One of the biggest struggles that citizens of the United States have been involved in since the country was founded is the black civil rights movement. Although black people have fought for rights since slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865, the majority of civil rights victories did not come until the 1950s and later.
By the 1950s, black people in the United States had fought for and won their freedom from slavery and the rights to vote and be classified as US citizens. However, black people were often treated as “separate but equal” citizens due to the US Supreme Court ruling in the Plessy v Ferguson case of 1896. This case brought about the creation of separate schools, transportation, restrooms, and dining areas for blacks and whites. The “separate but equal” attitude was especially prevalent in the South.
In 1954, the US Supreme Court overturned Plessy v Ferguson with its decision in the Brown v Board of Education case. This case challenged the existence of separate schools for blacks and whites. This was a huge victory for the black civil rights movement, as the abolition of separate schools led to a fight for the abolition of all separate facilities for blacks and whites.
Rosa Parks, a Montgomery, AL resident, sparked a boycott of Montgomery buses in 1955 when she refused to give her seat on the bus to a white person. This boycott lasted over a year, and resulted in the desegregation of the Montgomery public busing system.
In 1960, “sit-ins” spread across the United States. Sit-ins were peaceful demonstrations in which black participants simply sat quietly in areas they were not supposed to occupy. These sit-ins began at public lunch counters to protest the fact that blacks were still not allowed to eat at the same lunch counters as whites were. The very first sit-in was held at a Woolworth’s in North Carolina. Eventually, sit-ins spread to include parks, libraries, and other public facilities that still maintained separate areas for blacks and whites. The sit-ins eventually led to the organization of the Freedom Rides.
The Freedom Rides began in 1961 as a way for black civil rights activists to test the desegregation of interstate bus travel and facilities in the South. Riders deliberately used “white-only” facilities at bus stations and rest stops. The Freedom Rides were successful, as President Kennedy ordered the desegregation of buses and related facilities, but many riders were jailed and buses were attacked.
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC. The year was not without setbacks for the black civil rights movement, however, as Medgar Evers was murdered and four young black girls were killed in a racially-motivated church bombing in Birmingham, AL.
The years 1964 and 1965 brought success in the form of two acts signed by President Lyndon Johnson. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation in places of employment, schools, and other public places nationwide. The Voter’s Rights Act of 1965 outlawed practices of voter registration that were designed to prevent black people from successfully registering to vote in elections. These two years also brought tragedy to the black civil rights movement with the murders of three young activists in Mississippi and leader Malcolm X in New York City, NY.
The black civil rights movement lost the man who was arguably its most influential and peaceful leader in 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis, TN. After King’s death, the movement seemed to lose a lot of its momentum and the fight for expanded rights did not play out as publicly as it did in the 1950s and 1960s.
There have been victories for black civil rights since the major battles of the 1950s and 1960s, such as the 1989 election of Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, the first black governor in history. But there have also been setbacks, such as the racially-motivated riots in Los Angeles, CA in 1992. Organizations like the NAACP still fight for the black civil rights movement to this day, and will continue to do so until all United States citizens are truly equal regardless of race or color.