Which event in this struggle became the most responsible for bringing public attention to the American Civil Rights Movement, thus starting it?
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In addition to the excellent posts I think it is important to mention the formation of the Congress For Racial Equality, established in 1942 by a James Farmer. The organization set out to address racial equality by focusing on a non-violent methodology based upon an essay written by Henry David Thoreau titled Civil Disobedience. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was well aware of Thoreau's essay as well as the organization, drawing strength from its origins. C.O.R.E. was an instrumental factor in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's because it helped to create a sense of belonging and unity to those who were otherwise disenfranchised. C.O.R.E. not only led to an organized meaning of the movement, it led to political power, which led to its national recognition. (By way of the new media of the day... television)
The previous posts are very good. I wish to add the environment of the 1950s made the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement much easier. Lynchings, protests and strikes had all happened before that decade, the question is why weren't they noticed, or why didn't they grow into a movement at that time?
One part of that equation is television. By the early 1950s television was becoming increasingly popular, and while not everyone owned one, it became possible for the rest of the country to actually see the face of southern injustice, as opposed to just hearing or reading about it. You also had a positive environment with the baby Boom generation, born after World War II, as they did not cling so tightly to the racial beliefs and prejudices of the past.
If you have to pick one event, I would have to say it was the murder of Emmett Till. As a northern black, his funeral drew nationwide attention to southern brutality.
Certainly, I think that the Rosa Parks refusal to give her seat and the Montgomery Bus Boycott as well as Brown vs. Board were moments that helped to bring attention to the Civil Rights struggle. I would bring out the idea that minority groups' struggles helped to bring forth the idea of equality in this time period because of young people. The child born in the wake of the conclusion of the Second World War was becoming a teen by the time that the Civil Rights struggle began to take hold. In this light, young people began to protest existing social conditions and sought to ask why they were the way they were. For example, the Birmingham Campaign in Alabama was a movement comprised of young people. The Civil Rights movement, and minority group struggles in general, were captured by young people and their desire to transform reality. In this light, the beginning of the Civil Rights struggle came out of young people and their demands for change.
The previous post was very good. Another important event that helped spark the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s was the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till. Emmett Till was a 14 year old African American teenager from Chicago who was visiting cousins in Money, Mississippi in 1955. While there, he talked to a white woman in a local grocery store. Because of this, the woman’s husband, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Emmett, beat him badly, shot him in the head, and dumped his mutilated body into the Tallahatchie River tied to a cotton gin fan. Emmett’s mother insisted on an open casket funeral so the world could see the mutilated remains of Emmett. Emmett’s uncle, Mose Wright, identified the body and under threat of death, testified in court that Bryant and Milam were the men who took Emmett from his house. Nevertheless, these two men were quickly acquitted by an all white jury in a segregated courtroom trial. This murder and trial was a national news story and the whole country was able to see the ugly face of racism in the south, helping to spark the Civil Rights Movement.
There are two major events from the decade of the 1950s that could be seen as the start of the Civil Rights Movement. Those are the Brown vs. Board of Education decision from 1954 and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1957 and 1958.
I would say that the Brown decision brought public attention to the movement because it caused so much of a reaction in the South. It led, for example, to the famous fights over the integration of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas.
However, I think the bus boycott was more important to the movement. This is because it was the first mass participation event. It was not a few people integrating a school with a court order. Instead, it (like later actions) was something where lots of people worked together to force a change in policy through their nonviolent actions.
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