America and the Civil Rights Movement
The history of America and the civil rights movement encompasses a long struggle for freedom and equality for African-Americans. The civil rights movement extends far beyond the much publicised 1950s and 1960s protests to the days of slavery and the civil war.
The Struggle for FreedomThe Declaration of Independence written in 1776 announced that all men were created equal but these words did not apply to the Africa-American held in slavery before the Civil War. When the Civil War ended, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution proclaimed three new laws:
- The 13th amendment prohibited slavery
- The 14th amendment provided citizenship to everyone born in the United States
- The 14th amendment also provided all citizens equal rights to protection under the law
- The 15th amendment granted equal voting rights to all citizens regardless of race
The Reconstruction EraThe Reconstruction lasted from 1865 to 1877 after the Civil War. After the war the South was in both economic and political chaos and the Union had a new plan to restructure order within the Confederate states. The Freedman’s Bureau was created in 1865 to help provide freed slaves with food, resettlement and schools. There was also the matter of 400,000 acres of land to be divided between the freed slaves; this became known as the “40 acres of land and a mule” arrangement.
The Black CodesThere was much opposition to the Freedman’s Bureau in the South and many states soon began to decide the fate of the African-Americans living in the individual states. Black Codes were laws passed in the South that restricted the civil rights of African-Americans. These codes were used to control the employment, integration with whites, and activities of African-Americans. The black codes were a way for white southerners to return to the black and white status quo that existed prior to the Civil War.
The Jim Crow LawsBetween 1876 and 1965 the Jim Crow laws were introduced throughout certain states in America. The Jim Crow laws were separate from the Black Codes but also restricted the civil rights of African-Americans. These laws operated under the “separate but equal” status for blacks and permitted segregation in public facilities under the law. This law was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as far back as 1917 and was eventually overruled with the introduction of the Civil Rights Act 1964.
The Civil Rights MovementThe civil rights movement in America has basically been a struggle against oppression and prejudice that has lasted centuries. Thousands of African-Americans have died simply for trying to exercise the rights that were theirs under the law. Not only did African-Americans face discrimination from racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan but also from the courts and the police. Although the civil rights movement had many white supporters it was the African-Americans that faced arrest and even death by standing up for their rights.
Shocking the NationBy 1963 America citizens were shocked by what they saw broadcast into their homes on a daily basis. Civil rights demonstrators holding peaceful protests simply to be allowed the right to eat in desegregated areas in restaurants were violently beaten by the authorities. Peaceful demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama resulted in the authorities using violent force on demonstrators. The authorities used any means they deemed fit to break up the demonstrations including police dogs, armoured cars, firehoses and cattle prods.
In September 1963 the Birmingham bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church resulted in the death of four African-American girls and injury to 22 others.
The Civil Rights Act 1964President John F. Kennedy planned to introduce a bill through congress that would end segregation and give equal rights to African-Americans. On 28 August 1963 the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom by over 200,000 black and white Americans took place at the Lincoln Memorial.
It was designed as a peaceful show of support for Kennedy’s proposed bill, and although security on the day was at maximum level, not one violent act was recorded. This was the day that the world sat up and took notice of the atrocities that were happening to African-American’s civil rights. The historic day ended with Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech.
The civil rights movement in America has not wiped out racism and prejudice completely. However it has allowed those that practice discrimination to be prosecuted under the law. The world today is a hopefully more equal society due to the efforts of the civil rights activists.