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
I. The Civil Rights Movement
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
-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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
Back To Syllabus