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Civil Rights Movement

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In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine that formed the basis for state-sanctioned discrimination, drawing national and international attention to African Americans' plight. In the turbulent decade and a half that followed, civil rights activists used nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to bring about change, and the federal government made legislative headway with initiatives such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Many leaders from within the African American community and beyond rose to prominence during the Civil Rights era, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Andrew Goodman and others. They risked and sometimes lost their lives in the name of freedom and equality.

After World War II, African Americans demanded changes in American society. African Americans fought in World War II for their country, but they returned home to discrimination and inequality. In the late 1940s and 50s American society started to overturn some official discrimination against African Americans The Civil Rights Movement came about after the Great Depression. African-Americans protested against injustice since the earliest slave revolts over 400 years ago. Yet, because of its attempt to dismantle Jim Crow segregation, Brown v. Board of Education can be seen as the spark that ignited the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Court's well-publicized 1954 decision moved white citizens to band together to protect their way of life, but it also bolstered activists who would fight for the next decade to end the indignities perpetrated against one segment of American society, in flagrant violation of federal law. Employing a range of tactics and philosophies, activists staged marches, peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts and voter registration drives throughout the South to achieve civil rights gains for African-Americans.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball and in 1948, Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. In 1954, the Plessey decision of 1896, which created two societies, one for whites and one for blacks, was overturned in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, creating integrated schools. Although the Supreme Court ruled that official school segregation was unconstitutional, blacks still faced many discriminatory laws and attitudes, especially in the South. At the beginning of the 1960s, the goal of the Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., was to end legal segregation and to integrate society. His strategy to achieve these goals was non-violent protest.

The first big milestone in the Civil Rights Movement was the arrest of Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama because she would not give up her seat to a white passenger. Mrs. Parks rode the bus home from her job at the Montgomery Fair Department Store Rosa boarded the bus, paid her fare, and sat down in the first row behind the seats reserved for the whites This was in the eleventh row and almost in the middle of the bus This same incident had occurred nine months later but the NAACP felt as if she was not the ideal poster child to be the center of everything that was going to happen. When the incident happened with Rosa Parks, people made it seem like she was just tired but in actuality she was tired of giving in. She knew the consequences of her actions. She felt as if she should not be deprived of a seat she paid for. Like other African Americans in her time they were tired of being mistreated. This movement sparked the Civil Rights Movement.

There was more to Rosa Park's story than just an African American woman who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. Rosa Parks was actually an educated woman. She attended the laboratory school at Alabama State College because there was no high school for blacks in Montgomery at that time. She has decided to become a seamstress because could not find a job that met her skills. She was also a long-time NAACP worker. When she was arrested in December 1955, she had recently completed a workshop on race relations at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. Rosa Parks was also a well-respected woman during her time.

In response to this incident, they launched a bus boycott. They started this bus boycott five days after Rosa refused to give up her seat. This was the day blacks of Montgomery, Alabama, decided that they would boycott the city buses until they could sit anywhere they wanted, instead of being relegated to the back when a white boarded. The bus boycott would end up lasting more than a year. The boycott actually lasted for a total of 382 days. When the bus boycott started, they did not expect it to last as long as it did. There had been bus boycotts in the past but they were not as long as this one would end up being.

The Montgomery Improvement Association elects Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as president on December 5 in order to lead the boycott. Martin Luther King became well like but equally hated by those who disagreed with the equal rights movement. He gained a lot of government support due to his right to make a point and not retaliate with violence. Martin Luther King's efforts lead to the March on Washington in 1963, where he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. This was one of the greatest speaking moments of all time. It is also one of the most memorable ones. He demanded for racial justice and for discrimination against blacks to end. One of the key points in his speech was that we were all created equally, even if blacks did not get treated that way.

In addition to this verbal artistry, King had the ability to inspire moral courage and to teach people how to maintain themselves under excruciating pressure. He merged nonviolence with black Christian faith and church culture to create a unique ideology well suited for the civil rights struggle. Martin Luther King said that the boycott would go on with or without their leaders because the conflict was between justice and injustice not between the black and the white. In this day in age, the whites were taught to hate the blacks and raised to look down on them. So they are not totally responsible for their hate but somebody has to decide to stop the cycle of hatred.

Martin Luther King helps found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in January. The organization's purpose is to fight for civil rights, and King is elected its first president. The SCLC was a federation of civil rights groups, community organizations and churches that sought to coordinate all the burgeoning local movements. In three years after the Montgomery bus boycott, the SCLC also aided black communities in applying the lessons of that struggle to challenge bus segregation



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