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How effective was the civil rights movement in bringing about social change in America?

The 1960's were turbulent times. Protests of the Vietnam war, new music and new ideas. American seem to have been rebelling against the conservatism of the 50's. Young Americans demanded social change. Young President Kennedy was assassinated..many had seen him as the agent of this change. America was divided in so many ways; young versus old, liberal versus conservative, democrat versus republican, old versus new, and black versus white. Today we will discuss this last division. The civil rights movement sought to bring about racial equality...but did it?

"Government never of itself furthered enterprise...It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the west. It does not educate. The character within the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more if the government had not sometimes got in its way."

--Henry David Thoreau

According to Thoreau government has done little to change the course of history. Thoreau, a transcendalist, believed that all change came from the inherent goodness in human nature. He believed that government was an barrier to positive change. Would America have initiated positive social and racial change without government interference? Many today feel that the process would be slower without government help. Some, however, feel that the Civil Rights programs of the 60's have not been helpful. History will be the judge.

I. The Civil Rights Movement

A. What was the status of African Americans through the 1950's and 60's?

1. De jure Segregation - Plessey v Ferguson (separate but equal)

-literacy tests, poll taxes, Jim Crow Laws.

2. De Facto segregation - discrimination, racism, etc.

B. How did Martin Luther King Jr. seek to bring about racial equality?

1. Non Violent Resistance

2. Direct Action - Boycotts, Sit Ins, Mass Meetings, Voting

C. What were some examples of King's leadership?

1. 1955-56 - Boycott of Montgomery Alabama Bus System led by Rosa Parks

2. 1960-63 sit ins at lunch counters

3. 1963 - March on Washington - "I Have A Dream Speech."

D. What were the beliefs of those who opposed non violent resistance?

1. Malcolm X - Black Muslims "By any means necessary."

2. Black Panthers - Black separatists, militaristic.

E. How successful was the civil rights movement?

1. Brown vs. The Board of Education - overturned Plessey and ended Separate but equal segregation.

2. 24th Amendment - Outlawed Poll Taxes.

3. Civil Rights Act of 1964

4. Voting Rights Act

 

The Civil Rights Movement

The most critical civil rights issue in the U.S. has concerned the status of its black minority. After the Civil War the former slaves' status as free people entitled to the rights of citizenship was established by the 13th and 14th Amendments, ratified in 1865 and 1868, respectively. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited race, color, or previous condition of servitude as grounds for denying or abridging the rights of citizens to vote. In addition to these constitutional provisions, statutes were passed defining civil rights more particularly. The Supreme Court, however, held several of these unconstitutional, including an 1875 act prohibiting racial discrimination by innkeepers, common carriers, and places of amusement.

During the period of Reconstruction the Republican-dominated federal government maintained troops in the southern states. Blacks voted and held political offices, including seats in Congress. The Reconstruction era aroused the bitter opposition of most southern whites. The period came to an end in 1877, when a political compromise between the Republican party and southern leaders of the Democratic party led to the withdrawal of federal troops from the South.

In the last two decades of the 19th century, blacks were disfranchised and stripped of other rights in the South through discriminatory legislation and unlawful violence . Separate facilities for whites and blacks became a basic rule in southern society. In Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 case involving the segregation of railroad passengers, the Supreme Court held that "separate but equal" public facilities did not violate the Constitution.

During the first half of the 20th century racial exclusion, either overt or covert, was practiced in most areas of U.S. life. The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education represented a turning point; reversing the 1896 "separate but equal" ruling, the Court held that compulsory segregation in public schools denies black children equal protection under the law. It later directed that desegregated educational facilities be furnished "with all deliberate speed." Subsequent decisions outlawed racial exclusion or discrimination in all government facilities or facilities involved in interstate commerce, such as public transportation. A state law against racial intermarriage was also ruled invalid.

School desegregation was resisted in the South. Federal determination to enforce the court decision was demonstrated in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower dispatched troops to secure admission of black children into a "white" high school. Nevertheless, in the Deep South progress toward integration was negligible in the years following the Supreme Court decision. In 1966, for example, the overwhelming majority of southern schools remained segregated. By 1974, however, some 44 percent of black students in the South attended integrated schools, and by the early 1980s the number was approximately 80 percent.

In the North and West many black students also attended segregated schools. Such segregation was considered unconstitutional only where it could be proven to have originated in unlawful state action. Public controversy, sometimes violent, continued over the issue of transporting children in school buses long distances from their homes in order to achieve integration. Busing had become necessary because of the concentration of minority populations in the central areas of many cities. The Supreme Court dealt a blow to such busing in July 1974 by, in effect, barring it across school-district lines.

Civil rights for blacks became a major national political issue in the 1950s. The first federal civil rights law since the Reconstruction period was enacted in 1957. It called for the establishment of a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and authorized the U.S. attorney general to enforce voting rights. In 1960 this legislation was strengthened, and in 1964 a more sweeping civil rights bill outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations and by employers, unions, and voting registrars. Deciding that normal judicial procedures were too slow in assuring minority registration and voting, Congress passed a voting rights bill in 1965. The law suspended (and amendments later banned) use of literacy or other voter-qualification tests that had sometimes served to keep blacks off voting lists, authorized appointment of federal voting examiners in areas not meeting certain voter-participation requirements, and provided for federal court suits to bar discriminatory poll taxes, which were ended by a Supreme Court decision and the 24th Amendment (ratified in 1964). In the aftermath of the assassination of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., Congress in 1968 prohibited racial discrimination in federally financed housing, but later efforts to strengthen the law failed.

An important constitutional issue that has caused public controversy is whether, and to what degree, public and private institutions may use "affirmative action" or "reverse discrimination" to help members of minority groups obtain better employment or schooling. In the 1978 Bakke case, the Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional for the University of California Medical School at Davis to set an absolute quota for the admission of minority candidates, but the Court approved a Harvard University plan that took race into account for the setting of numerical goals that were not disguised quotas. The Court later ruled that racial preferences by a private corporation designed to remedy prior discrimination did not violate the Civil Rights Act, and it upheld a federal statute that requires a certain percentage of government contracts to be given to minority-owned businesses.

Impressive gains have been made by blacks in education, employment, and to a lesser degree in housing. Nevertheless, historic patterns of hiring and promotion leave nonwhite minorities economically vulnerable, especially in a weak national economy. President Ronald Reagan's administration slowed down enforcement of certain civil rights laws and opposed government-enforced quotas and "goals and timetables." The courts have sometimes enunciated inconsistent positions on these complex issues. In 1986, however, the Supreme Court supported the limited use of affirmative action to help minority groups compensate for past job discrimination; in 1987 the Court upheld the right of employers to extend preferential treatment to minorities and women in order to achieve a better balanced work force. In several close rulings in 1989, however, the Court's conservative majority moved toward reversing this direction by making it even more difficult for women and minorities to use the courts to remedy discrimination in hiring practices or on the job. In addition, President George Bush signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which limited affirmative action.

Civil rights have also been denied to Hispanic Americans, particularly Puerto Ricans in the East and Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. The problem has followed traditional paths, as rights have been denied in employment, housing, and access to the judicial system.


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