Friday, 18 January 2013

History Essay - Civil Rights America 1945 - 1968

How Successful was the Civil Rights Agitation in the United States during the period 1945 - 1968

Before 1945, black Americans were treated as second class citizens and they just accepted it. Slavery had been abolished in 1863 by President Lincoln. There was segregation in public places, mainly in southern states. Jim Crow laws were the segregation laws. In 1896 the Supreme Course ruled the separate but equal was legal and fair. This meant the segregation in public places was legal as long as the facilities were equal, although usually they were not. Also, most blacks could not vote. They had to pass a literacy test and since they had poor education most of them could not. They also had to pay a poll tax which a lot of them could not afford because of unemployment and poverty. The NAACP had been set up in 1909. It tried to use the courts to change the Jim Crow Laws.

After 1945 things began to change. There were many reasons for this. Black soldiers had been fighting in the American army in Europe to get freedom and democracy in Europe, even thought they were treated as second class citizens in America. They came home with a voice, wanting their democratic rights. Most blacks lived in cities and ghettos which made it easier to organise groups. Liberalism was rising after WW2 as it was the opposite to fascism. Segregation also damaged the image of America in the Cold War.

Desegregation began with Truman. In 1948he issued an executive order to desegregate the army. This was strengthened in Korea and even more in Vietnam. The desegregation of the army was completed under Eisenhower. He appointed Earl Warren, a liberalist, to the Supreme Court. He supported the blacks. One of the most important decisions he made was the Brown Vs Board of Education case, Kansas 1954. It desegregated public schools. There was opposition to this ruling. It led to the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group. In Little Rock, Arkansas, 9 black students were prevented from entering the school in 1957. The governor sent the state police. Eisenhower had to send down 1000 federal troops to enforce the issue and protect the students. In 1962, James Meredith, an air-force pilot, was stopped from entering the white University of Mississippi. Kennedy had to send 300 federal Marshals. By 1964 only 2% of black students actually attended integrated schools in the southern states. This damaged the image of the south. It highlighted discrimination with northern liberalists and public opinion began to change.

On Thursday, 1st December 1955, In Montegomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, a respected middle-aged black woman, got on a bus and sat in the black section, as was required by all blacks. A white man got on the bus. She refused to stand up to allow the white man to sit in her seat. The driver told her to get up and he had her arrested. She was treated like a criminal. She was released on bail for a fee of $100, which was paid for by Edgar Nixion, who was the leader of the Montegomery NAACP. She had to appear in court on Monday 5th December. She was found guilty and fined $14. The NAACP used her case as a test court case to end discrimination on buses. Jo-Ann Robinson organised a black boycott of buses on that day. The black ministers told them on Sunday in church not to use the buses. 95% of blacks refused and walked instead. They decided to continue the boycott. They asked Martin Luther King, a black minister, to lead it. He believed in peaceful, non-violent protests. They wanted to get courtious, mixed drivers and the buses to be filled from top to bottom on a first come first served basis. The boycott was risky as it would only be effective if everyone participated so they needed a strong leader, which they got with Martin Luther King. King was arrested for speeding. The KKK were active again. The media came down and reported it. It portrayed the black people as peaceful, non-violent and dignified. This changed public opinion. On the 13th November 1956, the supreme court declared that segregation on buses was illegal. It was passed on 20th December. The boycott had lasted 381 days. This politicised black people. They realised they could change things. It was activism, they had walked in protest against the buses instead of waiting for the NAACP to get laws tested, although it was the courts that ended segregation on buses, not the actual boycott.

In 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina, four black students sat down at a white lunch counter. They were not served. After 8 hours they were replaced by other black students. 54 southern cities got involved in this sit-in. The media covered it. Eventually the blacks won and lunch counters became desegregated. It was also significant as it was students who had started it. This was an election year. Kennedy and Nixon were running. JFK supported this protest. This got him support from blacks who could vote and also with liberalists. This helped him get elected. Blacks expected to get more support when he became president. He had raised their expectations.

In 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King led a protest march. He was arrested for. He then got school children to march. Police, led by Bull O'Connor, set dogs on the children and also used water cannons on them. The media got this on tv. It was seen all over the country. It outraged the liberalists and damaged US image abroad. It forced Kennedy to react. He went on television in June 1963 saying they now had to grant full civil rights to blacks. He issued a civil rights bill. This won him liberal support but he lost the support of southern whites. He feared it would prevent him from being re-elected but he knew it had to be done. Kennedy, as well as the blacks, and King, feared the bill would not pass through Congress. In August, King organised a huge march. One quarter of a million people gathered in Washington DC to put pressure on Congress to pass the Civil Rights Bill. They gathered beside the Lincoln memorial, exactly 100 years after Lincoln had freed the slaves. Here King made the famous, "I have a dream..." speech. Public opinion was behind him. In November Kennedy was killed. Lyndon Johnson succeeded him. He got the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. It outlawed discrimination in public places. He set up the Employment Opportunities  Commission to ensure blacks were not discriminated against in jobs. King was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. "Separate but Equal" had now ended.

Blacks had now all the same rights as whites, except where voting was concerned. In March 1965 there was a march from Selma to Montgomery to highlight this issue. Selma is a county in Alabama. Half of its population was black, yet only 1% of blacks could vote. Martin Luther King joined the march. 3,000 started off, 25,000 reached Montgomery, as people who supported them joined along the way. White police attacked the march so Johnson sent the National Guards to protect them. In the end Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act. It was passed in 1965. Black people could now register to vote and literacy tests were banned. They could now vote on the same terms as whites. The federal government ensured that each state allowed the black people to vote. This was a huge step forward for blacks. It also improved America's democratic image abroad as now everyone had full civil rights. Martin Luther Kind was killed in 1968.

Between 1945 and 1968, civil rights changed dramatically for black people in America. Before this they were treated as second class citizens. During this time they stood up for their rights, first educations, then transport, lunch counters, then they got full civil rights and finally voting. They were very successful and after 1968 had the same rights and were treated the same as the whites.

I got an A2 for this essay, I hope it is a help :)


  1. Thanks a mil :) really helped me make mine :D
    Emm I heard that if u just stuy the case studies you'll be grand since one of them comes up each year. Do you know if this is true?? Thanks :))

  2. I'm not sure if this is true or not, look back over each year and see, however i would not risk just doing the case studies. The one you have learned may come up, but it could be a horrible question with a weird twist or angle to it which could be very difficult, in the is case you would not have the option of answering a different question because you would not have learned anything else. But it is up to you, look back over past questions and see what has come up :)

  3. Pretty interesting post! Thanks it was interesting.

  4. An gá duit iasacht le haghaidh gnó phearsanta? má tá i dteagmháil leis an ríomhphost seo ( do do aistriú iasachta láithreach. is féidir leat freisin teagmháil a dhéanamh linn anseo ar an ríomhphost seo:

  5. Thank you so much!!!!