to Arkansas to enforce integration. The black students were admitted, but controversy surrounded them and Little Rock schools were in turmoil for years. 

          D. The court decision was the first in a long line of court victories for civil rights advocates. It not only helped to integrate the schools, but gave blacks the confidence to push for their rights in a wide variety of settings. 

II. The Civil Rights movement got it’s “official” start with the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-6. 

A. In December 1955, Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to give her seat on the bus to a white man and move back to the back of the bus to the black seating. She was arrested. 

B. Blacks in the community were outraged, and organized an almost total black boycott of the bus system. 

C. Six months later a federal court ruled in favor of Parks and ordered the bus company to change its policy. 

D. The desegregation of the Montgomery bus company was a minor victory, but the Montgomery boycott accomplished much more: 

1. First, it demonstrated the value of non-violent protest over confrontational tactics. 

2. Second, it elevated to prominence a local Baptist pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King. 

E. From its beginning at Montgomery, the Civil Rights movement spread throughout the south and across the country, with the support of the Supreme Court, the Executive branch, and as time passed, the Congress. 

1. It was part of what might be called the “Second Reconstruction,” which in fact, had begun shortly after WWII.

i. In 1948, one year after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in baseball, President Truman had ordered the integration of the US armed forces. 

ii. Eisenhower completed the integration of the services in the 1950’s and began the process of integrating the federal work force. He also signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which offered protection for blacks who wished to register to vote. 

III. In first years of the Kennedy administration, Kennedy focused on enforcing the laws that already existed rather than embarking on an offensive civil rights effort.   

          A. The activities of black activists, however, would force him to do more. 

1. In February 1960, black students in North Carolina staged a sit-in at a lunch counter in a Woolworth’s store. Soon, similar events were taking place across the South—and they were receiving the support of northern whites. 

2. Groups of young blacks were also taking “freedom rides—“riding busses from city to city in an effort to force the integration of bus stations. In many cities, they were attacked, and eventually Kennedy was forced to send federal marshals to keep the peace—he also order the integration of al bus and train stations. 

3. In October 1962, a federal court ordered the University of Mississippi to enroll its first black student, James Meredith. The state governor refused, so Kennedy sent federal troops to Mississippi to enforce the order. 

4. Martin Luther King, beginning in April 1963, launched a concerted campaign to force integration in Birmingham, Alabama—a city notorious for segregationist sentiments. The Birmingham police used repressive violence against the peaceful protestors—much of which was captured on national television. Once again, federal marshals had to be sent in to take control of the situation.  

          B. The events in Alabama prompted Kennedy to take a more active role in the promotion of Civil Rights. He introduced legislation that would prohibit segregation in all public facilities and barring discrimination in employment. He also wanted to give the federal government more power to file lawsuits on behalf of school integration. 


          C. Though Kennedy’s proposals were opposed by many in the US Senate; blacks demanded even greater reforms when they gathered in Washington DC in August 1963. 

                   1. In the greatest civil rights demonstration in history, Martin Luther King made his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, which won the hearts of blacks and whites across the nation. 

IV. The assassination of Kennedy gave impetus to the civil rights struggle. His Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson, was a wily politician and former Senator. Using carefully calculated public and private means of pressure; Johnson got the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 passed in the Senate. It was the most comprehensive civil rights legislation in history. 

V. With the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, augmented in 1965, following a summer of increasingly violent protest (Freedom Summer) with another bill that enhanced and protected blacks’ right to register to vote, African American’s had achieved a nearly complete legal victory. Many problems remained, of course, as victory in the courts and in Congress would take years to trickle down to the cities and towns across America. In the late 1960’s, the Civil Rights movement changed its focus—away from the achievement of legal equality and toward the broader goal of achieving true equality of opportunity in the political, social, and economic realms. 

A. The second prong of Johnson’s program was what he called his “Great Society” program, which was part of his “war on poverty.”  

                   1. The "war on poverty" included the establishment of many programs, including The Economic Opportunity Act (1964), which set up the Office of Economic Opportunity, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) (1964) (a domestic "Peace Corps"), along with

  • Operation Head Start (aiding preschoolers from underprivileged homes)
  • Job Corps (for dropouts)
  • Neighborhood Youth Corps (for unemployed teens)
  • Upward Bound (assisting low-income teens to aspire to college)
  • Other programs targeting rural areas and encouraging urbanites to help themselves
  • (Model Cities Program).
  • Social Security raised and tied to the cost of living.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development - Robert Weaver
  • New environmental legislation sought to improve the quality of water and air.
  • Medicare (1965)
  • Funded through Social Security payroll taxes
  • Medicaid (1965)
  • Funded by taxes
  • it is a health plan for welfare recipients.
  • National Endowment for the Arts (1965)
  • Supports performing and creative arts
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (1965)
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965)
  • Allocated $ 1 billion in federal funds to Catholic schools.

B. These programs proved inadequate to the task. After 1965 the main thrust of the Civil Rights movement, aside from the ongoing effort to force the enforcement of the new Civil Rights laws was to get the federal government, states, and cities to deal with the appalling living conditions of urban black. 

C. This meant that the civil rights battlefield expanded to include all the major cities in the US, including those in the North and in California, where the majority of blacks lived in ghettos. 

D. As whites resisted and the nation’s attention was drawn to other issues, the civil rights movement became increasingly aggressive. Even Martin Luther King began advocating more assertive protests, while there emerged within the movement a radical wing that did not share King’s belief in non-violent protest. 

E. Race riots broke out in numerous cities beginning with the Watts riot in 1965, followed by 43 outbreaks in the summer of 1966. In 1967, there were 8 major riots including a riot in Detroit in which 43 people died. 

F. The government responded with recommendations for a massive infusion of capital to solve the problem of black poverty, but much of the country believed that racial change was simply moving too quickly. 

G. The victory of Richard Nixon in 1968 demonstrated that the latter view held sway with a majority of Americans, and as the nation turned more and more to the issue of Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement began to recede in urgency. It would not go away quietly, however, and following the assassination of MLK in 1968, the militant wing of the movement began to dominate the news. 

1. This was the “Black Power” movement, led by people such as Stokely Carmichael, and joined by the ultra-violent Blank Panther movement. 

2. The shift toward a more violent form of protest hastened the end of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. With the war in Vietnam raging and protest over it at peak levels, the FBI was intolerant toward radical groups like the Panthers and eradicated them. The civil rights movement did not die, but rather, took its place alongside other efforts at social change that would require years and even decades of patience and work to see come to fruition.   

          H. The Black Panther Party (for Self-Defense) was founded in Oakland, California in 1966. 

                   1. its leaders included

                             a. Huey Newton (24) - Minister of Defense

                   `        "Every time you go execute a white racist Gestapo cop, you are defending yourself." "It won't be a couple of cops, when the time comes, it will be part of a whole national coordinated effort."

                             b. Bobby Seale (29) - Chairman

                             "Black people can't just mass on the streets and riot. They'll shoot us down. Instead it is necessary to organized into small groups to take care of business."   He called for the use of Molotov cocktails against white  industry if they did not get what they wanted.

                             c. Eldridge Cleaver (who kicked out Stokley Carmichael - accusing him of being a CIA spy)

                  2. The Black Panther Party was small, with a membership of only   75 - 200 in August 1967—but they were very radical.  

                   3. Black Panther Party Platform:

1. We want freedom. We want the power to determine the destiny of our Black Community

2. We want full employment for our people.

3. We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our Black Community.

4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.

5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in present day society.

6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.

7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of black people.

8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county, and city prisons and jails. Cited second amendment right to bear arms and called on all black people to arm themselves for self-defense. No party member was allowed to use, point, or fire a weapon of any kind unnecessarily.

9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.

10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations - supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national identity. (Include the Declaration of Independence - word for word)  

                   4. Anti-poverty programs  

Black Panthers work to create new anti-poverty programs in their own neighborhoods. These efforts were often overlooked, but they had collected signatures to try and create a citizen's review board to oversee police--the all-white city council had ignored their requests. They also protested rent evictions; counseled welfare recipients on their rights and taught black history courses. 

The Panthers were a Marxist-oriented revolutionary movement - viewed America as the center of world imperialism. They based their program on the Black Muslim movement minus the religion and also introduced to Mao's Little Red Book. 

They expected race war – they called for black control of inner cities, preached revolution, and formed paramilitary units. They often followed the police around the ghettos carrying guns, legal books, and tape recorders in an effort to document police brutality against blacks. 

The Black Panthers were systematically eliminated by police in various cities, usually in questionable shootouts with the police in which both sides claimed self-defense. 

More than any other group, however, their violent ways and radical beliefs did great harm to the civil rights movement, which ended with the destruction of the Panthers. Of course, the NAACP and other black advocacy groups continued their work, but in a much more quiet and subdued way.